Designing a High-Quality Agile Work Environment

July 23, 2012
work environments for the free man's prison

Courtesy of code_martial under Creative Commons license.

I am reading Walter Isaacson’s biography about Steve Jobs. On page 430 there is something interesting about how Jobs designed the work environment for the employees at Pixar:

“Jobs obsessed over every aspect of the new building, from the overall concept to the tiniest detail regarding materials and construction. ‘Steve had this firm belief that the right kind of building can do great things for a culture,’ said Pixar’s president Ed Catmull… So he had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. ‘If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,’ he said.”

Now let’s think about the typical office space. There are rows of cubes segmented by six-foot walls. If the ScrumMaster is lucky, his team will be assembled along the same row of cubes. Meeting space is at a premium because conference rooms are booked solid.  Collaboration is enabled by the tools that enable sharing of files and project documents.

Sounds like a scene right out of “Office Space.” Maybe it’s the space that you work in each and every day.

What if the ScrumMaster was as passionate about the work environment as Steve Jobs was? While we may not be in the position to dictate the architecture of the space, there are some things that the ScrumMaster might consider.

For starters, your team members may be teleworkers. Or they may be separated by geography and time zones. You have to think outside of the box to replicate some of these ideas that Jobs had, because building design doesn’t matter in this situation. What if these chance encounters occurred outside of the normal “work” channels? You could, for instance, encourage your team to use Twitter. A lot can be captured in those 140-word bursts. Social media interactions are just more comfortable and informal, which may lead to deeper conversations between team members.

If you are fortunate enough for your team to be in the same office building, equip them to maximize mobility. With laptops and a wireless network, you remove the wired dependency of the cube. Perhaps congregating with laptops at a table in a dining center will encourage this type of encounter. Or, moving from one conference room to another may be an option. Moving has the advantage of changing the scenery around them and getting their blood flowing.

However you decide to approach this, consider your team and how they best work together. If you haven’t worked in an open space environment, I encourage you to try it. Tearing down the traditional walls that segment your workers may lead to some accidental breakthroughs. A good ScrumMaster is keenly aware of the team’s work environment. To the extent possible, they create the best physical environment for their team’s success.

Discussion Question – Do you obsess over your team’s work environment the way that Job’s does? How does having the right physical environment benefit the team?

To find out more about the Agile work environment, contact us here at Braintrust. We provide coaching and consulting for your Agile project teams. Click on the Contact page to hear from one of our product specialists. Or, head over to the Services tab to find out more about our offerings.



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