Tag

distraction

Space, Communication and Distraction – Questions from Agile Australia 2011

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

One of the great things about presenting a set of ideas at a conference rather than as a blog post is getting interactive questions.  Here as some of the ones I can remember from Agile Aus 2011 from my session on Space, Communication and Distraction.

How do you keep physical and electronic Agile boards in sync ? 

My short answer to this would be that you don’t.  Invariable you end up with one or two people, often a project manager who diligently updates the electronic system to match up with the physical board.  The trouble is most of the time nobody, not even the threatened auditor is ever looking at the electronic system.  There is also something very powerful about the cheap, quick and democratic nature of paper cards.  Anyone from the CEO to an intern can understand, update and engage without needing a login, or remembering to look.  Also even with the largest screens available a physical wall can always be bigger.

What about distributed teams?

Yes, with a distributed team you’re going to have to go electronic, and change your habits to make it work.  Physical or electronic boards can both work, my point I guess is really just pick one – don’t sit on the fence.

Do people need individual desks?

Yes, even in highly collaborative environments, or development teams where much of the work is done at pairing stations it’s important people feel like they have some space which is their own.  Good teams, tend to decorate and customise their space the more they bond as a unit.  The same behaviour is true of individuals – we spend a huge number of our waking hours at work, shouldn’t it be a bit personal ?

Do people need their own computer workstation (in the context of a photo showing lots of pairing stations) ?

Again, I think the answer is yes.  Even if you are working at a pairing station, a small laptop to check emails, lookup reference online or write documents etc is still important.   Often good pairing station setups are reset each night back to a known configuration to create a stable development platform, that’s not very conducive to a personal computer environment.

Where do the testers sit ?

With the developers.

Where do the ops guys sit ? (Ok I’ll admit nobody asked this one, but it’s a good question none the less).

With the developers.

Do you think the lack of personalisation in open plan is a problem ?

Yes.  There is nothing worse than coming to work and feeling like a resource, not a person.

So what IS the ideal environment ?

Individual workspaces around the outside of collaborative workspaces (pairing stations and small meeting / workshop spaces plus a larger collaborative / social meeting space.  I need to get some LEGO men and build a model  of this.

How do you sell changing the environment ?

Happy, efficient teams are productive.  Good environments are a draw card for existing and potential employees.  But really, it’s about making your staff happy.  Happy people want to work hard.

Great Agile Workspaces: Conclusions

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

This post is the conclusion to my series on creating Great Agile Workspaces, so if you just landed here, read these posts in order first:

  1. Introduction
  2. Physical Spaces
  3. Communication
  4. Distraction and Multitasking

Conclusions

Agile is a powerful methodology for building great software, but it’s just one part of the system in which we and our teams work.  Space, communication and distraction have a big impact on the net productivity we can generate.

Space: Focus on building a physical environment that feels good, promotes team work and yet gives enough isolation and separation between individuals and teams – the best environments have diversity, including quiet space for problem solving.

Communication: Embrace high value forms of communication and work on your culture to weed out low value, or negative styles.  Be intentional about how and when you communicate.

Distraction: Some distractions are inflicted upon us and some are caused by poor habits. Our capacity to create things once we get in the zone is amazing.   The right space, communication culture and a lack of distractions are essential to enabling the zone.

Sadly the depth of field of a workplace is not controllable like the magic of a camera - all people are susceptible to interruption and distraction.

Essential References and Further Reading

Joel’s Field Guide to Developers – Developers and Workspaces

DeMarco and Listers’s seminal Peopleware – Teams and Productivity

Susan Maushart’s Winter of Our Disconnect – Distraction and Multitasking

Great Agile Workspaces: Multitasking and Distractions

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

A very basic agile workspace - high knowledge sharing, but high potential for interruption.

We tell ourselves lies about our ability to multitask and handle distractions, especially the younger generations.  Things like, oh kids these days have grown up with all that technology, their brains are wired differently as they chat, watch youtube and do their home work.  Our instinctive behaviours remind us that our brain rejects distraction. For instance, to really zero in on a faint sound in the distance we instinctively stop moving, shut our eyes, and focus entirely on listening carefully. Your brain does not multitask when it’s time to really pay attention.

I’ll often work from home when I’ve got something hard I need to just get done, it’s quiet and nobody can interrupt me (obviously if your home is full of kids, dogs and noise this need not apply to you).  How often have you said  or heard something like this ? “I come in early because that’s the best hour of the day” or perhaps “I come in late and stay back to get my work done” or simply, “I don’t come into the office when I’ve got real work to do”?

Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instant Messanger etc…

Donald Knuth has a wonderful webpage on his Stanford faculty webpage about email – this is my favourite section.

“Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration. I try to learn certain areas of computer science exhaustively; then I try to digest that knowledge into a form that is accessible to people who don’t have time for such study.”

