A Survival Guide for New Agile Coaches - Building Forts

When I was young, our groceries were delivered in cardboard boxes, which provided a near endless supply of construction materials for the elaborate fortresses I created in our crawlspace. I even tried multi-storey forts once, but that was probably the first indication that I was not destined for a career in civil or mechanical engineering.

Fast forward some 35 years, and we moved into a new home. That move created an ample supply of empty boxes, so the first thing the Kids did was to start building a fort in the basement. The Kids actually grabbed surplus carpet and hardwood and decked out they're fort quite nicely. As a one-time fort-building aficionado, I was very impressed!

It would seem that we humans have an instinct for creating our own isolated private spaces. Give a kid a couple of large boxes, and he'll instantly start creating forts with them. Heck, the boxes don't even need to be that large!

Coaching Point

Cubicles suck. There, I said it. While we may have an instinct to create them as our own little forts, they hinder and even block the type of collaboration required to deliver software and systems effectively.

Face to face conversation is by far the most effective way to communicate. Think of it in terms of network bandwidth:

Form of CommunicationEquivalent Bandwidth
Face to FaceThis is a full OC-192 optical connection to the back of your laptop.
Video ConferenceWe're now down to a good Cable or DSL connection.
Phone CallAt best a 56K modem, with error correction at least.
E-mailRemember 14.4K modems?
Written DocumentNow we're back to a 300 baud teletype machine.

The point here is that you want to maximize the amount of time the team spends collaborating face to face. That type of communication not only 'transmits' the words of the conversation, but also the inflection in those words and the sentences they comprise. Body language is quite evident during the conversation. There is a lot more content communicated than just the words themselves, and thus the level of understanding created by face-to-face conversations is much higher.

Get team members into a team room or area. If they are on different floors in a building, they may as well be on different continents. You want to maximize the probability of face-to-face conversations occurring - putting everyone in a single space does just that.

What's that? You have people in the euphemistically-named 'low-cost centres'? You have people that work from home, and a company policy to support that? In those situations, ensure that the remote people spend at least some time in person with the rest of the team. That length of time must be enough to develop a working relationship, generally around 2-3 weeks. If full-time co-location isn't an option, the human relationship is the next most powerful aspect of collaboration.