Does collocation impact collaboration?

The Scrum community has long recognized that collocation is important to collaboration. Until recently there has been little in the way of formal studies that support this point of view, although there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence. It appears that the tide is turning. Within the last six months I’ve seen two really excellent papers on collocation and collaboration.

The first paper is called “How does radical collocation help a team succeed?” and to quote the authors:

“In this field study, we compared the productivity of the teams working in radical collocation with metrics collected on teams at the same company doing software development in the traditional office arrangement.”

After a very dry introduction and description of how the study, they continue to an even drier analysis of the data they collected. Just when you thought that all academic papers were dull they come to the summary and say (italics are mine):

Our study of six teams that experienced radical collocation showed that in this setting they produced remarkable productivity improvements.”

For an academic paper this is quite a statement. It shows that they feel there is overwhelming evidence in the data to show the collocation is a direct contribute to the team’s productivity … which we’ve known all along but it’s nice to have third-party support. The full paper is worth reading because they also talk about some of the problems that the team encountered with collocation and the implications for remote work.

The second paper, called “Does Collocation Inform the Impact of Collaboration?” is a more abstract paper by the Center for Biomedical Informatics, Harvard Medical School. The authors analyzed all PubMed-indexed publications with at least one Harvard author published in the years 1999 through 2003, for a total of 35,000 articles across 2,000 journals by 200,000 authors. They also performed detailed geo-historical investigation to identify and pinpoint the three-dimensional office location of each author in each specific year.

And again the results are very interesting:

“The results of this first-of-a-kind study suggest that … physical proximity continues to play a critical role in predicting the impact of scientific research.”

I’m glad that there’s finally some real research evidence to the Agile communities position on collocation.

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One Response to Does collocation impact collaboration?

  1. Jesutcliffe February 12, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    I think this is great evidence of something we’ve instinctively thought for quite some time.

    I do have a question about the methodology – on pg 341 the paper states: ‘For the duration of the RSDC projects, team members were not involved in any other project.’

    I’m curious if this also applied to the teams who where being measured for the company baseline?

    My experience has been that there is a significant boost in productivity simply by having a team focus on new development with no distraction of activities required by other products (customer support issues, bug fixing for a service pack, that sort of thing). Was task switching between release streams at all figured into this?

    Thanks much for pointing this out. This is a great article.

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