Collaboration, Coordination, and Success Factors

Learn about collaboration shifts, coordination challenges, and what's required for success on large projects.

Shift in kinds of collaboration on large projects

Many Agile work practices are based on the efficacy of face-to-face communication. Much information exists only as part of a team’s oral tradition. For example, Agile requirements writers explicitly say that a major part of any requirement is the conversation about the requirement. Teams have found this works well on small projects.

Large projects, by their nature, have more people, the people are more spread out geographically (even if in different buildings on the same campus), the projects take longer, new people join the project over time, and long-term team members leave the project over time.

For large Agile projects to be successful, the expectation that all knowledge can be expressed through an oral tradition must be moderated. More work must be done up front, and more of that work must be documented in ways that are understandable by people who weren’t part of the original conversations.

Coordination challenges on large projects

Approaches to scaling software development in general, not just on Agile projects, suffer from misdiagnosing the kind of coordination that needs to occur as projects scale. The larger your project becomes, the more you’ll need all of the noncoding activities of requirements, architecture, configuration management, QA/Test, project management, and process. The key question is whether any one of these areas needs to scale faster or requires more coordination among teams than the rest.

Experience says that the most common source of challenges is requirements. In my experience, large-project coordination issues occur in this order of frequency:

  • Requirements (most frequently)

  • Architecture (on design-intensive systems)

  • Configuration management/version management

  • QA/Test

  • Project management

  • Process

As you consider how to approach a larger project, you can use this list as a first-order approximation of where challenges will arise. You should also review your organization’s large projects, understand those projects’ most common sources of challenges, and plan your coordination around those.

A large agile project scorecard

We have found it useful to score project performance on the main challenge areas that arise on large Agile projects. The figure below shows an example of a large-project star diagram.

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