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"War Rooms" Double Software Productivity 186

matt20 writes "Teams of workers that labored together for several months in specially designed "war rooms" were twice as productive as their counterparts working in traditional office arrangements, a study by University of Michigan researchers has found. Say goodbye to little cubes; it's war baby. I used to get tons done in a living room full of other people watching tv, doing homework, and programming, but the biggest problem is always choosing the music.
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"War Rooms" Double Software Productivity

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  • by hrieke ( 126185 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:22PM (#561743) Homepage
    Now only if that crazy guy in the wheel chair would stop tring to salute Hitler all the time, we could really get some work done.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I remember some condescending story on children a few years ago and how if you painted the classroom colours different it correlated to different speed and detail of work (condescending as they didn't try it on adults). There's some more detail on this at CNN [].
  • My office has had "war room" style workspaces for years. All you need is a few Nerf guns and some rubber bands.
  • I'm no clinical psychologist (but I did get an A in HS Introduction to psychology!) but I would guess that the reason people work better in a "war-room" is that they feel they have a purpose. Besides the more obvious reasons mentioned in the article, such as encouring cooperation, when you're working closely with other people what you're doing seems a bit more important.

    Sitting down facing a screen, it doesn't really care if you work on the programming task at hand or if you play a couple rounds of xmame. With your peers all with you, you can't let the team down. So, by creating a team atmosphere, the end result is probably a constant fear of not wanting to screw things up for everyone ;)

    On a lighter note, does anyone out there work in a "war room" type enviornment? It sounds like somewhere I'd like to work, but only if the chairs were leather and really comfortable ;)

  • by po_boy ( 69692 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:24PM (#561747) Homepage
    This reminds me of the claim of extreme programming [] that working in pairs increases productivity. I think it's just because you feel more guilty screwing around when the other guy is working, so you both end up working. Kind of a prisoners' dilemma, I guess.
  • by pb ( 1020 )
    I can believe that.

    I often find myself going to the Operating Systems lab to get stuff done, just because it's quiet, it's locked, (to only let the real nerds in) and there are lots of computers there, and comfy chairs, and a big table in the middle and stuff...

    Now if only I could get to the article. Anyone have it mirrored or cached or something?
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • by theluckman ( 205155 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:26PM (#561749) Homepage
    If you wonder why it's called a "war room", wait till they start debugging each others code. I've always said that there's no fighter like an overprotective programmer.


  • by grizzo ( 138368 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:27PM (#561750)
    anybody who knows anything knows that "war room" is simply a euphemism for "bong parlor". the reason people are more productive is because they're all too baked to talk to one another, focusing their energies on programming instead (which, as everybody who knows anything knows, is really easy to do stoned).

    the old cubicle system didn't allow for huge hookah-parties, thereby forcing employees/programmers to smoke out of their own small pieces, which didn't really get them that baked, just enough that they couldn't concentrate on anything anymore.

    as a side note, picking the music is never difficult in a bong parlor-- no matter what you pick, everybody will start bobbing along to the groove and saying, "dude this is pretty sweet. what is it?".

    grizzo []
    it's 100% grizzo
  • I'm no clinical psychologist

    I think you meant to say "IANACP"

  • We've got a wee micro company, in an industrial unit converted into a nice little open plan office. All the furniture is in a big loop and it can be very productive having everybody in the same space to bounce ideas off and go for mad creative and production drives.

    But remember kids, headphones save lives!

  • I always wanted to build a war room but I could never find a world map quite big enough. And I needed a lot or red rotary phones too.

  • Extreme Programming [], as advocated by refactoring [] and OO gurus [], already favors some similar approaches, especially programming in pairs [] and functionality-oriented design and testing through collaborative meetings between developers who discuss "User Stories", or anecdotal program requirements from users.

    It's worked wonders in my organization, and I suspect that the "war room" approach lends itself to similar types of productivity gains.

  • by po_boy ( 69692 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:28PM (#561755) Homepage
    is hiring?
  • by wendyk ( 18350 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:28PM (#561756) Homepage
    i've worked in lots of rooms where the idea was "let's get everyone who's working on this project into 1 room so they can all work together easily" -it was nice when you had a question, you could just shout it out. but you're interrupted so often by other people's phones ringing or their conversations that i think i ended up less productive. if you're put into one of those big offices, you'd better be able to tune out background noise easily. then again, that's probably pretty much the same w/ a floor full of cubicles.

    it's a nice way to create a feeling of working as a team, but i think that instant messaging & lunches together or something like that works just as well.
  • Nah.

