Although working in an agile way does not require a specific office design, we’ve found making changes to the traditional office set-up helps encourage team communication and collaboration.
What an agile environment looks like
You should expect to see lots of short meetings throughout each day, often around walls covered in notes or reference material. This may seem strange in office cultures that are more used to formal meetings or conference calls.
Those working in creative and technical fields often need plenty of space for focused, detailed work. It’s common to see people spend most of the day with headphones on to help them focus, or deep in conversation with just one person with whom they’re pairing.
The physical workspace
The space a team works in is a tool. It’s just as important as the choice of programming language or project management tools.
Ideally, your team will work from the same location and sit together.
Short, informal conversations are an important way to test assumptions. These are much harder when a team is spread across an office or in different buildings.
Hacking the environment
Removing dividers between desks makes a big difference and allows conversation between the team to flow more freely. If large monitors are getting in the way, remove them.
You might also want to think about getting a desk organiser.
Teams using agile approaches need wall space in their work area. If you can’t use a wall, you could try whiteboards or windows.
You need sticky notes or cards to post records of your work on the walls.
The wall creates a physical focus for the team so they can:
- Gather round it at their daily stand-up
- Refer to and update it during the day
- Show the status of their work to anyone outside of the team
This helps the team to:
- Map out problems you’re exploring
- Manage work you’ve agreed to do
- Share a lot of information quickly and publicly
- Put all your work together and see how it’s progressing
- Start conversations in your team or with others in your office. Example: Talk about your processes or points where work gets blocked
- Encourage communication and collaboration in your team, and with the rest of the organisation
The right technology
As a team, you also need online tools to help you communicate and manage your work.
Individual members of the team may also need access to tools to help them with their role, so be sure to check if anyone needs training to use the tools you choose.
Meetings like stand-ups or retrospectives help people to keep in touch but you also need a tool for online discussions.
An online tool helps the team to stay in contact and means you can:
- Make quick decisions
- Provide support and information
- Keep everyone informed about the work you’re doing
eServices for Citizens uses Microsoft Skype for Business. This software works like a chat room and allows your team to talk in a more conversational way than they would with emails.
These tools stop large backlogs of emails building up for people who are out of the office and allow the team to communicate even if they’re not in the same room.
You must have a browser-based editing tool so your team can work on the same documents at the same time and avoid having multiple versions of the same documents.
eServices for Citizens uses Microsoft Sharepoint for spreadsheets, reports, diagrams and publications. We manage our prototypes and development code in GitLab.
Managing your backlog
Online boards help to manage your backlog, in addition to the physical team wall. They also allow you to record further details behind backlog items and to link to discussions on collaboration tools.
You might find an online board helps you to manage your backlog, in addition to your physical wall.
eServices for Citizens uses Atlassian JIRA.