Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Power of the Door

I have just read an interesting presentation on the rules of productivity. It presents 8 rules to determine the most productive number of hours per week (40), the type of office environment (team rooms) and how a team should be located (non-siloed - multi-disciplined). In most cases the results are possible counter-intuitive to most management but each of the results are backed up by sound evidence.

It made me think about my experiences on numerous development projects and I would tend to agree with the recommendations outlined in the presentation. I remember when I was working long hours AND studying for a post-graduate degree trying to write some very simple Eiffel code and failing to get it work after 2 hours of staring at a simple logic problem. I simply couldn't solve it at the end of a 15 hour working day. I went home and came back a few days later, refreshed. I solved the problem in 5 minutes. The lesson was clear to me then - you need sleep, not heroes. This was admirably demonstrated in an overnight session to get a demo working and after 8 hours through the night of being in a no better situation than we were when we started!.

As organisations have changed over the years, office space has become at a premium. The 'power of the door' was demonstrated when I was a young engineer doing a major retargetting exercise. I remember we had to convince our manager of the benefit of having our own server to work on this exercise - he agreed provided we could reduce the schedule by 6 months. This we did easily, not just because of having our own server but because we had a large wooden door on our small team office. If it was shut (which it was normally) people just walked past so you didn't get disturbed. I would guess that if we reverted back to small offices, the software industry would be much more productive than it is today. I wonder how many project  managers have the power or insight to challenge the office environment and make the necessary changes that will increase the chance of project success and increase team morale.