Office layouts, creating practical space for #agile #collaboration

Always a heated and interesting topic. The best topics are both, right?

I love this great deck (link below) from Ed Kraay. Really provides thoughtful guidance about the value of flexibility. It’s like that old adage of giving decisions to the people closest to the work. If possible, give teams options. And also allow them to iterate and change later too. The work changes…Why choose to be stuck in one layout?

And here is a University of Michigan study that talks about the direct productivity results of teams given their own shared work room.

“We conducted a field study of six such teams, tracking their activity, attitudes, use of technology and productivity.Teams in these warrooms showed a doubling of productivity. Why? Among other things, teams had easy access to each other for both coordination of their work and for learning, and the work artifacts they posted on the walls remained visible to all. “

A while back I asked other companies what they had found the ideal workspace to be for agile and heard this on one of the discussion groups (sorry I’ve lost the attribution):  “We basically are using the cubes for walls but not for work surface. Instead we are using free standing tables.  This encourages teaming and people sitting side by side when looking at screens and working collaboratively. You can see some examples in the links below.  It also requires less square footage per person. The idea is that when people are collaborating, they prefer to be closer to their colleagues, they don’t need all the walls.”

Of course, quiet space is also needed. Just like at home. If one of us is going to sleep at say 10pm, the others can’t be listening to loud music or TV. Even a loud conversation would be disrespectful to our housemates.

Same is true with sharing space at work…. Teams do not want to hear the constant distraction of other teams’ work which is unrelated to them.

In my first job out of school, I sat in a team space…there were maybe 20 of us students packed into one large interior room. All sitting at desks. A true Dilbert-style “office bullpen.”  We laughed a lot. I enjoyed that experience and have many fond memories. We were not a true team, in the sense of working on a shared project, rather we were “hired hands” available to other teams. We laughingly placed a huge sign over our doorway: “Do you know your work-order number?”…and in that space I learned to concentrate in a team setting, and to be respectful of others. I also learned practical engineering and people skills. You see, I was a dev back then, well a “dev-in-training.”

When I graduated with my BSECE I moved into a cube. My very own cube.  Just directly across from one of the team managers, who liked to talk loudly with his office door open, Very distracting. I soon acquired my first pair of headphones. Eventually I found a respectful way to let him know, so he began to be more aware and adjusted his habits.  Managers, please close the door or speak softly when you talk about distracting topics unrelated to the team J 

Ultimately, the best solutions for team spaces will come from the people closest to the work, the teams themselves…

Fellow managers, we are just the boundary setters. Be clear on the space available, the tools, and the budget. Then give the rest up to the team. If some of the team members lead the team to make anti-collaboration or toxic decisions, then it is our job as managers to step in and manage the individuals. 



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