How to Create a Physical Environment to Maximize Agile Management Benefits - dummies

How to Create a Physical Environment to Maximize Agile Management Benefits

By Mark C. Layton

Agile methodologies flourish when scrum team members, who are central to the success of the agile project, work closely together in an environment that supports the process. Creating the right environment for the scrum team to operate in goes a long way toward supporting the project’s success. You can even hire people who specialize in designing optimal work environments for agile.

Locating the agile scrum team together for optimum communication

If at all possible, the scrum team needs to be collocated — that is, physically located together. When a scrum team is collocated, members benefit by the opportunity to

  • Communicate face to face

  • Physically stand up — rather than sit — as a group for the daily scrum meeting

  • Use simple, low-tech tools for communication

  • Get clarifications from scrum team members

  • Be aware of what others are working on

  • Ask for help with a task

  • Support others with their tasks

All these practices uphold agile processes. When everyone works in the same area, it’s much easier for one person to lean over, ask a question, and get an immediate answer. If the question is complex, a face-to-face conversation, with all the synergy it creates, is much more productive than an e-mail exchange.

The graph created by Alistair Cockburn, one of the Agile Manifesto signatories, shows the effectiveness of different forms of communication. Notice the difference in effectiveness between paper communication and two people at a white board — with collocation, you get the benefit of better communication.


Setting up a dedicated area for your agile scrum team

If the scrum team members are in the same physical place, you can create an ideal working environment. If possible, the scrum team should have its own room, sometimes called a project room or scrum room. The scrum team members create the setup they need in this project room, putting whiteboards and bulletin boards on the walls and moving the furniture. By arranging the space for productivity, it becomes part of how they work. If a separate room isn’t possible, a pod — with workspaces around the edges and a table or collaboration center in the middle — works well.

If you’re stuck in cube city and can’t tear down walls, ask for some empty cubes in a group and remove the dividing panels. Create a space that you can treat as your project room.

The resources you need in the space will vary from project to project, but at a minimum, they can include white boards, bulletin boards, markers, pushpins, and sticky notes.

Removing distractions for your agile scrum team

The agile methodologies are designed to create structure for highly productive work carried out in a specific way. The biggest threat to this productivity is distractions that prevent the team from focusing.

The good news is that an agile team has someone dedicated to deflecting or eliminating distractions: the scrum master. Whether you’re going to be taking on a scrum master role or some other role, you need to understand what sorts of distractions can throw the development team off course and how to handle them.

Do’s and Don’ts for Common Distractions
Distraction Do Don’t
Multiple projects Do make sure that the development team is dedicated 100 percent
to a single project — this one!
Don’t fragment the development team between multiple projects,
operations support, and special duties.
Multitasking Do keep the development team focused on a single task, ideally
coding one piece of functionality at a time. A task board can help
keep track of the tasks in progress and quickly identify whether
someone is working on multiple tasks at once.
Don’t let the development team switch requirements. Switching
tasks creates a huge overhead in lost productivity.
Over-supervising Do leave development team members alone after you collaborate
on iteration goals; they can organize themselves. Watch their
productivity skyrocket.
Don’t interfere with the development team or allow others to do
so. The daily scrum meeting provides ample opportunity to assess
Outside influences Do redirect any distracters. If another task surfaces, ask the
product owner to decide whether the task’s priority is worth
sacrificing sprint functionality.
Don’t mess with the development team members and their work.
They’re pursuing the sprint goal, which is the top priority during
an active sprint. Even a seemingly quick task can throw off work
for an entire day.
Management Do shield the development team from direct requests from
management (unless management wants to give team members a bonus
for their excellent performance).
Don’t allow management to negatively affect the productivity of
the development team. Make interrupting the development team the
path of greatest resistance.

Distractions sap the development team’s focus, energy, and performance. The scrum master needs strength and courage to manage and deflect interruptions. Every distraction averted is a step toward success.

Giving your agile scrum team the ability to rearrange its environment

Agile is a responsive approach, and scrum team members require an environment that helps them respond to the project needs of the day. An agile team environment should be mobile — literally:

  • Use moveable desks and chairs so that people can move about and reconfigure the space.

  • Get wirelessly connected laptops so that scrum team members can pick them up and move them about easily.

  • Have a large mobile white board.

With this movable environment, scrum team members can configure and reconfigure their arrangement as needed. Given that scrum team members will be working with different members from day to day, mobility is important. Fixed furniture tends to dictate the communications that take place. Being mobile allows for freer collaboration and more freedom overall.