one(24 September 2017)
I stole a Huddle Room. Well, technically, we stole a Huddle Room, since a Director of Software Development and a Technical Lead participated in the heist.
At the back of the development hall, facilities built spaces called Huddle Rooms. Huddle Rooms are like meeting rooms without being really like meeting rooms, at all. If they were like meeting rooms, they’d be meeting rooms. Instead, they are like “Huddle Rooms,” hence the name.
I should probably elaborate: a Huddle Room has walls made out of cubical separators, not wall board. It’s essentially a cubical that reaches to the ceiling, with a pair of pocket doors for an entrance. I carries sound like a drum, has limited power and network drops, and most don’t have televisions to display output from someone’s laptop. Few of them have Polycom(tm) phones. They are furnished irregularly, some with tables, some with arm chairs — none of this appearing to be the product of any kind of design or intention.
To my eye, Huddle Rooms are places where we just put leftover stuff.
Outside the entrance of the two Huddle Rooms in the development area where my teams work, Facilities have piled a number of broken chairs, unused tables, a spare office bookshelf, and some odd supplies — like plastic cups with the company logo emblazoned on the side.
Not surprisingly, these rooms were seldom used. Teams booked meeting rooms, instead. Meeting rooms are actually equipped for meetings. Huddle Rooms were, as far as I can tell, equipped for something called huddling, whatever the hell that is.
The problem with meeting rooms, of course, is that they are shared. The team can’t hang up materials, like burn down charts, sprint goals, alliance statements, or any of the like. Teams have to reserve meeting rooms, and reservations are in competition with other teams vying for the same space.
In my opinion — and God knows in all humility I am always right — teams need their own meeting space where they can collaborate seamlessly and persistently.
Therefore, in the spirit of innovation and a Platonic sense of correctness, we just took one of the Huddle Rooms and declared it sovereign territory.
The first step in the invasion: we started to hang things on the wall. We put up user journeys, a team alliance statement, an explanation of the three forms of waste — that sort of thing.
We shifted all ceremonies to the Huddle Room.
We replaced the door placard the name of the product the teams are working to deliver.
I picked up a camera for the TV.
Morale improved. It wasn’t a singular thing. Morale improved for a number of reasons, but one of them was a growing sense of being on a team and being focused on a product. To my eye, the team was working at home less. In large part, we got this result because we gave them something they couldn’t get from the home office and hadn’t had yet at the facility: the team had their own space.
When the VP over the Product Family came to town, we introduced her to the room. The VP of the Product Family was pleased.
From that point forward, we had air cover. I held that card in my hand.
Sooner or later, someone with a certain bureaucratic role and particular organizational authority was going to feel disrespected. They would push back.
About a month or so after the theft, two guys from facilities circled the room during a meeting. They were visibly displeased. They loitered outside the pocket doors for a moment, locked in a conversation.
The enemy was preparing to attack.
Shortly after that, when a set corporate executives came for a visit, the enemy struck.
Declaring the room was necessary to temporarily house a visiting executive, an Executive Assistant declared that we had to vacate the room and clear the wall space.
By this time, it was “rooms,” because the Agile Coach for the Global Teams figured out that if the only thing standing between him and a dedicated room was the simple act of piracy, he’d have a room, too.
Members of the Facilities team entered the the Global Huddle Room and tore everything off the walls. They threatened to do the same in my Huddle Room. I don’t think they did, because I simply had too much stuff up on the walls. So, in the end, the Executive Administrator left me to it.
It wasn’t my first time dealing with this sort of thing.
I reached out to the VP of the Product Group and told her, regrettably, that Facilities was taking her product room away from her. It was a great experiment. We got great data. We’re sad to lose her room, but we’re grateful she gave it us. One can never over-value the careful use of the personal pronoun.
Within the hour, the VP of the Product Group got clearance from the Senior VP of Product.
05 November 2017
The Director of Software Development shared his astonishment over the whole thing: we are told we have to find ways to energize the team and encourage them to work collaboratively on site; when we do that, we’ve broken the sacred rules of the work place. We’re snapped right back into the practices that prevent us from excelling as Agile teams.
I had no wonder about it all. That’s the predictable mechanism.
I think the easiest way to kill innovation in a corporation is to simply say that you’re innovating. People vested in the institution you’re changing will kill the innovation. The act of murder isn’t open defiance, but a death from drowning after being weighed down and dragged under.
