Lack of Propinquity

When is a co-located team not co-located?

(Or “colocated”, if you prefer. Or even “collocated”.)

The phrase “100 co-located developers” came up in conversation the other day. It was said in passing, but I had a knee-jerk reaction and started spouting off about how that many developers can’t be effectively co-located. (Hopefully my schpiel didn’t go on too long, because it wasn’t really the time or place to get into the subject. That’s what this blog is for!) In a large organization, some people will inevitably be far enough from others that they can’t be considered co-located. They may be at the same site, but not close enough to have chance encounters in the hallway and arguments over who left the coffee pot empty.

MIT’s Tom Allen found that communication between engineers is strongly influenced by the distance between them. This relationship is described by the Allen curve which indicates that engineers located more than 50 meters apart don’t communicate with each other any more than people in separate cities. This has been corroborated in other domains since the original research in the 1970’s. These findings have been used to design better physical spaces for teams to collaborate and innovate. Cool stuff.

Further reading:


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