    I'm a slacker, and generally my partner is too, so we both end up screwing around. But we get stuff finished in time. However, I can do that by myself, too. :)

    The only thing I can think of that working in pairs might really help is the design. Since you have to agree on stuff to write code, you have to decide on a standard way to do things, and that will help you a lot more in the end...
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • I work for an ISP. None of the engineering staff has cubicles. We have an entire floor to ourselves with parts strewn all over the place. In one room, we have another room,the vending machines. I personally have always loved this environment. Its true though...the only problem is the music ;)
  • I wouldn't call it _too_ condescending. They've since done similar studies on other groups (mentally disturbed patients, adults in offices, etc.) and found similarly strong but not conclusive results.

    I suspect it all sounds too touchy-feely new-agey for most organisations to paint their walls pink (or "rose") as a means of increased happiness/productivity. In fact, businesses in general tend to mistrust new and substantially different ideas about how they should be working. Ergonomics, colours for moods, war rooms, flex hours; and most of us are still working 8-5, M-F (theoretically!) in cube farms not much different from the secretarial pools of the 1940s.

    As a corollorary, it's easy and happy to experiment on kids, because it's just as easy to dismiss important results as, "well that wouldn't work in the REAL world!"

    Sorry--this is all off on a tangent. Nonetheless, business doesn't like to change.

  • Somebody should think of something else to call these things. It won't seem as foreboding to say "my company's starting to use happy-fun-good-worker rooms" instead of "war rooms".
  • the software department where I work has their own big room where we've got four programmers sitting in each corner, a guy who just test and builds installs off to one side, and a big table in the middle for meetings and ad hoc discussions.. we used to have two couches and a coffee table in the middle, but that became impractible as we got larger.

    It's WAY better than being off on your own, since we're always asking each other questions or commenting about /. stories.. and its totally open - no cube walls, and everyone faces towards the center.

    We do have one rule - if you want to crank the music, bring your own headphones...

    As far as 'war' goes, lan gaming is also much more fun when you can gloat right in front of your opponent.. :)
  • I used to work in an open plan office. My table was essentially held up by the table of the guy opposite. We couldn't turn our monitors without bumping the other. I don't know what it did for his productivity, but he ended up teaching me C.

    Meanwhile, all around were other pairs of tables. I can't say we had great communication, but at least you knew when someone was making a pot of tea.
  • I tried to view the article, looks like the site is slashdotted already....

    So forgive my ignorance of the terminology, what exactly is a War Room layout anyways?

  • The only problem I see may arise from such a war room effort is that of personality conflicts between the memebers of the teams.

    Would being in an enviormnet like this increase such conflicts and cause the general demise of the project.

    Conversely it may push those with conflicts to come to swifter resloutions realizing that they must work in such a close enviorment for an extended period of time.

    The main thing I found interesting about this article was the mention at the end on how this may help developers create better team software so that we can share this kind of enviormnet without being in the same physical space.

    Tools like AIM and MSN Messanger as well as wEBX, XDrive, NetMetting and others are a great start but we definatly need more.

    Maybe VR ala Snow Crash [] would be the anwser. Who knows. This is the type of research that needs to be done to find out though.
  • we have what we call the "Engineering War Room" where i work. generally the Engineers are set up in four-person megacubes (or whatever :), but when there's a big piece of the project to finish we'll all go into the "war room" for a few days.

    i find that that many people working towards a common goal really get things done. the room is coated in whiteboards, and everybody is free to comment and join in.

    i'm not sure if it would work on a regular basis however. the "war room" only seems to work when we have a very clear goal to achieve, and it can't be a task that spans over many weeks. but for getting specific tasks done, i definitely suggest using that model.

    on a related note, i once interviewed with a consulting company called Sapient [] who the "war room" model almost exclusively. i imagine that this would work especially well in a consulting scenario.

    - j

  • "Can't we all just get along?"

    Nope. Not in a capitalist economy. Capitalism implies (hell, it defines!) competition, conflict, and 'only the strong survive.' Competing agencies getting along is anathema to capitalism.

    Sad, ain't it?

