Justifying the time to collaborate

I was speaking to my friend Matt Hosking, recently, about the problems with making the time to collaborate when an organisation is in the process of adopting agile.

We often speak to people who feel that collaboration, as emphasised by agile approaches, is an additional time sink. They feel they need to do all their existing work, and on top of that spend time working through problems with colleagues (i.e. the collaboration). To them it’s just extra work with insufficient gain.

“But with collaboration you end up getting to the best outcome more directly, and you waste less time on work leading to poor outcomes,” I said. “Exactly,” said Matt. “And when I talk to people about this they generally agree that collaboration does result in more effective outcomes. So then I like to draw this diagram…” He drew it on a Post-It. I thought I should pass it on.

Time and requirements

In this picture we draw an x-axis showing the project timeline—say it’s 18 months. The y-axis shows how much time we spend on our various requirements.

Then we draw a horizontal line at the 100% level to show that throughout the project we are spending time across across all our requirements.

“Then I ask how much of those initial requirements are typically valid at the end of the project. Last time I did this with some people they reckoned it was between 15% and 20%. But let’s be generous and say it’s 30%…”

So now we also draw a line from 100% at the start to 30% at the end. This shows how much time we’re spending on the valid requirements. We don’t know how our time is split between the two, but for the sake of argument let’s stay it’s a straight line. Then we shade in the area between the two.

“And that’s how much time is wasted on invalid requirements.” The lesson is that if we do collaborate we’re using our time much more effectively, and we can deprioritise many other activities knowing they aren’t adding value.

I think this is a very powerful picture. I hope you find it useful, too.