Innovation is forced into processes, and those processes have entry criteria, and the entry criteria have to be judged and centrally approved to advance; and, when the innovation does advance, of course, it advances only with the guiding advice of experts who own a controlling interest.
My sin, the unforgivable act, was not asking Facilities for permission, first.
For that, actors who are the corporate owners of the Huddle Rooms feel they have to strike back, in order to preserve their control — to ensure their value.
They own the Huddle Rooms for a reason, and if teams just go taking that Huddle Room away, they are rendered helpless to ensure the value of the Huddle Rooms.
It doesn’t matter if in the process of preserving the value of the Huddle Room, they ensure there is no value of the Huddle Room.
If asked, these people would tell you — and genuinely — that what they want, more than anything else, is to make the facility the best and most useful facility it can be. The bedeviling detail in the sentence, or course, is that “they” will make the best facility it can be. You have to ask them, first. Then, if they agree, and if they have time, and if they give you priority… then you might get what you asked for, when they get around to giving it to you.
We must prevent anarchy.
We have rules around Facilities, because operating Facilities cost money. There are security concerns, regulatory concerns, practical concerns over the distribution of shared resources, and that sort of thing. It makes a lot sense.
If making the team productive meant knocking out a couple of walls, I’d call Facilities about that. I don’t tailgate in through the doors. I don’t steal materials. I don’t park where I am not authorized. Having rules about our facilities is a good thing, and I willingly agree and happily comply to them. They serve the function of maintaining an orderly and secure workplace.
Policies are generalized action plans. We have them because taking those actions will produce an outcome — or a set of outcomes — consistent with out goals. When, however, policies become abstractions disconnected from outcomes but attached to an individual’s sense of authority and agency, that’s when our policies foul things up beyond recognition.
If there’s one thing we need from leaders to combat this — one thing more than anything else in an Agile organization — it’s the “Yes, and…” attitude.
You want to steal a huddle room? Yes, and when we have visitors from out of town, you might have to give it up. Yes, and if you don’t really use it, then we’ll return it to the commons or give it to an other product team who will use it. Yes, and let’s see what impact it has on team moral and team productivity.
There’s a phrase in Russian, one of the few that I remember: Все запрещено (vsya zaprasheyna). Everything is forbidden. Despite the need for “Yes, and…” We continue to operate “Все запрещено.”
The up side is, if you know this already — if you have keen understanding that everything is forbidden, “Все запрещено,” you can account for it.
I still have my room.
(2017 November 6)
The room is booked again for a visiting dignitary.
The empty huddle room next door, which was lost by the Global team, is open and the dignitary could be bivouacked there.
We are wondering if the room wasn’t booked as some sort of punishment, but that would presume that they were thinking about us at all. I am unconvinced.
The Director over the development team inquired of the Executive Administrator whether we couldn’t just shift the visiting dignitary one huddle room increment to the right.
The Executive Administrator directs us to the building coordinator. The building coordinator, in turn, directs us back to the EA.
We have achieved maximum bureaucracy.
The Executive Administrator, recognizing the idiocy of the situation, prints out a sign reserving the room next the room we stole. The EA is a pragmatist, struggling to balance what is common sense and what is common process.
I do feel somewhat guilty about complicating the EA’s life, but there is purpose behind all of this.
We (the general we) are challenged to demonstrate that we’re Agile, self-organizing, motivated, energized, and team-focused; provided we don’t actually self-organize, motivate, energize, or focus the team without an order, signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.
The senior vice president for product has given us the room. One of the Executive Administrators and the Facilities appear to be unaware of this agreement or especially concerned with it. No one knows how to bridge all of this together. So, it’s just going to keep being a collision between “is” and “ought,” until I either we are defeated or prevail.
Somebody has to plow this Earth, or nothing is going to change.
We continue to have our room.
(10 November 2017)
Two different co-workers have urgently confronted me about the Huddle Room.
Facilities is displeased. I have transgressed and I must make amends: “there are things on the walls in the Huddle Room!”
Apparently, things must not be placed on the walls in the Huddle Room.
I’m not immediately sure why; but, it’s clear that It Is Not To Be
I’ve had a stressful couple of weeks. I’m as impatient with one particular Executive Administrator and Facilities in driving me to vacate it.
During this stressful time, having this room as an Agile cave has proven invaluable. On the surface of it, every product group should have one.