  • ... however, you don't want to spend 100% of your time in such a team room. I've been working in teams for the last 2.5 years (I'm a Software Engineer) - and I'm feeling more and more the need to spend at least 50% of my time in a private office. Going from a simple developer to something were you spend time designing architectures, making presentations and workshops for newer employees, you need privacy. Don't get me wrong - it's more _fun_ to sit in a team room (you should see the Book of Quotes we have on the intranet .. ) but it's not a valid conclusion to claim that productivity automagically goes up just because you place people in such an environment.

    But, yes. Put 3-4 persons and their teamleader in the same room when they're developing new software from scratch, and the whole process of architecture and designing will almost solve itself, if those persons are software engineers and not just simple hackers .. ;)

  • I say we lock Rasterman, Mandrake, Linus, Alan, Jens Axboe, Ted T'so, Hemos, and CmdrTaco in a room, giving them breaks only for Number 1's and 2's and twinkies. Then I might get 2.4 and e0.17 before years end, and maybe there wouldnt be so much double posting here on /. :)
  • Everyone has a Nerf gun and uses it without hesitation when his peers screw up.
  • Every time I've been paired up on a project, it just encourages me to go goof off with whoever I'm paired with. This kind of mentality: "Since we're the only ones on this project, if it takes us a while longer to finish, no one else will notice. Hey, let's go play Tokyo Wars at Dave & Buster's." If, on the other hand, I'm doing a project solo, I feel like I have to get it done because my boss will actually be paying attention to what I'm doing. And it's so much harder to BS by yourself, than when you've got someone to collaborate on your bullshit excuses with :) It might just be me, though...
  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:35PM (#561771) Homepage Journal
    It works because workers surf/pr0n/slack less. If your boss could just move his eyes over and see you were reading slashdot when it was crunch-time, you'd be in big trouble, hence you work more instead of surfing. Not to mention the people that look at pr0n behind their closed office doors.
    Ours is a generation that likes to surf and take lots of 'mini-breaks' when we are working by ourselves.
    Having your boss sitting with you constantly changes the workhabits to create better productivity.
    I'm not saying everyone does it, but I'm sure you have people at your office doing it, and 'war-rooms' would make them more productive...

  • That would be the big reason, IMO, for these findings.

    Writing this as I am from a 8x10 cube right now, I can tell you that if I was in the same room with other people that worked on this code and could just shout out questions to them I would be a lot more productive.

    Instead, I might spend a substantially longer time thrashing through the problem myself. Or when I do resort to tracking someone down, it's a lot harder to find them in this maze of cubicles. Sometimes I can spend half a day on and off just trying to find one guy.
  • Do not taunt happy-fun-good-worker room!
  • The term "War room" seems to fit the office I work in rather well. Although, it seems to go several different ways. My group of programmers has great potential to resolve problems quickly by working together, but when any of us has an arguement of any sort, the whole office is chaos.
  • You can't fight in here, this is the War Room!

  • I don't suppose I quality, but I work in a 'war-room' environment for my school's yearbook. We have 30 computers in an arrangement resembling a pitchfork with three prongs. Most computers are visible to everyone, but there are a few private spots available. People generally work quite well, and if someone, e.g., starts up Napster it's obvious. It's private enough, however, so that if someone wants to move to a computer in the corner where he or she can work without being bothered by the the constant din in the area, it can be done. I like it quite much, actually.

    The only problem is that we have a lack of space for non-computer activities, which usually results in an ad hoc "meeting area" of a circle of chairs between "prongs".

    We don't do any programming work, alas, but the variety of tasks (raw creation, proofreading, article writing, proofreading, tweaking layout, etc. (did I mention proofreading?) approximated the various stages of programming.

  • Hee, hee! I hope I'm not the only one who got this reference.

  • Admit it. When you were a boy, you played with your GI Joe action figures and pretended to shoot each other with sticks and odd things you found around the house. But now you're all grown up and trying to write software for a living. Wouldn't it be nice to reconnect with that bit of your child hood and recapture a bit of those preadolescent cravings for a postadolescent testosterone rush?

    It's not just a placebo effect. Numerous medical studies [] indicate that people behave differently in war-geared situations, even in times of peace. If you can convince software-developers to tap into their subconscious desire for conquest, then they can even begin to forgo sleep and food (though interestingly, not sex), in a pursuit of the artificially placed goal set by the company.

