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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Peter Green

Peter Green led a grass roots Agile transformation at Adobe from 2005 to 2015, starting with his own team, Adobe Audition. His influence includes the teams behind such software flagships as Photoshop, Acrobat, Flash, Dreamweaver and Premiere Pro, as well as dozens of internal IT and platform technology teams and groups like marketing and globalization. His work was a major factor enabling Adobe product teams to make critical business transition from perpetual desktop products to the subscription-based service, Creative Cloud. His hands-on Scrum and Agile training and coaching at all levels of the organization including executives, helped lay the groundwork to shift teams from two-year product cycles to frequent delivery of high-quality software and services. He is a Certified Scrum Trainer® (CST), instructional designer, coach, facilitator, and a popular speaker at Tech, Agile, and Scrum conferences.

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