He goes on to describe how he likes to communicate in batch mode, once every three months.  Three months might be a little too long for most of us, but do we really need to check our email every three minutes ?  Come on, hands up if you click the send/receive button sometimes, even when your email checks every minute by default.  Facebook, Twitter, Instant messenger and pretty much all forms of electronic communication can be a major distraction if we as users of them don’t manage and mitigate it.  If you need to focus, turn them all off.  Don’t be tempted to just ‘check in’ or you risk losing short term focus or worse, ending up chasing a tangent to the task you really ought to be focused on.

There is a culture in some workplaces of needing to be always online, in a chat room or IM, instantly available to solve problems.  When there is genuinely an urgent problem – these systems work really well – but they command a high price in productivity, especially for developers.

Alistair Cockburn on Drafts

Alistair Cockburn has a great explanation in “Communicating, cooperating teams” to describe unwanted distractions created by co-workers in the office environment – Drafts.

“On the other side of their bank of cubicles sat the call center people, who answered questions on the phone all day. They also benefited from overhearing each other. But, and here was the bad part, the conversation of the call center people would (in his words) “wash over the walls to the programmers’ area.” There was a “draft” of unwanted information coming from that area.”

Beyond the nodes and contracts problems of large teams and large open workspaces, distracting drafts from other teams working near yours can be a major productivity drain. You only need to walk around an office, stand and listen to figure out if you have this problem.  If you can hear more than one or two simultaneous conversations at any stage, I think you’ve got a problem to solve.

The Winter of our Disconnect

A book about a single mum and her kids in Perth turning off all the screens in their house for 6 months might seem like an unusual place to find an epiphany, but that’s what happened to me.

Susan Maushart’s book, the Winter of our Disconnect is part diary, part drama and part scientific journal on the topic of distraction.  The stories of how addicted she and her kids are to being constantly connected, socially up-to date and online provides an uncomfortable mirror to most of our own lives.  Please buy a copy and read it.  It challenged some of my beliefs and cause me to face up to some deeper truths which I think I already knew were true about the cost of multitasking and distraction on the ability of our brains to perform.  Seriously, just buy it and read it.

Ultimately there are three kinds of distractions

Necessary ones – communication by definition requires some level of distraction from our deep cognitive tasks.  But … it’s also essential that we talk, design and work together to function as effective teams.  So while we should be sensitive to others when we do distract them, we shouldn’t shy away from it.

Self inflicted ones – Email, Twitter, Facebook, instant messenger and the telephone.  These are all things we can choose to turn off, ignore or just not have the first place.

Unnecessary ones – Cockburn’s Drafts,  music, selfish co-workers and poor environments all generate distractions which don’t add value.

Focus on having the best necessary distractions and eliminating as many of the self inflicted and unnecessary distractions from your work environment.  Finally, Conclusions.

Great agile workspaces – balancing space, communication and distraction.

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

This is a sneak peek at some of the ideas I’m going to talk about at Agile Australia 2011 in June (I’m open to ideas and feedback of course)

The core of Agile is all about communication.  Its routines and rituals encourage teams to communicate and plan as well as tackling their issues and problems as they share lessons from their achievements and failures. Our physical environment, communication culture and our attitude to multitasking and distractions are less obvious levers which can have a profound impact on our teams and how effective they can be.

In my mind the whole Agile movement is really just one part of answering our key question, how do we build great software that delivers real value ? I think the answer boils down to creating the right team, process and environment; this requires four things.

“Be obsessive about only hiring the best talent” – Me
Motivate them through “Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose” – Dan Pink
Recognise that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – Peter Drucker

Now we come to core of my topic, something two of my heroes have been talking about since they wrote Peopleware in 1987:

Have the “Correct environment, method, and structure” – Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister

Agile is all about communication; routines and rituals which encourage teams to communicate, tackling issues and problems as well as sharing and learning from success. Our communication culture, physical environment and attitude to multitasking and distractions are less obvious levers which can have a profound impact on our teams and how effective they can be.  I often have this quote from Deming rattling around in my head as I look at problems at work.

“95% of the performance of any organisation is attributable to the system and only 5% the individual”

So over the next few posts I’m going to look at three key parts of our ‘system’.

The Physical Environment.

Jan Banning has captured these wonderful photographs of Government Officials in their office around the world.  Take a look at them and then stop for a minute. Imagine your ideal office … what would it look like ?

How we Communicate.

There is more to software productivity than just removing distractions. Communication is equally as important. A developer may be in the zone and writing perfect code, but if they are writing the wrong code because they are isolated then we haven’t done anything to help productivity have we ?

How we Multitask and Manage Distractions.

Our instinctive behaviours remind us that our brain rejects distraction. For instance, to really zero in on a faint sound in the distance we instinctively stop moving, shut our eyes, and focus entirely on listening carefully. Your brain does not multitask when it’s time to really pay attention.

Stay tuned for some ideas and answers.

Subscribe to the Luna Newsletter

Quote of the week

The new competitive advantage is the ability to anticipate, respond and adapt to change.

Recent Luna Posts

Become Remarkable.