    Building special "war rooms" both placates men's self-images (power-seeking) and provides a modicum of logistic support to enhance the illusion (nurture-seeking). Rather than discourage competition, today's companies are elevating it to the highest ideal, unmasking sublimated urges and unleashing great profit potential.
  • Gentlemen, you can't fight in here...this is the war room!
  • I think you meant to say "IANACP"


  • by Fervent ( 178271 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:39PM (#561781)
    When I once worked at a CompUSA I noticed a "war room" in the business sales divison. They had a blackboard with lines drawn on it and an actual army helmet with the words "$1 billion in sales by 2000".

    They never did make that goal, or so it would seem. They appeared to be at war not with other computer sellers but the customers.

  • Have any of you actually seen or worked in a War Room? 99% of the time what a War Room is is an ex-conference room with 20 programmers shoved in there each with 3 feet of desk space and enough room to push their chairback and shove by their co-workers to go to the bathroom. (Obviously that's the bad end of the spectrum :) Your productivity may be higher but at what price? You have no privacy, you have to deal constantly with the personal (eating, hygene, social) issues of your fellow employees and the lack of your own space lowers your sense of value to the company.

    Higher productivity in the shortrun doesn't make up for the higher stress and loss of company loyalty in the long run.

  • by c_g12 ( 262068 ) <> on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:40PM (#561783)
    Remind you of Highschool? One guy slacks off while the other works, and they share the credit... Also consider the stress factor of War Rooms, they may seem more productive, but in the long run this environment may cause more burn-outs and a high personel turn-over.
  • by Aya ( 115435 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:41PM (#561784) Homepage
    ...Until the web designer decided his Super Soaker was more effective than our nerf weapons.

    He chased one programmer into the server room. This resulted in an entire rack filled with fried boards.

    So, it might be effective... as long as general stupidity is taken into consideration.
  • by ry4an ( 1568 ) <ry4an-slashdot.ry4an@org> on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:41PM (#561785) Homepage
    In the book Peopleware [] DeMarco and Lister theorize that this works whereas everyone just packed in working on different shit doesn't because everyone's in the same mode at the same time. When you're designing you're all designing, and when you're rushing for a deadline and coding like mad everyone is.

    I telecommute and we use IRC as our war room. It works great 'cause I can tune in and out w/o hassle.

  • A war room setup is a room without cubicals or other boundries between people working on the same project.
  • Gentlemen, you can't fight in here... this is the WAR ROOM!

  • I agree completely. I probably wouldn't be surfing /. right now if I was in a war room. And I sure as hell wouldn't check my Hotmail four hundred times a day while doing compiles.

    I wonder if I need counseling...
  • My company has all the programmers set up in one big room like this. We call it the "code farm". Noise is definitely a problem - particularly when the senior programmers across the room get into one of their arguments, or when the summer interns are getting silly. Headphones are a must.

    Another problem I have with this is that, well, when I'm coding I get kind of weird. I sit around with my tongue sticking out of my mouth, I make odd noises when something works or doesn't, I hold long, one-sided conversations with my code ("Why are you doing this to me? What have I ever done to you that you would behave like this? Oh, don't you dare tell me I wrote you that way, that's no excuse...") or start swearing at it - and I have a foul mouth when something just won't work. If my headphones are on, I bop around to the music and lip sync. All in all, I'm faced in the "farm" with the choice of looking like an idiot or making sure I never fall into "the zone" - which of course means I'm not doing my best work.

    OTOH, it is really useful when you're working with other people who you need to be in close contact with, or if you're mentoring/being mentored by another programmer, and the guilt factor probably does lead to less goofing off. I think it's really dependent upon what you're doing and what kind of environment you work well in (not to mention whether you look like a kook while you work).


  • by Anonymous Coward
    "War rooms" increase productivity?

    Bah. Come on, people. There are 1001 better ways to improve efficiency than to rearrange the office furniture and give everyone a pretty view.

