Grab your pith helmet and join me for a little journey. Shhhh! Be vawy, vawy quiiiet, we’re hunting for projects! We move through the jungle with exaggerated stealth, placing each booted foot with care. We stop before a bank of thick fronds and I gently part them. On the other side lurks a horrifying creature: a man sitting alone at his desk staring intently at a monitor. I stifle a scream.
Our programmer (Mr. Livingstone I presume?) is obviously engrossed in something interesting. Every once in a while he starts typing furiously, keys clattering at an astounding rate – and then he stops. This pattern repeats itself over and over. You look around at his environment: his desk is clean, his walls have a few quick reference cards taped to them. Maybe a picture of the kids. Just your standard programmer – usually found in isolation, seldom socializing, and rarely breeding.
But wait! If we look a little closer some interesting details are revealed: it turns out that he has an IM client open on the monitor. He’s actually collaborating with someone! Furthermore there is a row of telltale lights in his task bar that keep him informed of the status of all of his continuous integration builds. Wow! This guy has a lot more going on than is revealed at first blush. I wonder what else is going on here…This is obviously a workspace that is oriented around the electronic screen. That’s natural enough in the software business. What about the wall space, why isn’t that space being used more?
I love sneaking about the office and looking at what other teams are doing. You can find the most amazing things. Teams using different techniques, alternate presentation of the same material, etc. There is a rich supply of ideas lurking in those other teams. Go ahead, steal one of their trash cans and rifle through it. What are they doing that you might benefit from trying out? I’m not talking about espionage here…OK, maybe I am. The point is, there are a lot of things we can learn from the other teams that we work with.
What can be a lot of fun is to take others along on the hunt with you. Get the team together as a group and act as their guide. Don’t forget to get them hats too. Sneak up on other teams and observe where they live and how they behave. When I do this, we debrief together after observing each group. The debrief is an opportunity to ask some great questions:
- What did you see?
- What did you hear?
- How is it different from where we work?
- What do you like/dislike?
- What can we steal?
Each of these questions can serve to bring up some great conversations about how you work together as a team. Then you can follow up by returning to your own work area at the end. Don’t just pile back into the office though – take a moment to observe your own work area. What does it say about you as a team? Usually at this point the team is primed to re-evaluate the way they work, the way their area is organized, etc.
So have a little fun and try out becoming a Project Anthropologist. It’s a fun and gentle way to open up the conversation regarding how the team works and how it is organized. And you get to spy on your co-workers. What could be better?