This Month’s Pattern *

08 Eye Contact

The organization tends to co-locate project personnel when the work is both urgent and complex.

The trend toward geographic distribution of projects is now well established and probably not going to go away. You know the case for it as well as we do. You may have found yourself making that case to the people who work for you, to explain why most of the staff is right here in town while there are minor outposts in Kissimmee and Richmond-upon-Thames. It’s all about money and availability, right?

And yet, ’fess up now, if your life depended on the project’s outcome, wouldn’t you want all the people working on it to be in the same location, able to look each other right in the eye? Of course, there is always the possibility of some available remote person with a specific talent that simply can’t be matched by anyone at the site where the rest of the project is located. If that’s the case, you might be willing to pay the price of distribution, but otherwise not. The key here is that the justification for fragmenting work ought not to be money and availability; it ought to be about rare talents and skills. And the more urgent the task is, the more co-location becomes necessary.

There is a certain magic that happens when full-time, dedicated project members occupy the same space. They begin to learn each others’ needs and capabilities, and as they learn, they modify their own approaches to take best advantage of the mix. This notion of teamwork is closely akin to what we observe in a smoothly functioning hockey team, for example. The nearly invisible signaling that synchronizes the interaction is dependent on physical proximity.

Similarly, on a development team, there are key kinds of signaling that are necessary for close interaction. The most essential of these is the giving and gaining of trust. You can communicate via email and phone with a distant team member and know some things fairly precisely: specifics required by the person on the other end as well as promises made and solicited, for example. If asked, you would say that you believed what the other person had conveyed to you, why not? But if instead you were asked,“How strongly do you believe what you just learned?” the answer would show a marked difference, depending on where the other person was. Promises made and needs expressed by a co-located team member come with body language and history; they are transactions in the midst of an evolving relationship. You know what they mean. The same promises and needs communicated across continents and oceans arrive largely without context.

It’s difficult to give and gain trust across a distance. It’s also difficult to pick up nuance, confidence, certain kinds of irony and sarcasm, intent, strength of conviction, hopelessness and helplessness, energy level, and deviousness. Without these shades of meaning, the communication limps. The big picture comes through, but the conclusion you draw from it must remain tentative. Can a project proceed with this deficit? Sure, but it is never going to work as well as it would if colocated.

In “Face Time,” we assert that necessarily distributed teams can take important advantage of even occasional opportunities to meet in person. “Eye Contact” takes this to the next level. If the project is important enough, distribution to pick up fungible resources located elsewhere makes no sense at all. Conversely, if it’s okay to make use of any available bodies spread out across the country or across the globe, the project is demonstrably not of primary importance. In organizations where Eye Contact applies, urgency and complexity are trump cards that can be used to secure co-location of the project team.

Where all justification for co-location is ignored (cannot be tolerated), the distributed team myth has been swallowed whole by management. Anybody, anywhere, who happens to be coming available when a project begins, is the natural candidate to join the new project team. In such an environment, teams are teams in name only.



* Each month we plan to publish here one of the patterns from our Jolt Award book, Adrenaline Junkies and Template Zombies — Understanding Patterns of Project Behavior. (Watch this space for a mere 86 months and you'll have read the whole thing.) The book is published by Dorset House Publishing, in the US and Hanser Verlag in Germany. It is available at Amazon and also as a Kindle book.

events

London, Business Analysis Agility
26-Apr-2018 to 27-Apr-2018

James Archer presents Business Analysis Agility. Please contact IRM UK for details of this course.

Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-May-2018 to 17-May-2018

Oslo, Business Analysis Agility
29-May-2018 to 30-May-2018

James Robertson teaches Business Analysis Agility. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Czech Republic, Mastering the Requirements Process
30-May-2018 to 01-Jun-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Aguarra for details and registration.

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
5-Jun-2018 to 7-Jun-2018

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact I.T.Works for details. 

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Jun-2018 to 13-Jun-2018

James Archer presents Mastering the Requirements Process for Adept Events. Details and registration: English - Dutch.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
11-Sep-2018 to 13-Sep-2018

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

Stockholm, Mastering the Requirements Process
25-Sep-2018 to 27-Sep-2018

Brussels, Mastering the Requirements Process
9-Oct-2018 to 11-Oct-2018

James Robertson teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact I.T.Works for details.  

Rome, Mastering the Requirements Process
15-Oct-2018 to 17-Oct-2018

Budapest MRP
16-Oct-2018 to 18-Oct-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. Please contact Aguarra for details and registration.

Rome, Business Analysis Agility
18-Oct-2018 to 19-Oct-2018

James Robertson teaches Business Analysis Agility. Contact Technology Transfer for details of this course.  

Hilversum, Mastering the Requirements Process
5-Nov-2018 to 7-Nov-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details please contact Adept Events. Dutch description, or in English.

Oslo, Mastering the Requirements Process
13-Nov-2018 to 15-Nov-2018

Mastering the Requirements Process with Suzanne Robertson. Contact Den Norske Dataforeignen for details. 

London, Mastering the Requirements Process
14-Nov-2018 to 16-Nov-2018

James Archer teaches Mastering the Requirements Process. For details and registration, please contact IRM UK.

Brussels, Business Analysis Agility
19-Nov-2018 to 20-Nov-2018

James Archer teaches Business Analysis Agility. Contact IT Works for details of this course.  

in depth

Business analysis is often seen as a technical skill. But the business analyst has another set of responsibilities -- to dig into what the stakeholder's mind and uncover what is really needed, and not just what they say they want. 


A Ruby Beam of Light, Book I of Tom DeMarco's Andronescu's Paradox saga is now available in English in paperback and ebook, from Double Dragon Publishing.

"This war isn't going to blow anything up, only turn everything off."



Suzanne and James Robertson's "Requirements: The Masterclass LiveLessons-Traditional, Agile, Outsourcing". 15+ Hours of Video Instruction. 



Als auf der Welt das Licht Ausging, the German edition of Tom DeMarco's science fiction epic, Andronescu's Paradox, has now been published by Hanser Verlag in Munich.  Translation by Andreas Brandhorst.



James Robertson’s webinar for Software Education explains how agile stories are best used to ensure the right solution. Writing the Right Agile Stories on YouTube. Download the webinar slides.