The Oh-so-Elusive Team Room Syndrome

In my role as an Agile Coach, I often encounter dispersed (i.e., virtual) Scrum Teams – where some or all of the Scrum Team members are in different physical locations.  Some of these Scrum Teams are dispersed across the USA, across the globe, and some or all of the team members might be working from home.  However, I have also encountered Scrum Teams who are in the same physical building, but are dispersed across different floors and … *gasp* … in endless cube farms on the same floor.  I see this – a LOT.

Is this a familiar situation for you?

 

Cube Farms

 

Location, Location, Location

As a passionate Agile practitioner, I teach and coach relentlessly on the business benefits of dedicated team rooms and collocation, but this seemingly simple setup continues to elude many organizations, which limits their pursuit of organizational Agility.

Consider this:

  • Where are your Scrum Teams located?
  • Is collocation great ‘in theory’ while dispersed is just how the real world works?
  • Do you meet for your Daily Scrum in a corner conference room for a few minutes, then disperse back to your cubes?

If so, then your organization has the symptoms of the Oh-so-Elusive Team Room Syndrome.  But fear not!  It’s a treatable condition … even in large and established company cultures where predictive processes, approvals and red tape are emphasized over flexibility and adaptability.  To deal with this syndrome, I offer the following:

  • A real situation I encountered, some background and the symptoms
  • How the syndrome was treated for this Scrum Team
  • Preventive care that every organization should consider

A Scrum Team’s Journey Through the “Oh-so-Elusive Team Room Syndrome”

A newly-formed Scrum Team had worked with a Project Manager to book a team room.  Great!  But the typical big-company room glitches started surfacing: the room was double-booked, so the Scrum Team had to switch rooms several times over the first few weeks of its journey.  To secure a dedicated team room, the Scrum Master reached out to a coordinator to help remove the Impediment.

This simple request for a team room had become quite the challenge.  The coordinator booked different rooms for each day, sometimes secured the same room for a few days, and occasionally double-booked rooms by accident.  The Scrum Team had continued moving from room to room and could not establish any momentum.

What was happening?

  • Daily Scrums were over a conference call – even though they were in the same building!  The team-room-flavor-of-the-day would often stay completely empty as Scrum Team members stayed in their separate cubes.  My first few days as the Agile Coach found me walking through multiple floors of cube farms to seek out and introduce myself to Scrum Team members.
  • As you might expect, this Impediment was surfaced in the Scrum Team’s Retrospective:

NEED DEDICATED TEAM ROOM

  • They swarmed the Impediment and the Scrum Master bravely went forth into the organization to remove it.  However, after going through the processes and red tape with the company’s facilities management department, their request for a dedicated space was denied.  The reason?

“Space is at a premium right now, so we don’t have a way to satisfy this request.” — Facilities Management

Ouch.

What was the root cause?

  • So what was missing here?  A dose of Agile Coaching revealed a fundamental lack of leadership support.  The true sense of urgency for change had not been established within leadership, so as a result, moving from room to room & working in cube farms was business-as-usual and there was no compelling reason to change that behavior.
  • In addition, there had been no meaningful Agile education at the leadership level.  In my first coaching session with some of the leaders, they had previously seen Agile as a software development process that could be installed to give them better results, but nothing else would really need to change.

How was it resolved?

  • First, a sense of urgency was established.  This Scrum Team was formed in order to take advantage of a time-to-market opportunity, and its early velocity suffered because of the lack of continuity.  With some preparation, the Scrum Master and Product Owner translated this several-week syndrome into tangible financial impact.  This caught some eyes at the leadership level – missed time-to-market opportunity, lost revenue, etc.
  • Next, leadership stakeholders called a meeting to better understand what was happening and why they were missing out on a critical business opportunity.  When they learned about the Oh-so-Elusive Team Room Syndrome and understood the impact in a way that was meaningful for them, one of the stakeholders made a very simple statement:

“I have an unused area on another floor that we can turn into a team room in a couple of weeks.  I’ll make a call right now.”

Problem solved.

  • And before you know it, this Scrum Team had a dedicated space, moved out of their cubes, and some great things started happening … collaboration, momentum, and ultimately creating valuable product early and often.

What can be learned from this?

Preventive Care for Your Own Organization

1. Establish a Compelling Reason to Change

So after weeks of dysfunction, this syndrome was successfully treated in a brief conversation with leadership.  Why?  One of the top reasons for a failed Agile transformation effort is the lack of leadership support.

To prevent a situation like this from occurring in the first place, organizational leadership must have an urgent opportunity or pain point that requires change – it could be a visible & competitive opportunity, or even the survival of the business could be at stake.  Either way, it has to be real and urgent.

2. Form and Educate an Agile Leadership Team

Consider leveraging this urgency to form a focused team at the leadership level.  This is an opportunity to educate leaders on Agile values & principles, so they can start to understand what it means to be an Agile leader and how they can support the organization on its journey.  If it has urgency, the leadership team will want a regular meeting cadence to stay informed and help – great!

Scrum is very good at exposing organizational Impediments, and some of the tougher ones will require leadership intervention to remove.

3. Influence a Change in Culture

The first two steps are needed to influence a lasting change in culture that promotes the behaviors of organizational Agility, and this takes time – because change is hard.

But as new behaviors start to take hold, situations like the Oh-so-Elusive Team Room Syndrome can be avoided.  I’ll have more on culture in future blog posts.

This is one case of why Scrum is simple to understand, but difficult to master…

Dan is an Enterprise Agile Coach with The Madison Henry Group and a Professional Scrum Trainer & Evidence-Based Management Consultant with Scrum.org. He is a seasoned veteran who draws from over 20 years of experience to blog about real situations within real companies that are pursuing organizational Agility. Want to learn more about Dan and have him visit your organization? Reach out and connect with Dan on LinkedIn.

  • Prabhu

    good article but nothing that I didn’t already get from a textbook. Co-location isn’t possible always and as you mentioned in the very beginning teams are even geographically dispersed nowadays and we need to wake up to this fact. Strangely you haven’t ventured beyond established theory

    • Charles Bradley, Scrum Coach

      I don’t agree with Prabhu’s comment at all. I think Dan, the author, showed a very practical way to try to get to the root cause, and also suggested solutions. He was using real world experiences, so I’m not sure where the textbook comment comes from.

  • Roberto Luengo

    deleted