    • Keep a hetergeneous network
    • . There's nothing more frustrating for your developers than having to learn 3 different environments, compile on 3 different platforms, and test on 3 different platforms. Pick one, and use it EVERYWHERE, without exception.
    • Keep your developers on a short leash
    • . It sounds like a bad idea at first, but think about it. Your best hackers all have low attention spans, and will tinker with anything that can be tinkered with. Don't give them root - anywhere - or you'll be faced with your best workers spending days at a time installing unneeded SCSI backup devices, tweaking quotas on the file servers, adding VPNs, WANs, and other unneeded "enhancements" right down to 200 various text editors, all for their own amusement. Your hackers should have normal user access to their machine, and NO OTHERS.
    • Train your administrators in house. Don't depend on their previous experience to do it for you. Admins are a dime a dozen these days; and most of them have learned bad habits from previous employers. You want to hire young admins, making sure that they've got several current certifications (MSCE, Oracle, Netware all have cert programs) to ensure that they're intelligent and have a desire to stay current. Bring them on board, and teach them YOUR way. No bad habits brought in, no bad habits learned, and *boom* instant administrator, just add paycheck.

    • Keep everyone's code isolated. The less people that are mucking with critical sections, the better. Many hands in the pie create large messes and broken builds. If one person writes a critical section that they test and verify as working, don't break it by letting someone else add or tweak things that they didn't write, and therefore don't fully understand.

  • >"Can't we all just get along?"

    Nope. Not in a capitalist economy. Capitalism implies (hell, it defines!) competition, conflict, and 'only the strong survive.' Competing agencies getting along is anathema to capitalism.

    Bull. Capitalism is NOT "only the strong survive," and "getting along" is NOT "anathema to capitalism." Capitalism is freedom; often players in a capitalist economy specialize and then work together, because they are free to do so and it is to their benefit.

    Sad, ain't it?
    Slurs and misunderstanding sure are.

  • We started our company about nine months ago and spend the first two in the basement of one of us. There were four guys, old crappy office furniture that we found somewhere, loud music, an @home link and tons of equipment.

    Even though it nearly gave me carpal tunnel, due to both the crappy furniture and the insane amount of code we produced, we has a really great time, and it allowed us to produce a demo of our ideas really, really fast, which in turn allowed "the suits" (who occupied "real" offices in a different city), to gather enough VC to get us started.

    Needless to say that, now that we have offices and moving to bigger ones next week, "Jeff's basement" has a mythical ring to it in our company, and even though production is still pretty good, it's really hard to recapture that atmosphere...

    Is this warroom enough for ya?


  • What if they are hackers and not just simple software engineers. Seriously though if you are maing some sort of distinction using this terminology I think working in a hacker mode which I would say is creatively but without the strict methodology is very effective in the team room type environment esp because there is less likely to be the fancy group SW eng tools which facilitate though often over structure communication of pieces of a project.
  • by scotay ( 195240 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:48PM (#561794)
    I had one "war room" development experience. Not sure if was the company's idea or Anderson consulting.

    No cubicles, no dividers, and no monitors that faced into walls or corners. Everything was public and open to inspection at all times. At first, the lack of privacy was maddening. Even if you had time to surf for porn, you wouldn't dare. The noise was a problem, but I found that you quickly adapted. Most people were pissed to fuming at the beginning but this passed.

    The most amazing thing was the teaming that went on. You would think this sort of forced teaming wouldn't work, but it did. Programmers that normally played their hands close to the deck became show offs. Spontaneous groups would form for discussion or demos or to show off some nice coding tricks. By simply removing cubicles, a totally different dynamic was created!

    I now work alone much of the time and I miss my "war room" days. Maybe more companies will follow if the productivity claims are proven. Maybe in the future, programmers will be placed in open glass enclosures to be shown off during company tours. As long as those touring are advised to keep their hands away from the programmers, there should be little injury. Most programmers might be surprised that they would actually thrive in a fishbowl of an environment. I know I was.
  • But it's a repeated prisoner's dilemma game, every moment, as long as you both are working. In other words, if you decide to start goofing off, and your partner decides to work, he gets to change his mind as soon as he sees you slacking.

    Sure, when you play PD once, there's no reason not to defect. If you play a thousand times against the same player, on the other hand, defecting even once is dangerous.

    Of course, it breaks down a little... in PD, if you both defect, you both lose. In real life, if you both goof off, but not so long that you delay the project, you feel like you've both won.
  • No bad habits... and you advocate sending them to get certifications?

    I'm sorry but most certification programs do nothing but teach people bad habits. Asside from Cisco's, very few of them deal with real world scenarios that a typical admin will experience. And a certification is not experience... its nothing but a bit of fact learning and memorization for things that will prolly not ever get used much in the real world.

    A Certifcation doesn't show a desire to stay current, it shows a desire to pad one's salary.

