Agility vs Productivity
I am complelled to write this as a reaction to how people implement agile mostly, but also to so many terrible office trends that exist today and unfortunatelly that I have to endure some of those.
Current state of corporations is such that time is wasted everywhere and in huge amounts.
It is wasted for example during commute to work that everyone is doing at the same time. I can write about that some other time. What I want to focus now is 3 core issues that prevent people from being productive:
- excessive agile ceremonies
- open space
- 8h continuous work day
Well meaning corporation A decides that it wants to be modern and fancy and adopts Scrum of all the ways how you can be unproductive. Now, Scrum in itself is actually really cool way to be productive and kick ass, except, you know, reasons, usually related to corporate power dynamics.
When smart people were thinking of agile methods and how to make people work better, they were responding to what they saw, which was in 1990 or so (Agile Manifesto was written Feb 2001). We simply don’t have same problems people at the time had. Not at all.
One of the problem people felt is lack of communication and feedback loop with customer. Another were huge specs that needed to be written before any work would be done. And many more.
I would argue, that we simply don’t have such problem any more. We have other problems, like too much information, too many distractions, lack of focus etc.
So, agile ceremonies are really good way to get together as a team and plan and organize. Except, they are not when for example people use them and try to fill time with activities just so they could say they had 1h long retro or 2h planning meeting.
THERE IS NOTHING AGILE ABOUT 2H PLANNING MEETING.
Absolutely nothing. It just means it was poorly prepared, wasn’t focused and usually doesn’t really produce results. The reason why 2h IPM (Iteration Planning Meeting) is terrible waste of time, is that it signals things are not planned, so usually aafter 2h, barely anything is resolved, it is mostly that people are exhausted and can’t endure it anymore.
Other agile ceremonies are usually similar, with retro’s being about venting, which they are actually meant for that, but also for focusing on themes and resolving problems and those things are rarely happening. People are simply tasked to produce number of positive and negative things, which they do, then some actions (hopefully) are assigned to alliviate those. Rarely teams are more productive or even happier after those, which is a sign that it isn’t working.
Open Office (and standing desks)
Oh boy. This one is of epic proportions.
Now to be fair, open office was invented with best of intentions. We can go through the history and you should explore it, as it is very interesting how it came to be.
In short, the way current open office layouts are made is complete insanity.
Biologically it induced consistent fight-or-flight reflex in us. It kills creativity, prevents communication as you are trying to shield yourself. And lastly, it is beyond terrible for focus.
There is research and studies that support this.
Why do business make those floor plans? Very simple, to cram more people in small space. It is just way more cheaper to jam people together using open floor plan then if you actually had to give them an office.
This causes another thing to happen, you just don’t respect people nearly as much in open space. Corporations would just say, we need 5 more resources here, and they would jam 5 people in line and expect them to work.
In the past, you have to have some thought to it, give office to everyone, think what their role and contribution should be. You would not just say, hey I need 5 more people here, pressing keys and looking busy.
There are studies that show that people are performing at 60% of their performance if they would have more humane office space. I personally would take all this with grain of salt, as it is based on context, but it wouldn’t surprise me that it goes as low as 20-30%, as people often spend weeks spinning in circles before they get to do things.
I just don’t have in me today to write about standing desks and varicose veins.
8h work day
This last one is maybe not as obvious. There are success in France and Finland (effin’ countries) with shorter work day.
The reason why 8h is bad, is that it is not factory work. You just can’t jam current creative work in 8h continuous period. I think people already feel that, which weirdly enough, they are trying to resolve by working before and often after work hours, to do work they can’t perform during regular hours.
Also, current work day doesn’t have structure. You just get random meetings sprinkled around your day and you are supposed to magically work in between. This is not how things can work.
You need to create small breaks and walks every 2h. I don’t think it is a matter of personal productivity for you to do this. You can get meetings scheduled at times when you should be taking a break.
I would institute break at 10-10:15, then another 3-3:15pm at least. It would be global and you can invent some activity that would require everyone to do it. Coffee break is fine excuse. You get socializing, so you can as well get rid of open office plan.
I would also require meeting to happen in afternoon. I would also give meeting creators ie. managers a number of tokens that they can use to make meetings.
Is this all
This is just skratching the surface. It is sad to see and know how many people are wasting their lives at work where they are just spinning their wheels.
Also, corporations (and startups) are wasting huge resources and capital without getting proper return. I believe a good organization would allow genuine competitive advantage, for example 37 Signals ie. Basecamp. They can just hint that they will have opening and immediatelly get thousands of applications. But because they hire people like people not resources, they don’t hire 10 resources, but single developer, someone to provide support, a designer for specific product. They have much-much smaller, super efficient teams. Everyone is presumably overjoyed to work there.