Management versus War Rooms

I’ve liked the ideas of war rooms for dedicated project teams for a long time. Especially on critical projects I think they produce some great communication benefits that outweigh any inconveniences of shared space. I realize this tends to be a bit split in the developer community.

Brian Button in a post argues that much of the problem is that managers who are in charge of making the decision generally love having their private office:

From their own personal experience, they wanted their personal space, and they want to do good for their people. So they want to get them those private offices or cubes.

I’m probably a bit of an odd duck for your stereotypical development manager:

  • Wanted to step into people management despite being pretty technical. I’ve turned down an architect position or two that would have paid better than my current management position.
  • Enjoy understanding office politics (even an MS in Political Science)
  • Love doing business requirements even when this means day long meetings going into the finer details of highway lane closures or the tracking of parolees between precincts.

So I actually feel a bit odd having an office currently. I’ve started to put up whiteboards and cork boards everywhere and it’s regularly used for standup meetings. I actually prefer to be out on the floor despite the distractions. And the reality is I get interrupted about every 15 minutes anyway even with an office because I rarely close the door.

Anyway I had a really hard time on a large project getting the idea of a war room across. I was asked again and again how to get it back on track. I said putting the team in a war room would refocus everyone, vastly improve broken communication, and actually show that upper management thought the project was important enough to take over a precious conference room. In the end it never happened though I moved my developers over to cubicles across from the QA team on the project which had a significant impact though it wasn’t really as good as a true war room.

Over and over again I was told by fellow managers that we couldn’t move people because they liked their cubes. I also heard that they needed to sit next to their manager and couldn’t be moved to sit with a project team. Still things are finally starting to change. A small pilot agile project is kicking off soon with an actual war room being setup in an old HR training area.