    Bring in young admins who are eager and smart. Its that simple. They needs certifications to prove they are smart... simple lay out a couple of problems (some of which have nothing to do with computers) and ask them how they would solve them.

    Keep code isolated? Where do you work? In the real world lots of people touch other people's code because thats the only way its ever going to work. Source control is a wonderous thing... learn it.
  • I'll show my ignorance. Why doesn't Slashdot ever get Slashdotted?
  • On a lighter note, does anyone out there work in a "war room" type enviornment? It sounds like somewhere I'd like to work, but only if the chairs were leather and really comfortable ;)

    I do, and it works. It really makes up for lack of communication, makes consultation easy, promotes a general group-organism kind of thing. Pretty cool, really.
  • finally, someone who supports my movement away from cubes.

    I have probally been a lucky guy. All the companies I have worked for (for the most part) have been of the 'war room' mentality

    • Games-Workshop - WarRoom
    • @Home - WarRoom
    • Black&Decker - WarRoom (more or less)
    • ProxiCom (on loan)- WarishRoom

    Actually @home (Comcast division) was the one that started out NOT as a WarRoom. It was cubicle world, and i'll tell you .. productivity was horrible. (nothing like having absolute privace when you want to play a little quake eh ?) but I moved to the web side, and that was like a bullpen. It was great. If I was having a code problem - I just had to say 'HEY!' and someone might have an answer.

    C.H.I.M.P's abounded, so we might not even have to look away from our screens. Pr0n surfing, and goofing off was not activly discouraged, but when all your companions are busting a$$ to meet deadline - you feel a LOT more guilty looking at e-bay, (or slashdotting i suppose *grin*)

    at the contractors im working with now (for the new [] site), its a low cubicle wall place .. in nice ordly rows, with lots of caffinated beverages for free in the kitchen. Its a more-or-less war room environment. There are tv's here, and people talk to each other more readily. (The graphics part of the company was busily setting up a slot car track about 30 mins ago .. smelled of Ozone galore !) However, in the last week (of crunch time) i have probally worked 60+ hours with this site .. and honestly .. its been a HELL of a lot easier to do so, than if i was stairing at the grey fabric covered walls of a cube.

    Last week (admist a spontanious poll of how many people had a sock monkey [] as a kid - so far its 28 vs 20 .. close race - 2 voted "what the hell is a sock monkey", prompting for some RATHER interesting drawings on the 'warboard' ) we were here untill midnight (with some chineese food as fortification.) Much easier, and actually kind of FUN. Although I kinda glad that im not expected to do that it every day.

    I'm all for the war room, sides .. its easier to shoot your boss with a nerfball when you can see him all the time.

  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:57PM (#561800) Homepage
    How much of this alleged increased productivity was simply due to the Hawthorne Effect?

    Researchers many years ago at a GE plant in Hawthorne, England wanted to demonstrate the effect of improved lighting. So they increased lighting levels, and lo, productivity went up.

    The problem came during the check-back when they lowered lighting levels to the original lux. Productivity went up even further!

    It turns out the Heizenberg's uncertainty principle applies to people as well: If you measure and watch something, people react to the closer attention.
  • happy-fun-good-worker room

    There already is one of those, it's called the photocopy room ;-)

  • Absolutely right on the point!
    Army perform their best in war mode but they
    will just end up being nuts if the war mode is
    turned on too long (e.g. Vietnam war etc.)
    So, unless you are looking forward to pay
    a ton of cash to service your software engineers'
    visits to the shrink... war mode should be like
    DefCon 5... used only when it really calls for it.
    When the "troopers" come home victorious, the
    management has better give out "medals" and maybe
    even a "heroes' welcome".

    DevCon5 in computer world == A new Outlook virus
    out when your entire system is 100% MS based.
  • by jmaslak ( 39422 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @12:59PM (#561803)
    I worked with two other people in a "mega cube" (with 6' high permenant "walls"). We dubbed it the "Playpen". The company firmly believed in giving people the resources they needed to do our jobs, so we had:

    1) A very large whiteboard on one wall - with no furnature in front of it.

    2) A spare computer and desk for "guests" to use during technical discussions (also used as a second terminal for the residents if they needed to run something that took a lot of resources)

    3) It was a corner office in a tall office building, so it had an awesome view

    4) Each person had their own phone

    5) Nice workstations with 21" monitors

    6) A comfortable "poof chair" (it is sort of a "full body" bean bag)

    7) A shared bookshelf, so that you could borrow each other's books.

