Agile Basics: Coordination vs. Collaboration

I’m resisting with all of my might the urge to sing a Vanilla Ice song:

Stop, collaborate, and listen.

I guess I didn’t resist very well, did I? All right, I did it anyway. I apologize. Sometimes I can’t help but quote some Vanilla Ice.

Collaboration is a key part of Agile. The first Agile value says we value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Collaboration is also one of the four parts of Allister Coburn’s Heart of Agile.

So what does collaboration mean? I always like to go to root words. Co means together and labor means work, so to collaborate is to work together.

Collaboration is different than coordination. Co means together and ordinate means align a series of objects, so to coordinate is to align a series of objects together.

When something has a predictable outcome, we can get away with coordination. One example is an automobile assembly line. You can break the problem into discrete parts, solve those parts and reassemble them. If you follow the steps, you get the same outcome every time.

In contrast, when we’re doing something uncertain, collaboration is required. Say you’re trying to discover which users want which features for a new service. This is not a predictable problem. Not only is collaboration better suited to complex decisions, it also benefits from diversity of perspective. The more eyes you have on the problem, the more perspectives you get on experiments you might try, the more perspectives you have on the blind spots you’re overlooking, and the better off you’re going to be.

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