How Can Agile Teams Do Their Best Work in the Office?

Blog post authored collaboratively by:
Marty Anderson, Advanced-Workplace Associate
Joel Ratekin, SVP Workplace Strategies at GS&P


I’ve noticed a trend over the last few years: large meeting rooms dedicated to Agile teams, taking up precious office real estate and leaving employees with fewer places to meet. This is problematic for two reasons. First, conference rooms are rarely designed to meet an Agile team’s many needs. And second, if the team can’t be together, its rapid decision-making and overall effectiveness is encumbered.

What’s the solution? Building proper Agile rooms and activating workforce mobility. 
 
Here’s some background:
Interest in Agile methodologies has exploded since the term was first applied in 2001 to a family of similar software development processesi [think SCRUM, Kanban or eXtreme (XP).]
 
Some of the principles behind the Agile movement:

  • Customer satisfaction by rapid, continuous delivery of useful software

  • Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)

  • Working software is the principal measure of progress

  • Even late changes in requirements are welcomed

  • Close, daily cooperation between business unit representatives and developers

  • Face-to-face conversation as the best form of communication, enhanced by co-location

  • Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted

  • Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design

  • Simplicity

  • Self-organizing teams

  • Regular adaptation to changing circumstances


Agile represents a cultural shift in software development. Four key components of this cultural shift are: planning the work every day; involving everyone in the planning, not just the PMs; testing at every iteration; and making sure the business sponsor is available for feedback.ii In Agile, there is no “over the wall” pass-off. 
 
A model has developed in which the entire team is placed in a group workspace we will call an “Agile team room”. This team room is the primary workspace for each team member for the duration of the project.

The Agile project methodology has produced such results that many organizations are using its principles outside of software development, to create new products, fix legacy processes or implement new systems.  Thus the demand for agile team space is growing.
 


Field studies experimenting with putting teams in Agile team rooms show a doubling of productivity, in part, because of the team’s easy access to each other to coordinate their work, learn from each other and keep the work product visible to all. The proximity of team members supports constant communication and overhearing each other, which promote spontaneous help, clarification and correction thereby avoiding wasted effort.  Observations revealed nine different kinds of work:iii

  1. Discussion to acquire customer input

  2. Discussion of a political issue

  3. Problem solving at the whiteboard

  4. Status meeting using the to-do list
    (usually on a flip chart or
whiteboard).

  5. Team building discussion (social)

  6. Training

  7. Simultaneous problem solving meeting
    (subsets of team members)

  8. Working solo (typically coding)

  9. Private conversations with outsiders

 


So how does an organization support this dynamic process? 
Agile room requirements are fairly simple: generous space, user reconfigurable furniture, and abundant wall space to plan, brainstorm and record team progress. What follows are more specifics to support the agile team.

  1. Define a generously sized room that will be the primary workspace for a team that fluctuates in size during the day and over the life of the project. The room must be large and flexible enough to provide elbowroom for team members to move around and enough free floor space to gather away from their work.  As a guide consider 600- 900 SF or 60-70 square feet per person.

  2. The room must contain all the equipment the team requires without needing to stop, reserve or track down supplies.

    • Large flat panel monitors (or projector and screen) along with adequate power, data cables and wi-fi for every team member’s computer.  

    • Walls of whiteboard and other types of display, keeping the perimeter of the room free of furniture to allow gathering space for the team and access to these displays.

    • Moveable furniture in manageable sizes to allow team members control the room arrangement and change it as needed.  One moveable table and a chair per team member and a few additional chairs for visitors are needed (stacking chairs are a space efficient option for guests).

    • Lighting controls that support viewing electronic media, whiteboard and even the occasional paper reference.  Controls also offer opportunity for visual relief and group preference (at a minimum, install bi-level switching of overhead light fixtures). 

  3. A few additional settings can be located just outside the Agile team room and may be shared with nearby team rooms for efficiency. Proximity is critical – teams can’t afford to waste time looking for missing members.

    • Personal storage for team members’ individual records and personal items (remember this is their primary workspace)


    • An open seating area with comfy seats nearby can offer a refreshing break 

    • A few well-placed touchdown desks for individual focused work outside the team room

    • A phone room or huddle space that accommodates up to three people for private conversations, coaching or personal calls

    • A nearby pantry or café for beverages or snacks.  The basics (which can vary by company) should be only a few minutes away and on the same floor
       

But what if your workspace is relatively full and you don’t have any empty space lying around to build agile rooms?  What do you do?



Enter the concept of workforce mobility.  Since the Agile team room is the primary workspace for the life of the team, Agile team members share workspace, including all the settings described here. The result is a more effective and enjoyable work environment without having to take down additional real estate.  It is an environment that puts the team first and empowers them to remain fresh, flexible and fast.

  • Large flat panel monitors (or projector and screen) along with adequate power, data cables and wi-fi for every team member’s computer.  

  • Walls of whiteboard and other types of display, keeping the perimeter of the room free of furniture to allow gathering space for the team and access to these displays.

  • Moveable furniture in manageable sizes to allow team members control the room arrangement and change it as needed.  One moveable table and a chair per team member and a few additional chairs for visitors are needed (stacking chairs are a space efficient option for guests).

  • Lighting controls that support viewing electronic media, whiteboard and even the occasional paper reference.  Controls also offer opportunity for visual relief and group preference (at a minimum, install bi-level switching of overhead light fixtures). 

Are you familiar with Agile methodologies? What has your experience been?

 

i Agile Agile Manifesto principles, 2001

ii “The Truth about Agile Processes” Forrester Research, Inc. 2007

iii “How does Radical Collocation Help a Team Succeed?” Philadelphia, PA copyright 2000ACM 1-58113- 222-0/00/0012

 

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DISCLAIMER: We encourage comments and welcome your thoughts; however, GS&P reserves the right to edit or remove any comments which are off-topic, blatant spam, abusive or slanderous, or violate copyright. Comments posted are not necessarily the viewpoints of GS&P. As each project is unique, the information contained in this article only represents general design related concepts and issues based on the author’s knowledge and experience, not specific design guidance or legal advice.

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