Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Working Together In "War Rooms" Doubles Teams' Productivity, University Of Michigan Researchers Find

PHILADELPHIA---Teams of workers that labored together for several months in specially designed "war rooms" were twice as productive as their counterparts working in traditional office arrangements, a study by University of Michigan researchers has found. Results of the study will be presented Dec. 6 at the Association for Computing Machinery 2000 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work.

Recently, many companies in the software industry have been experimenting with putting teams of workers into "war rooms" to enhance communication and promote intense collaboration, explains Stephanie Teasley, an assistant research scientist in the U-M School of Information's Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work.

Instead of toiling in separate cubicles, workers sit at wall-less workstations in one big, open room. The room is typically outfitted with central worktables, whiteboards and flip charts to facilitate group discussions. While companies expect benefits from such arrangements, workers sometimes balk at the idea, fearing they'll sacrifice privacy and the quiet they need to concentrate on demanding tasks. The U-M researchers say their study is the first to closely examine the effects of what they call "radical collocation" on both productivity and worker satisfaction.

Teasley collaborated on the project with Mayuram Krishnan and Judith Olson of U-M and Lisa Covi, who was at U-M when the work was done but now is at Rutgers University. The group studied six software development teams at a major automobile company, all of which had little or no experience working in war room settings. The researchers evaluated the workers' productivity using measures commonly used in software development; then they compared the war room teams' scores with productivity data the company had collected on software development teams working in traditionally arranged offices. The researchers also interviewed the workers and had them fill out questionnaires at the beginning and end of the project. In addition, they made detailed observations of two teams---sitting in on meetings and conference calls, watching the teams solve various kinds of problems and photographing them in action.

Teams in the war room environments were more than twice as productive as similar teams at the same company working in traditional office settings. In a follow-up study of 11 more war room teams, productivity nearly doubled again, making the war room teams almost four times as productive as their counterparts in ordinary offices. The setting alone may not account for all of the productivity differences; teams working in the war rooms also used techniques designed to accelerate software development. However, those techniques could only be carried out by radically collocated teams, says Teasley.

Agile Alliance: New User Groups

There are user groups springing up around the Agile Alliance focused on improving development processes. Groups are international in scope. I recently reported on the Calgary: Calgary Agile Methods User Group (CAMUG)

The Thames Valley Agile Special Interest Group (TVASIG) is a new user group promoting and sponsoring the adoption of Agile Software Development methods throughout the Thames Valley area in the U.K. Their aim is to provide members with useful information and help advance their understanding of Agile Methods.

The first TVASIG meeting will be held at the "NEXT DOOR" pub in Oxford on the 27th April @ 20:00. It is hoped that this will be an opportunity for everyone to get to know one another in an informal setting, explain objectives of the TVASIG and agree a future direction for the group.

Agile enthusiasts should also take a look at Uncle Bob's new book (as Robert Martin is referred to by Agile Manifesto signatories). He has an excellent overview of agile principles in the first chapter. I'm reading it now and will report more on it when finished.

Martin, Robert C. (2003) Agile Software Development: Principles, Patterns, and Practices. Prentice Hall.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

OSWorkflow: A Lightweight and Flexibile Open Source Workflow Component

OSWorkflow is very different from most other workflow systems available, both commercially and in the open source world. What makes OSWorkflow different is that it is extremely flexible.

This flexibility can be hard to grasp at first, however. In fact, OSWorkflow does not contain graphical user interface components. It is up to the application developer to provide this sort of integration, as well as any integration with existing code and databases. These may seem like problems to someone who is looking for a quick "plug-and-play" workflow solution, but we've found that such a solution never provides enough flexibility to properly fulfill requirements in a full-blown application.

OSWorkflow gives you this flexibility.