The Lean Product Development Toolkit is the basis of all Lean and Agile Project Management today. It includes the habit of working in Single Piece Flow (one project at a time), working in a One Room (or Obeya) Environment, to have one Chief Engineer responsible for the entire project, to engage in Concurrent Engineering and to use the typical A3 Problem Solving method for continuous improvement.
Today it’s quite fashionable to not be picky on where people work. Many companies spend fortunes on building flexible workspace, where team members don’t have their own room or desk anymore. They simply walk in, and login on whatever desk they like -or find-. Team members are free -and even expected- to work outside the office: With a client, in a bar, hotel or restaurant or even at home. That way, the company can afford to significantly reduce the amount of money spent on physical workspace and desks: No need to have a desk for everyone when only a maximum of 80% of the workforce will be in on any day of the week -let alone at their desks-. Maybe a desk and computer for every two co-workers will do, plus a lot of meeting rooms, coffee tables and even sofas.
Team members also tend to like it: This way of organizing the work, allows them to combine their responsibility to raise an income with the caring needs in their families or peer groups, or with the wish to also engage in other activities. Parents for instance need to take their kids to school and many of them like to start their work only after that. Others need to take care of other family members and may prefer to leave early to do so. Some people prefer to spend their daytime on sports or meditation activities and like to work at night or home. And for concentration, many people prefer to work in isolation at home (or in their beach house) rather than in an office where distractions are paramount.
For society at large, being flexible about where people work is attractive: It reduces the pressure on roads and public transportation during peak hours and makes for way better utilization of all of our infrastructure. The total amount of money lost by society on people and goods waiting to get where they need to be, can be reduced dramatically.
No wonder this new way of working is spreading rapidly.
Yet from a Lean and Agile perspective it’s not good at all to have team members working in different rooms: Working in One Room (or Obeya in Japanese), is one of the main drivers for success in a project environment. Understandably so: Working in One Room allows a team to stay focused on the Tasks for the day and on the User Stories due for the current Iteration. It is great for team members to always be able to drop a relevant question to a peer or colleague. It not only helps to get a reply quickly, it also allows to solve a problem together -normally way faster than working on issues alone-. Colleagues from different trades tend to learn from each other when working on issues together in the same room, making it easier to spread work among them. Specially when all relevant project data, drawings and graphics are attached to the walls or bulletin boards in the room around them. So Lean and Agile Project Management propose to have teams working together on only one project at a time in only one room or group of desks. It helps tremendously to speed up delivery, to improve the quality of the work, to reduce the cost of a project and to increase the mutual learning and continuous improvement. When the team members move to another project, they move to another room or group of desks too.
So how can we solve this difference of interests between Lean and Agile Project Management and the (housing staffs of) companies, individual team members and society at large? One way is by establishing a proper time-frame to work and a convenient location for all individual team members to work together. For instance, a team might decide to work on the same spot every day between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, while the rest of the time they’re free to work when and where they like…
Another way is to provide your team with the tools to make a virtual One Room or Obeya environment. Waypoint is one of these tools. It creates the digital equivalent of your physical One Room or Obeya. It provides the planning boards and allows to individuals to track the progress on their own tasks, as well as those of their colleagues, it clearly monitors and visualizes project progress, and the project planning issues at hand. When combined with easy communication tools for colleagues and peers to chat and to have video-conferences, it allows to emulate a One Room environment. Waypoint works greatly for this, specially when the team sticks to their good habit of having Daily Standup Meetings, regular Iteration Meetings and when it’s disciplined enough to work in Single Piece Flow on one project at a time.