The Scrum process, with all its ‘rituals and artifacts’ is the most common and recognisable manifestation of Agile practice in the modern workplace. But how should you go about furnishing the fabled ‘scrum room’, the engine of an Agile team?
What is Scrum?
Scrum is an Agile methodology conceived and popularised by author and software developer Jeff Sutherland. It has since been adopted by organisations in every sector as an answer to siloed, and inflexible working practices. It’s adoption fosters closer co-operation between teams and their customers, with teams working in short sprints of focused activity, punctuated by frequent reviews and daily ‘stand up’ meetings to assess progress on goals.
'Stand ups', retrospectives, reviews and meetings, all comprise the regular ‘rituals’ that give rhythm, meaning, and continuity to life in an Agile team. These behaviours are adopted to enhance accountability and deliver results to clients faster. At the same time they ensure teams can respond to changing customer needs in real-time.
What’s a scrum room?
The scrum room is the dedicated space where all this can happen, the space where collaborating teams work together to deliver on their goals with a shared sense of 'velocity' and purpose.
The industrial appearance of these offices are now almost a cliche, historically using the design language of engineering labs to achieve their effects in sometimes quite brutal ways.
“This was a ‘big ugly room. A great big, open ugly room. A wide open space with no walls, offices, cubes, or doors. A giant, open collaborative workspace. This could be it! We commandeered the factory”
From Joy Inc, Richard Sheridan’s description of finding his first Agile workspace
Scrum rooms are changing
The descriptions of these spaces often seem to reek of a kind of boiler room machismo. Stories abound of Agile teams turning doors into tables, sawing up workstations and stringing power cables across ceilings to create their perfect work setting. Scrum rooms are figured as forges where the white heat of tech and creativity can happen, where teams work at stripped-down benches, gazing at plans pinned to the wall, ‘swarming’ in powerful group efforts to deliver for clients.
But latterly, ideas around how to lay out and furnish these spaces have evolved. They have become more rounded, considered solutions that are still as inspirational, but safer, more inclusive and designed for ultimate adaptability.
Flow through furniture
The strategies of hollowing out and hacking spaces to bend to the will of Agile teams have developed into more elegant, modular and flexible furnishing and design strategies.
Cutting edge workplace thinking has focused on how the cultural objectives of a business, the desire to bring workers from different disciplines together in different configurations, can be expressed and made possible through design.
Think of Valve, a company living the Agile philosophy, in their world teams organise themselves with furniture that moves according to the needs of teams.
Here, for example, is an excerpt from page 12 of the now legendary Valve Handbook:
“Why does your desk have wheels? Think of those wheels as a symbolic reminder that you should always be considering where you could move yourself to be more valuable. But also think of those wheels as literal wheels, because that’s what they are, and you’ll be able to actually move your desk with them.
You’ll notice people moving frequently; often whole teams will move their desks to be closer to each other. There is no organizational structure keeping you from being in close proximity to the people who you’d help or be helped by most. The fact that everyone is always moving"
When you are furnishing your Scrum room you should think about the ease with which the space can be configured and reconfigured. Is the ‘adaptable’, modular furnishing you’ve chosen configurable by everyone who will use it? Is the result a space that can shift and change seamlessly and effortlessly with your needs? Are the power supply and sockets safe and accessible wherever you are working? Are sit/stand needs being met? Is the comfort of seating optimising the amount of time your team can spend engaged and focused.
Scrum rooms as zoned spaces
Jeff Sutherland’s recent podcast interview with Steelcase contains many new and interesting reflections on how Scrum workspaces should be organised to capture the need for (and facilitate) openness and collaboration while helping people find a sense of ‘autonomy, purpose and mastery’ in their individual and collective efforts.
Firstly, Sutherland argues that agile teams still need to have a dedicated workspace removed from other teams and clients - and those spaces need to emphasise transparency and co-operation.
“A well organised Lean Team has a set of interlocking parts that all have to work together.”
But, he says, he has found ‘totally open space doesn’t work’. We need the option for privacy to concentrate and separate ourselves off when necessary, to get those tasks done that need complete attention and focus.
Scrum practitioners are more and more seeing the value of workplaces that offer a range of environments where different kinds of work are possible, some which are private and enclosed, some which are flexible and configurable, and still others which are available for relaxation and contemplation.
But all of these, should ultimately, gravitate around a central space where stand-ups can happen and teams can mill and mix informally.
Across the range of zoned spaces in the Scrum room, different types of furniture and materiality should support different postures (sitting, standing, perching), as well as moods and dynamics appropriate for the tasks that are being performed there.
The scrum room is adapting to become yet more productive, more inclusive and more adaptable as teams work in a variety of different settings to achieve a broader range of tasks.
Distributed agile supported by modern scrum rooms
But the Scrum process is also now becoming increasingly distributed. Co-location in Agile is still hugely important. Companies should be helping the virtualisation of Scrum processes as much as they can through the use of technology and adaptive workspace design.
Conferencing technology: Consider camera and microphone placements for video conferencing carefully. Develop a layout that allows all users to be on camera and clearly audible. Include multiple screens so participants can see each other and their content at the same time, making sure people can move and stay on-camera without disrupting the flow of interaction.
Third Space Design: There must be spaces within buildings to host visiting workers that demonstrates they are part of the team. This means adequate numbers of workstations, with no complex desk and chair settings to master as people hot desk and work together. Likewise power and internet should be instantly available for visitors, and someone appointed to keep stationery and refreshment supplies stocked up.
Continuous connections: Consider how your use of technology in the workspace can help build trust between virtual workers and workers in various office spaces. A “wormhole”—a continuously open, real-time video connection that acts like an open window between two locations—can help promote social exchanges and keep other offices in mind, as people come and go.
Scrum rooms and wellbeing
Holistic thinking about Scrum room design dovetails with wider thinking about wellbeing in the workplace; once overlooked, but now an increasingly important theme in office design.
The objective of Agile and Scrum, after all, is to optimise individual collective performance, so that business goals can be met more quickly and efficiently. Modern design recognises that this can and should be realised through making workplaces that work for everyone.
This entails making spaces that offer opportunities for respite as well as intense collaboration. It means making flexibility features as seamless and accessible in their functioning as possible.
Four takeaways about scrum room design
- Scrum rooms need to be flexible, robust and comfortable - they need to offer a range of practical, configurable furnishing options that can support the different kinds of focus and labour that your business demands.
- Scrum rooms need to be mindful of the holistic needs of those who use them. There should be space for concentration, collaboration and confidential meetings. But they should also pay attention to other human needs, . This can all be achieved through zoning, partitioning, Biophilic design and the use of pods and booths.
- Scrum rooms should be furnished to support distributed agile as much possible; better technical facilities to make virtual working feel like ‘colocation’ and better hosting for when virtual workers visit the scrum room itself.
- Scrum rooms need to be inclusive and accessible - the scrum room doesn’t have to be the ‘hacked’, testosterone-fuelled, industrial ‘shell' of popular imagination. It can and should be a space that supports everyone in a range of ways, through the best design and the most appropriate technology.