The Benefits of Poly-Skilled, Co-Located Project Teams


This year at Atomic Object, we implemented a new practice: designers, instead of sitting all together in a group, sit co-located with the developers on their project. There is no “design team” or “development team” here; we all belong to “project teams.” This is just another step in our continued efforts to tightly integrate application design with application development, and in my opinion, it’s been a successful one.

Including designers on the project team rather than setting them apart promotes open, continuous communication between team members. I love having my team handy to ping them for ideas or perspective on design work that I am doing, whether it’s UI/UX work, graphic design tasks, or design implementation with HAML/Sass. Similarly, they might glance over at what I’m doing and say something like, “Hey, that’s really cool!” or, “Don’t forget (insert application requirement here)”. Being close together also means we’re all on the same page with regards to project-related decisions or communications with the client. Following the progress of the development team and synching up with the project lead is just a natural part of my day.

Co-located teams also promote collaboration between “design-skilled” and “development-skilled” team members. This collaboration takes many forms: sometimes I need somebody to pair with me on wireframes. Sometimes the developers need me to pair on CSS and design integration. Sometimes, I can even help think through logic or database schemas. We’re all smart people working together on a problem (creating an application), and sitting together allows us to take full advantage of each others’ skills.

Co-located teams promote learning. When developers pair, they learn from one another. By bringing designers into the mix, we are able to expand learning opportunities for both developers and designers. The longer I’ve worked here, the more Ruby and Terminal-fu I’ve been able to pick up from working with my teammates. And as we work together, I’m able to share CSS tricks and other “designer stuff” with the devs. It’s a good arrangement that increases our flexibility as a group and enhances the poly-skilledness of our teams.

Do I ever miss hanging out with designers all day? Yup. Sometimes I wish I could just lean over to somebody “in the know” sitting next to me and get their input on my work, instead of having to chase down another Atomic designer and see if they’re available. But honestly, I have found that the members on my project team are able to provide more helpful design input than I would have given them credit for in the beginning. I’ve found that working together on the problems of design and development has been rewarding and beneficial for us as a company, it has increased the efficiency of our teams, and has enhanced the quality of our work and of the applications that we build.

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