Talking with the Tech Lead, I confess that I think the bureaucracy is about to pull us under on this one. I’m reminded of the particular wisdom Devo has on the subject: “They’ll hunt you down and taze you, bro, for messing with their rules.”
The Tech Lead is unconcerned. He just smiles and says, “The Site Leader has okay’d it.”
I call the Director of Software Engineering and ask him who in Facilities do I need to call to put this bloody thing to rest once and for all. He says, “I have this.”
I can’t thank him enough.
The Director of Software Engineering raised the question with the Senior Director of Software Engineering. The Senior Director of Software Engineering asks, as we all have, the only real question that matters here: “Who the fuck really cares if we have stuff hanging on the walls of a Huddle Room!?”
The Director of Software Engineering calls the head of the Facilities team in RTP, explaining what is going, leading the head of Facilities to wonder, also, who the fuck really cares if we have stuff hanging on the walls of a Huddle Room?
The Director of Software Engineering explains that anyone can use the room, and is encouraged to; anytime it is needed for visiting VIPs, it is available to them; it is part of a greater effort to understand how to make teams more effective. The head of Facilities is interested to know what we learn and thinks its a great idea.
All of this, then, leads one to wonder where the energy behind this is coming from?
The Senior Director of Engineering gives me that look, the one that seems to indicate that I am possibly the biggest idiot who has ever happened into his path.
He explains that one particular Executive Administrator from the team of Executive Administrators is especially animated overall of this.
It seems she is very, very concerned that the environment for visiting executives have well-coiffed decorum about them.
This leads me to ask the question of the Directors, Senior and Nominal, “who the fuck cares if the visiting executives see that there are things on the wall of a huddle room?”
The Senior Director of Software Engineering, now certain that I am the biggest idiot to ever darken his day, informs me with some emphasis that he’d very much rather visiting executives are provided proof that his engineers are, in fact, WORKING.
I am not helping matters by finding all of this incredibly funny.
This discussion takes place outside the Le Bureau Du Fromage Grand. He appears to be d’accord with all of this.
We continue to have our room.
20 November 2017
Why is it important to anyone if visiting executives have a temporary office with nothing on the walls?
A thought experiment: Image an individual with a role in an organization specifically structured to serve the immediate needs of an executive.
In this role, the person would assist the executive in managing the executives’ schedules, say. They would ensure that the executives’ paperwork, like expense reports and workflow authorizations, were completed accurately and on-time. This person would handle logistics of different sorts.
A person in such a role might see their value reflected back as the degree the executive is satisfied with the personal service he or she receives from a person in such a role.
There’s also power in it.
After all, Josef Djugashvili was an aparatchik before he was Stalin.
Okay, that’s quite possibly unfair, given the Stalin’s place in history. Still, it gets the point across.
I have a certain degree of empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of an Executive Administrator. The view of the world shifts to a universe dominated by executives.
This is nothing new. It’s a defining feature of bureaucracies to serve the bureaucracy itself, and not the purpose or function the bureaucracy was originally developed to support.
As a Catholic, if I point back to the origins of the church — what would become the hierarchy in the clergy from an ordained priest to the Pope — we’re pretty sure it initially existed to oversee the logistics of feeding and caring for the poor. Ostensibly, this is what the Church is still about, but I think we can agree it has evolved into something quite a bit more self-aware than that.
So, I steal a room. My goal is team productivity. That’s what I’m concerned about. It’s my job.
Productivity improves, but the change is hard.
I am now in some kind of strange conflict with one Executive Administrator, a person whose job (and in all fairness we are talking about a person’s livelihood here) is all about rules and order operating in a Platonic world that is completely independent from the measurable productivity of the organization.
Chew on that for a minute.
5 December 2017
I got a chance to meet with a Senior Vice President.
He had a chance to tell me:
- Don’t stop what you are doing, and
- Stop what you are doing
The Senior Vice President is an artist with the passive aggressive. I say that with a great deal of respect and admiration. He states he is not prescriptive; he is clearly wants a particular outcome, and he clearly wants me to do it.
The Executive Administrator was kind enough to call the meeting.
The crisis, requiring the Senior Vice President, continues to be that “there are things on the wall of the huddle room.”
Here’s the problem, as I understand it: things on the wall intimidate other teams, preventing them from using the room when it is available; things on the wall create jealousy; things on the wall create an unfair situation for other teams who might want to put their things on the wall, too, but can’t put their things on the wall because you have your things on the wall.
