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Co-locating with NRCan for a week: Part 2

We are building a public-facing application programming interface (API) for Natural Resources Canada to open up access to EnerGuide Home Energy Ratings data. We talk about the details of this partnership in our post Conducting user research with NRCan to inform an API build - Part 1.

As we recently switched to the “build phase”, we had a lot of questions about the source data. Even though we had been provided with a wide range of documentation, sample data, schema files, etc. by email, there was a lot of uncertainty on our side over how the existing systems worked together, and what some of the sample data meant.

At this stage, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, but we knew we needed to meet the people working with these systems day-to-day. And since both parties to this partnership were in the National Capital Region, we asked NRCan if they would be willing to host us at their facility for a short time. NRCan graciously offered us the use of an office at their beautiful space. Dave and I immediately headed over for some heads-down time.

It’s an interesting paradox in a world where all sorts of tools allow us to collaborate remotely. When possible, face-to-face communication and colocating is a great shortcut for establishing trust on both sides. It is not only helpful, it’s irreplaceable.

A half-hour conversation with the right person providing much-needed context would often provide essential clarity into the problem, spurring hours of follow-up work. The proximity was critical to accelerating our work and helping us get on the right track, and yet we didn’t need to take much of their time while there. So much so, that we must have seemed like odd intruders to our new NRCan roommates, working by ourselves most of the time. This would not be an unfair observation from their perspective.

We’re back with our CDS team now, armed with additional information that gives us a higher probability of success. Also, critically, thanks to all the networking that we did on site, we are using those personal connections to facilitate communication over email and phones.

Some lessons learned for future co-locating:

Given the benefits of our co-locating experience, we would recommend the following:

  1. Try to plan co-locating ahead of time. Put it directly in the project plan from the beginning. Prepare all sides for what to expect as much as possible.
  2. Bring your own WiFi: Access to WiFi and network at other facilities is unlikely.
  3. Arrange for any network accounts/logins ahead of time.
  4. Have a plan for standups/meetings with a distributed team.
  5. Have team conversations in public on Slack; it’s easy to feel isolated and disconnected from the team.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback on this specific partnership and on our work in general.