Friday, April 22, 2011

Your team space should deliver a message

Recently I've been helping a new team setup their team space. Now, I'm a big fan of hanging stuff on walls. Big visible stuff. But there's more to it than that. When deciding what you should put where you are actually crafting a message to anyone that walks into the space.

My personal metric for knowing when you've done this effectively is to answer the following question: Does it change someone's mood?

In my opinion, when anyone walks into your team space, from the newest dev to the most senior executive, what's hanging on the walls should make them feel differently within a matter of minutes. If that doesn't happen, something's off.

Now I'm not advocating that teams throw a bunch of crap up to simply appease people, especially those not usually in the space. In fact, the big visible stuff should be minimalistic; the least amount of information required to paint a deep, rich picture of what is going on, what value is being added, when things are happening, and anything else that is useful.

I'm not going to go into what specifically any of the stuff should be. There is tons of information out there on that such as information radiators, styles of team boards, card maps and lots more. Instead, I encourage you to think about the message you want your space to convey.

Here are a few things to consider in addition to the actuall stuff you choose to hang up:

1) If it's hanging up, make sure it's actually big and visible -- Sometime I wish plotters were never invented. Release burn-down charts and code coverage trends are examples of useful things to hang up. Too often though, I see people (usually PMs with whiz-bang tools) print them out. I assume they do this because they think it's easier, but walk across to the opposite side of the team space and tell me if you can read it…all of it. It's not enough to see the trend lines if you don't know what the chart is trending or what the axes are. Instead, draw it out on some paper or a white board with a big fat marker. Now go walk across the room…yeah, betcha can read that!

2) If it's hanging up, make sure it's useful -- I like to think of this as pruning. Something that was once useful may have run its course. If so, tear it down. If you need it later, recreate it. However, before just tearing stuff down, make sure the whole team agrees that what ever it is is no longer useful. When in doubt leave it up, there are usually ways to make more room if you need it. It's also important for the team to consider organizational usefulness. Not everything will be the most useful to the team itself, but sometimes to managers or other stake holders. PMs like release burn downs and cost burn-ups, CFOs like value stories etc… These should not dominate the space, but they are still useful, and it's important for the team to understand their organizational usefulness as well :)

3) If you need something useful, make sure you hang it up -- The space is not a fixed thing. Obviously if we can tear stuff down we can put new stuff up. The process of software development is journey or learning and discovery. Visualizing different things along the way can help a team communicate, both with each other as well as those outside the team. If you think something might be useful, hang it up for a while, try it out. If it doesn't add the value you thought, ask how it can be improved. If after a while it is still not providing value, see #2.

4) If it's hanging up, make sure it's in a good position -- Not all wall space is created equal. This could be due to many things such as lighting, vantage point, furniture arrangement etc… The best thing to do is plan a little bit before you hang something up. How often will it be updated? Is it a conversation centerpiece? Should it be visible to a passer-by? Once decided, go hang it up. If things change and it needs moved, move it…it's only paper and tape right?

5) If it's hanging up, take pride in making it -- Remember, you are crafting a message. You want things to be visible, digestible and useful. Those traits can be hard to achieve if your big visible stuff looks messy, half-assed or cluttered. It doesn't take that long to use a straight edge instead of free-hand drawing. Create a color scheme of post-its or stickers. Use different size index cards to mean different things. Create a legend. It doesn't have to be a work of art, but it should be tidy (within reason) and professional looking to communicate your message effectively. If you think something has gotten too messy over time, clean it up or redo it…it usually doesn't take very long.

6) If it's hanging up, it's a living document -- Don't be afraid to enhance anything that's hanging up. Feel free to draw, stick stickers, add post-its or whatever else adds value. You can usually tell which documents (big visible charts) a team find the most useful by the amount of enhancements made to it!

Finally, don't forget to test this stuff out when you think you are done. Stand back from your space and look at it. What does it say to you? Stand in the doorway or hallway and look in. What does it look like from there? Have people from other teams walk through. Is there anything that is unclear to them? Ask a manager, director or executive to walk by. What were they able to tell by just looking? Maybe do a few of these every now and then as your space evolves with different stuff.

Ultimately, don't forget that original question from way up there: Does it change someone's mood? Folks should feel better about what the team is doing, where the project is headed, and what they are getting for all the team's effort. If this is the case, then you've successfully crafted both an effective team space as well as an effective message.

2 comments:

  1. Nice article, Matt.

    I often see dis-empowered teams and they have great trouble taking charge of their team space, not to mention their process. Your article has the implicit "you" written all over it. So the only thing I add here is making it explicit:

    "Hey You! Go improve your team space. Now!"

    ReplyDelete
  2. After reading this, I am beginning to think that my first impression of the "wavy lines" on our task board was probably spot-on. If *I* noticed them, and I am probably one of the most unobservant people in the country, then I'm sure everyone else did. And I'm sure everyone else got the impression I did too. Perhaps we should have (or maybe someone already did) taken the time to make it more professional. Good thoughts.

    ReplyDelete