(At times like this, I wish Frank Zappa were alive and serving as my advocate.)
There are twenty two teams. There are some twelve huddle rooms.
Since one team — two actually, both working on the same product — are taking one room, we are causing conflict. There is no evidence of this that I can find, outside of the conflict created by one of the Executive Administrators.
So, the Senior Vice President and got together with another Senior Vice President, and they set themselves about the purpose of sorting this out.
Alone, in a room, after seeking the counsel of a few other senior leaders, they came up with a compromise. We can hang the things we need to hang up on the large, black foam boards. Then, we can take the foam boards around with us to any available meeting rooms or huddle rooms.
They arrive at this because they, the Senior Presidents Vice, could think of three possible solutions to the crisis:
- Kick us out of the room
- Do nothing
- Kick us out of the room, but allow us to take the walls with us — so, to speak.
They went with with the augmented “kick us out of the room version,” which has the advantage kicking us out of the room without appearing to be doing just that.
The notion that teams need a space where they can convene without having to worry about scheduling, planning, contenting or contesting the space is not beyond them. They get that ideal. The idea that it’s feasible and possible is beyond them.
What makes it feasible and possible is a “fourth option.” It never occurred to them to let the teams sort it out among themselves.
There are 22 team, and 12 huddle rooms. How are you going to solve this among yourselves?
- Gather the teams who actually want a Huddle Room for a team room.
- Assume each room can host a max number of three teams.
- Array the rooms in numeric order, declaring the lowest room number in the set is the “quietest” room and the highest is the “loudest.”
- Now, self organize with the teams that want a boisterous environment going to the high numbers and the teams looking for a sedate environment shifting to the lower numbers.
- Where there are more than three groups vying for a room, adjust to the left and right.
- Keep repeating until the process terminates.
- Gather the “room mates” together and work out an alliance statement, including respecting neighbors.
I figure it would take less than an hour.
So, now, instead, we have two eight by four foam boards that we are supposed to “hang our stuff on.” To date there three things hung on these foam boards: sticky that reads “My God! It’s full of stars!” a sticky that reads “Rage! Rage into that dark…” and a sticky that reads “the shared services architecture explained.”
I anticipate more stickies over time.
6 December 2017
So, it turns out the event that resulted in one particular Executive Administrator calling the Senior Presidents Vice into the crisis was this:
When we asked if a previous visiting dignitary could shift one room over, we transgressed far over a line.
I find myself thinking about getting another job. Seriously, this sturm und drang over the huddle room has sufficiently demotivated me that I’m considering hanging it up.
This, I know, is an overreaction. I attribute it to fatigue, coupled with an introvert’s aversion to conflict.
I have good equipment to weather these emotional troughs. Recognizing this is where I’m at, I’m satisfied to take no further action about it.
I point it out, because morale is a fragile thing.
I’m confident in my own capabilities in navigating morale issues. I’ll be right as rain after a good night’s sleep.
I’m concerned about the team’s morale. The whole point of this exercise was in creating a container where the teams could be successful. I’m not especially eager to mess with the container.
I’m not entirely sure where to take this.
There is another aspect of this, which again I think is tied to fatigue: I found the conversation with the Senior Vice President of product to be extremely unpleasant. He was, in my opinion, disingenuous. I was, I am quite certain, also disingenuous. For my part, I mishandled my half of the conversation badly and without honesty, and I’m not at all certain why — something to reflect on for some time going forward.
7 December 2017
There are plenty of collaborative spaces across the building that teams could be using, but are not.
For me, the simple answer is that we have a management problem. I don’t mean to be inflammatory, but managers create the container, and the teams fill it. If the teams are not filling the container, the managers are not creating it.
The more complicated answer is that I am not doing enough to create a container outside the teams I support as servant leader. Why should I be limited to up-leveling the collaborative skills of just the teams I support.
I’ve shifted my thinking somewhat, as a result of all of this.
Who knew? I can still learn.
So, I’m not shifting my thinking from “how do I energize my teams?” to “how do I energize this space?”
I know how to answer this question. This is not a problem to solve. Problems have linear solutions that suggest clear action plans.
This is a mess. It is a complex, tightly coupled set of issues tied into a knot.
