We're all global - everyone has someone with a colleague in a different timezone or different country. Relationships drive productivity - that's what Agile development about. Teleconferencing is a thing of the past - out of sight, out of mind and it gets terribly unfair when some people are face to face and others are remote. Webcams are ok, but a noisy medium because of all the stuff going on in the background. Global team face travel budget slashes and while we love face to face, we need to find better ways of communicating when we're not face to face.
The (virtual) office of 2015 will have:
- spatial audio (so you know when someone's speaking from your left or right);
- a sense of proximity (so you can feel people sitting close to you);
- shared interactive objects (which you can program);
- and a sense of presence with your team mates which is invaluable.
Bill showed some interesting metrics. He ran an estimated cost for a face to face conference and the cost differences with the virtual world were quite phenomenal. As against 60k for the face to face conference, the virtual conference cost just about $8.5k. Yes, there's some starting trouble, but apparently once you get used to it, it's quite a lot of fun for people who get to know this thing. The big thing for me is how we save paper, reduce our carbon footprint. There are tradeoffs, no doubt - but here's a way to collaborate often without the headache of costs, travel, time lost to travel, labor, food, etc.
Some case studies:
- State Farm Insurance - saved over $1 million by using virtual worlds
- Agile Dimensions - Saved 76% by using virtual worlds.
- Univ of Washington - Demonstrated this technology to the White House!
The problem with webinars, despite the fact that I love them, is that it doesn't create virtual presence. It encourages multi-tasking and isn't a medium supportive to total immersion. There's some information loss from face to face. Bill believes that we're close to 85% of face to face effectiveness with virtual worlds. Keith is a lot more bullish than that - he thinks we don't lose much. Our virtual world participant from Pacific time, Pamela, says we'll miss the smell, but there are things like highlighting, etc. which improve communication in some way. I'm still a bit sceptical of those who believe that they can 'train with slides' in these environments. That is just crazy - if you have to facilitate in a virtual world, then it needs to use co-creation capabilities to set up activities that are far more intense than face to face.
You can keep as many big visible charts as you'd like on your virtual world walls. People can collaborate on documents and spreadsheets in realtime from within the world and the technology's getting better each day.
How does Agile relate to Virtual Worlds?
I liked examples that Bill showed on how to Estimate in 3D. He showed their University of Washington course with their visual kanban boards and work in progress within the world. He also showed us the Agile Factory where it was interesting to see 'Team Feet', a way to do planning poker in 3D environments.
The technology has still to cross the chasm, but we need to persist with it to get better and be where we need to be in 2015. It's a bit like Agile - new now and a silent revolution, but will be the norm in time to come.
Experiences at State Farm Insurance
State Farm is using Teleplace since October 2009. They've experimented with multiple environments in recent years. They finished their project 9 months earlier than they'd planned, which sounds very very cool. Couple of pitfalls:
- Second Life is a social tool, so be careful in how you introduce it in the enterprise.
- Develop the right code of conduct in the world.
- Involve your legal team to know about ownership of information, and other issues.
There were lots of testimonials Keith showed from his experience - all good experiences. You can see the testimonials and the pros and cons on the slide-deck above.
There are some pitfalls to the approach, though the benefits are immense:
- Initial learning curve with collaborating this way.
- Graphics cards, because some netbooks don't just have the capability for this stuff.
- Of course, there's the usual issues with Firewalls.
You can contact Agile Dimensions for help with this stuff. Looks like they have a lot of experience with this.