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Loosely Typed in Ohio

War Rooms

InfoQ ran an Agile article today about project war-rooms. Their post is pretty useless, but it does reference an interesting Science Daily bit about teams working in a shared space. The conclusion is that teams will be up to twice as productive in a war-room style environment.

This isn’t new information. Anyone who’s worked in a startup will tell you that productivity skyrockets when you’re all in a shared space. Paul Graham will tell you that you should start your endeavors in an apartment as opposed to an office building, which is the epitome of this ideal. It’s obvious: if you put people who are all passionate about a project in close proximity to each other, they’ll all benefit. Right?

Well, not necessily.

Your team will benefit from a team-room if and only if they want that environment. The inverse of the previous example holds, too: if you put people who aren’t passionate about a project together in close proximity, they’ll do no better than before at best. At worst, they’ll actually lose productivity. It’s happened before, in fact: id software started in a small lakehouse in Louisiana, and they churned out arguably the best games of the early 90s. One day, I think during the Quake project, John Carmack actually stood up, grabbed his NeXTCube, and walked out of their shared space, claiming he could get more work done at home. (It’s in the book Masters of Doom.)

Take a look at your team and how well you all work together. Sometimes your team will lend itself naturally to working in a war-room. Sometimes you’ll figure out that you’ll all get more done in your own spaces. In fact, I think that on a few of Innova’s projects a shared space for team-members would have worked wonders — but I’m not willing to give up my semi-private half-office for those benefits.

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