Can Scrum Projects Work in Small Offices?

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Work agile. The Scrum method. For many big corporations, this is the new way of working. However, this new way of working poses big challenges to office interiors, because now companies need workplaces that are suitable for several scrum teams. These teams need to work simultaneously in the same open office space.

So, what does scrumming mean exactly? And how does it affect the interior layout of your office?

The Meaning of Agile and Scrum

If we look at the true meaning of the word, agile means that you can maneuver with ease. Scrum, on the other hand, is a term used in rugby and football, and it’s basically a way to restart the game by packing together, heads down, and trying to get the ball. In project management, this is translated to putting all heads together and finding a solution. 

In more traditional projects, you have a clear and fixed process to develop new products (or services). You start with the requirements, make a sketch, then a final plan, and ultimately there’s an end-product. However, many things can change during the course of a project, and the problem with this approach is that it’s not very flexible.

If you continue to embark on old choices and assumptions, there’s a chance the product is outdated by the time it’s released to the market. Especially in new technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality,  and other types of software development, the changes go extremely fast. With the traditional approach, this means extra research and going back to the requirement or sketch phase. This costs valuable time.

In such market environments, it is much more effective to work the Scrum way. 

How Does that Look Like on the Work Floor?

In essence, scrum is a multidisciplinary and self-managing team. The skills and competencies to make the end-product should all be available, and the organization needs to provide an efficient office plan to make the self-management work. 

This team then delivers a product every few days, weeks or months, in a consistent manner, until the end-product is ready.

Most teams work in so-called sprints of two, three or four weeks, and each sprint leads to a new product stage. Within each sprint, all traditional work phases will be addressed, so basically there’s a full product life cycle in each and every sprint. At the end of each sprint, there will be an evaluation within the team, and sometimes with the client as well.

The so-called product owner of the team formulates agreements with the client and will update the program of requirements when necessary. The scrum master is the head of the team who monitors daily progress to see if everything is working the way it should.

To do all this, there are fixed-time standups every day. Quick meetings with the entire team in which each team member answers the following three questions: 

  • What have I done?
  • What am I going to do?
  • And what are the bottlenecks we should solve to deliver something in time?

The biggest difference with the traditional method is that in this way things can be adjusted immediately and continuously.

What Does it Mean for your Office Equipment?

If possible, the office environment should be just as dynamic as the scrum method itself. Office desks of team members should be close to each other, and the daily standup meeting should be held nearby without disturbing any other employees. This way, team members can meet and discuss briefly whenever the need arises.

Since teams also communicate physically, on paper instead of online, they need dynamic consultation places where they can share notes on walls and whiteboards. 

Another attention point is the fact that team sizes in most agile projects vary frequently, which means that a change in office layout or at least a change in furniture is often required. Someone new may prefer a standing desk instead of a regular desk or maybe an ergonomic balance ball instead of a regular office chair. Whatever the reason, changing teams often means changing equipment or layout.

Also, as in any office, there’s a conflict of interest between individual work (and being able to concentrate) on the one hand, versus teamwork and the need for consultations on the other. Especially if multiple agile projects work side by side in an open space, extra attention is required to enable both visual and auditory privacy for all groups. 

How to Meet Office Layout Challenges with Scrum

Unfortunately, there’s no one-way-fits-all kind of solution, it totally depends on the wishes and existing corporate identity of the organization.

Most organizations prefer a separate scrum space near the workplaces, in which the team members stand around a large round table. This is great for team building because everyone in the team can make an active contribution. Organizations often choose this way of scrumming because it helps both physically as well as mentally.

With the next most popular interior solution for scrum the team members set up their workplaces in a horseshoe-shaped layout and place the scrum table in the middle. The walls around the horseshoe can be used to share notes and other information.

Scientific studies have proven that a combination of sitting and standing in work environments have ergonomic benefits and stimulate blood circulation, which is why the standing desk is making its way into scrum environments. The brain is more active when standing up as well.

Scrum Downsides

One of the aspects of agile working is that it focuses on the product, on creating and delivering something tangible. The energy goes to direct communication about the product, within the team, and very little is documented or analyzed. Which can cause problems and delays when people need to reinvestigate.

Another possible downside is the fact that scrum teams are generally quite loud. For huge open offices, the challenges of pleasant acoustics and visual peace are simply too big. Room dividers won’t help. 

Key Takeaway

Scrum may not be for everyone, smaller organizations, for instance, don’t need to resolve to this method. Bigger organizations, however, can greatly benefit from agile techniques, and businesses in software development or the automotive industry are already taking advantage of it. Especially with innovation, scrum projects can speed up and improve the process. Just try it.

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