I tend to discuss things openly and often with my colleagues. Before I start Google-ing for some solution, before I start banging my head around some problem or before I start designing an application or some new feature, I tend to consult my coworkers and see whether their experiences might help. At other times, I see someone’s commit and became curious about the reasons for the way that someone implemented the solution or I might see the better way to do something. The list goes on and on… In all those cases, I prefer to get up, pair with someone and work it out. Ideally, that someone is sitting next to me. Those I communicate with do not seem to mind. Quite contrary. Unless they are very good at pretending, they act in a similar fashion and seem to do the same with me. All in all, there is a lot of communication going on, great ideas floating around and, ultimately, some kind of shared knowledge and ownership is established. I truly believe that those discussions are what makes us all better professionals.
Not every day is sunny in Barcelona.
Another half of the office does not share the same view of our work environment. With exceptions of occasional official meetings that everyone needs to attend to, they like to get to the office, do their job and go back home. I respect that. As much as I like to discuss solutions and think that “professional noise” is healthy, I do understand that there are others that get easily distracted. Those things should be worked out. We should be able to find the common ground where people are allowed to discuss their work without leaving the office every time they have a question and, at the same time, others are allowed to “work in peace”. The problem is that the “quiet types” tend not to express their problems openly. They usually send an email to their manager saying things like “he spoke with others in my presence, I could not concentrate, make it go away”. That manager gets in contact with the “laud” one and repeats the complain. However, he is not allowed to mention the name. Accused does not know who the accuser is and, therefore, there can be no settlement between the involved parties.
Science to the rescue!
Teams of workers that labored together for several months in specially designed “war rooms” were twice as productive as their counterparts working in traditional office arrangements, a study by University of Michigan researchers has found. In a follow-up study of 11 more war room teams, productivity nearly doubled again, making the war room teams almost four times as productive as their counterparts in ordinary offices. The setting alone may not account for all of the productivity differences; teams working in the war rooms also used techniques designed to accelerate software development. However, those techniques could only be carried out by radically collocated teams.
Software development requires high level of collaboration. Technical and functional questions arise often, sometimes every few minutes. Increase in communication decreases the chances of misunderstanding and that decreases the amount of rework. Optimal decisions are made through the communication. It needs to be continuous. We might try to make decision in advance, prepare as well as possible and start with the “perfect plan”. The reality is that the situation changes every day or even every hour and only through the communication we can lower the impact they have on projects.
In an open space and close proximity with other coworkers, when an engineer has a technical question or gets stuck, help is immediately available. Problems gets solved faster. Everyone is up to date. Everyone shares the knowledge. Ideally, common work space can be combined with personal space where individuals have the possibility to “work in peace” when that is required. When common work space is not possible, video conferencing and chat are not an ideal substitute but they still outperform email.