Go to war and raise productivity

Paul
Simpson explains the concept of the “war room” and how it enables project teams
to achieve startling jumps in productivity.

You’ve
all dreamed of making your staff twice as productive at a stroke. Well,
researchers at the University of Michigan say you don’t have to have a magic
wand to do that, you can just put your staff into a “war room”.

The
researchers put teams of software developers at a major car maker into
traditional working environments and into “war rooms” with central worktables,
whiteboards and flipcharts to promote discussion. While most employees were not
looking forward to working in such close proximity to their colleagues, they
soon realised that this new environment helped them solve problems faster.

“Before
and after” questionnaires also showed that they were not as distracted by their
colleagues as they had expected to be. Staff were guaranteed some privacy by
the use of a few cubicles, fitted with phones and computers, nearby. But
researchers say these cubicles were really only used to make personal calls.

Stephanie
Teasley, an assistant research scientist at the Michigan School of Information,
is convinced that being able to overhear colleagues improved communication “and
led to surges in productivity”.

The
initial tests showed a doubling in productivity but in subsequent tests, with
11 other teams, the level of productivity doubled again, making them almost
four times as productive as their counterparts working in traditional offices.

The
experiments were prompted by a wave of such rooms being introduced at various
major software companies. And the intensity of the collaboration involved in
developing software may make the “war room” approach especially suited to this
type of employee and this kind of project.

The
idea is not dissimilar to the process by which many media companies launch
and/or develop new publications or shows. If you want to impress your peers
with a new buzzphrase, tell them it’s time your company experimented with a
little “radical collocation”.

www.umich.edu/~newsinfo

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