We solve for a mess with numerous, frequent, rapid, and small improvements designed to simplify the situation. Continue to work away at a mess, sooner or later, you’ll get it down to a problem. Once it’s just a problem, you can kill it.
There might a win out of all of this silliness after all.
(8 January 2018)
Two things just happened: first, the technical lead from another team asked if he could use the stolen huddle room for his team’s stand ups. I told him three things:
- Of course, he could. It was nice of him to ask as a courtesy, but not strictly necessary.
- I was thrilled he asked, since there were assets in the room he could take advantage of.
- Move, remove, or adjust anything in the room as he saw fit for the benefit of his team. we’d work together to optimize the room’s shared resources.
We’ve held a could of meetings in the open space around the Huddle Rooms, which generally works. The problems being a) it still takes a lot of effort to set up the meeting, which is exactly the problem we were trying to resolve, and b) it’s still generally disruptive, since not all the teams are aligned when it comes to noise discipline.
The solution to that problem, of course, is to ask the teams “how noisy do you like it?” and then adjust the floor plan accordingly.
This, of course, is the same solution to the “22 teams and 12 Huddle Rooms” problem: put the problem in front of the 22 teams and have them sort it the hell out. First, separate the teams that care from the ones that don’t. From the remaining, figure out how many teams need to share how many rooms, and send a representative from each team to the room they prefer the most to have. Since the process terminates when there’s an equilibrium of rooms and teams, it should be a Lyapunov function.
As management tasks go, that’s a fairly easy one.
And, if for some reason there’s a variable that prevents the function from terminating — if the cycling occurred in definitely — then we have both an interesting learning and an opportunity to facilitate an agreement.
Central administration, however, seems to be the cultural norm in these woods.
Which leads me to the second thing that just happened: the Executive Administrator just poked her head around the corner too look into see if we’d taken our stuff off the walls of the huddle room.
You can guess whether or not we have.
At this point, I should note that two other companies in the area are feeling me out to see if I’d be interested in making a change. There’s a part of me that thinks this would be the easiest way for me individually to solve this problem.
Perhaps that, more than anything, is the take-away for Orange Management.
26 February 2018
I never had to give the huddle room back to the organization.
A friend made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and made a pivot to a new organization. This was a hard decision.
The Director of Software Development called it my “Nanny McPhee moment,” and if that doesn’t make sense — google it.
Most of the team didn’t know that I’d been called into a meeting with a Vice President over the room, or that despite that meeting I had no intention whatsoever of giving it back. Technically, I used the old trick of always saying “not yet” in place of “no.”
Think of it like orbiting the Earth. You’re not so much refusing to come down as you are constantly falling. When asked, are you coming down, you can say, “I’m working on it,” as long as you’re falling fast enough to not actually descend. It’s a good trick. If it’s new to you, think of me kindly when you use it.
My act of bureaucratic side-stepping impressed the engineers. It wasn’t the technique. It was the fact that I’d do it for them. I don’t think they fully understood what I really would do for them. But, it appears that what I really did was inspire a certain amount of insurrection.
I think the Orange Organization is going to kill the project, which will run out of steam within the year. It needs to create value for the customer, and the approach they seem to be taking is “Waterfall in an Agile Way.” I’m not betting on success. I’m betting the organization loses the will to keep funding it before it produces any value whatsoever.
If the machinery hasn’t reabsorbed the huddle room by that time, it’s likely that the need for having it at all will dissolve.
Still, the need shouldn’t diminish, in my opinion – the teams are the teams, and the team room should persevere regardless of the work they are executing.
The problem, I think, is that the team won’t stabilize to a single, dedicated backlog. It’s the team plus the backlog that necessitates a cave.
One way or the other, I’ve lit a fire. I’m proud of that (possibly too much so). I’m hoping see the engineers use it for some constructive burning.
I was asked to document my transition plan, so I did that in sticky notes on one of the Obsidian Panels of Doom. I stood it up outside the door of the Huddle Room. I put it there for the team, but I was also mindful that the Executive Administrator has a habit of choosing that that room for visiting dignitaries above others. What I had to say to the teams I have also to say to the organizational executives.
My guess is that the Executive Administrator will continue to schedule that room for the visiting dignitaries. It makes me wonder what will become of my document and the candid recommendation I made for the organization.
Just in case, I took a picture of it.
Whenever you can, where every you can, steal a Huddle Room. Change called for by the top down is realized from the bottom up.