Does your team work in a cubical world? Do you want to improve its effectiveness and make team members life happier? Then take a sit. This blog post will tell you how to make agile office space better. There is a term “War Room.” In accordance with Merriam-Webster it is "a room where battles are planned that is equipped with maps, computers, etc.." The most famous war room was the Churchill War Room. It housed a British government command center during the Second World War. The core idea was to gather all decision makers in one place, to configure a work space so it provokes highly effective communication by visualizing all needed information on the walls.
But nowadays the term “War Room” has also another meaning. In accordance with Merriam-Webster it is "a room where people meet and exchange plans, ideas, information, etc., in an active way." I think "in an active way" is the most important part of this definition. Agile community adopted this idea in order to greatly improve the effectiveness of team communication because rich communication is one of the Agile pillars. Our team members are like those generals in times of war. They have to solve really complex problems in today’s constantly changeable world. If we don’t provide a collaborative environment we will seriously decrease the team’s productivity.
There is also a very important aspect to war rooms. They provoke osmotic communication. In accordance with Alistair Cockburn: "Osmotic communication means that information flows into the background hearing of members of the team, so that they pick up relevant information as though by osmosis." For better understanding how it works let's look at a simple example of such communication:
We had four people doing pair programming. The boss walked in and asked my partner a question. I started answering it, but gave the wrong name of a module. Nancy, programming with Neil, corrected me, without Neil ever noticing that she had spoken or that a question had been asked.
May be you think it will be hard to build a real war room especially if you live in a cubical world. But I think the next 11 simple steps will show you how easy it is.
Step 1: Put Everyone Together. You know how simple it is to correct this but I see this happen over and over again - people fr om several projects are mixed together and no one fixes this problem.
Step 2: Remove Inner Parts of Cubicles. Is it forbidden to remove cubicles entirely? OK. But nothing bad will happen if you remove inner parts. As a result you'll create a space where (after step 1) team members can see each other and communicate freely.
Step 3: Reconfigure Existent Area. Is it a problem to expand or change the existing area? It frequently happens that the area itself is not used in an optimal way. So optimize space keeping in mind one very simple rule: try to make a work space wh ere every team member is able to see every other team member just by turning on his chair.
Step 4: Hang Information Radiators. Remember maps and schemes from the Churchill War Room? In Agile we have our own maps. So don't hesitate to use them.
Step 5: Find a Place for a Board to Track your Daily Progress. The board should be large and it should have enough space for all team members.
Step 6: Don't Forget About Another Whiteboard. I see this case very often: A team has a board which is used to track its daily progress. But there is no place on it to write or draw something during a discussion. Do you remember that the most effective communication is face-to-face while writing on a whiteboard? Don't deprive team members of great communication potential.
Step 7: Use Parts of Cubicles as Walls to Hang Something. You can put “information radiators” on them. On Cubicles you can have story maps, hang cork boards or post plotter paper. So don't leave cubicles parts bare.
Step 8: Use Big Monitors to Visualize Some Automated Statistic. Good examples include (but are not limited to) cumulative flow diagrams, code coverage statistics, continuous integration status, production performance, etc.. Essentially, everything that is important for a team can be visualized automatically on big monitors.
Step 9: Organize a Special “Radio Shack”. If you can’t bring customers or product users to your war room physically then think how you can bring them there virtually. The Key Point is to minimize consequences of remoteness (you can find some useful techniques in my previous article Successful Demo in Complex Distributed Environment).
Step 10: Turn on Your Fantasy. If you have some restricted circumstances just think in a creative way. Lack of walls and free space is not a reason to lose heart.
Step 11: Inspire Your Team to Do all Previous Steps by Themselves. Of course this is not an exhaustive list of things you can do to improve you agile office space. It’s just the beginning. And I'm sure you have your own tips and tricks. I'm waiting for your comments.