    8) A collection of office toys, including a rubber-band powered plane (OSHA wouldn't have liked us flying that in the cube; too bad) and a bat suspended from the ceiling (it claimed to have a "soothing motion" - it didn't).

    It worked VERY well since the three of us that shared the office all worked on the same projects at the same time. This environment was easily the most productive environment I've worked in.

    People have mentioned "noise", though. It was true that music could be an issue. I recommend that companies buy GOOD headphones for every employee - a pair of $200 headphones can sound better than a $1000 set of speakers; once everyone has a set of these, you won't be able to pay them to listen to music on crappy computer speakers. The headphones should allow outside sound in and have at least 25' of cord (use an extension if you must).

    As for ringing phones, that WAS annoying! It wasn't too bad, though, because we also had a "mini room" (actually two spare offices) across the hall. These rooms were used when people needed to have a long phone conversation, as they could go in and shut the door. This also gave some privacy. It was considered rude to talk for hours in the megacube, unless you were talking to everyone else there.

    The furnature consisted of whatever we could dig up. I would recommend nice desks (single piece, not a U or L shaped desk) with LOTS of small tables. The ones that we had were 3' by 3' tables that could be configured however we wanted. If you wanted a "L" desk, you just grabbed three of these and put them on the left of your desk. I actually had a wrap-around desk build out of these. The nice thing is that you can reconfigure your space as appropriate for your work. We could, for instance, build a conference table in the middle of the room in a matter of minutes. All those nice "executive" desks really fall short in the ability to adjust to the work environment - they are nice for people who crave status symbols, but not for many others.

    As you can see, though, this didn't save the company any money. The three of us had about twice the space we would have had if we lived in cubes. Not many companies could justify buying a poof chair for a space like this. Most environments I've worked in refuse to buy the most modern workstations for programmers, and 21" monitors are, sadly, rare. But, we were much more productive and I believe that our space and equipment cost less than additional employees would have.

    I would also say that some of the positives of this environment came accidently. For instance, the company didn't think that being cheap on a bookshelf would increase productivity, but it did!
  • Perhaps it doubles productivity, but how sustainable is that productivity? Burn out is an important thing to avoid. Also, how high is the quality of what these people are doing? Writing twice as many lines of code does _not_ mean you are twice as productive, if you end up with tons of bugs as a result.

    Pushing people do do more and to work longer and get things done faster is not the best way to get a productive work enviornment.
  • Sometimes it is really, really nice to be able to retreat into the confines of your cube and smash out some work. Having to live in the immediate presence of your coworkers may make you get a lot more done, but in my experience it has always made me much more edgy. Sometimes I need to just get away from the others and pound out the code. Having to endure other people's eyes on me all the time gets to me eventually.
  • OK, maybe instead of 'defines...', I should have said 'is de facto...'

    I'm afraid that I don't believe it, though. Capitalism invariably degenerates into economic head-butting. Companies that work together, only do so to compete more aggressively against the competition. Intel and MS, for instance have worked together for years because they don't directly compete, but rather complement each other; and they've leveraged that collaboration to keep the upper edge. How many Alphas running OS/2 were sold in 1995-1997? (when the agreement was at its strongest, and also when those competing companies were producing very viable consumer products)

    You may not agree, but that's how I see it.

  • I don't telecommute, but we still use IRC as our war room. Everyone new thinks it's a lousy idea, until they try it for a couple of hours, then they're all converts. Having an IRC server, even when everyone's in cubes or offices in a 50 foot radius, is still a great thing. It's tons faster than email or walking over to ask stupid questions like "Did you check that file in yet?" and much less distracting than a phone call or a walk-over. It's also great for passing URLs to good time wasting sites around, so I'm not certain it actually helps productivity, but I'm fairly certain it hasn't hurt either. I highly recommend it to everyone, no matter how silly you feel at first talking to people 20 feet away via IRC.
  • I must admit that sounds interesting. I just need to go to work for a company that has more than just me as the programmer.

    I love working in an environment that includes other people next to or nearby. Where you can just ask a question out loud at normal volume levels and have somebody answer it vs. having to walk through a maze, schedule a meeting, or call a telecommuter at home.

    It's all about instant communication. You need to tell somebody something, they're right there. You need to go over some specs, you give yourself a good shove and slide your chair over. How can that NOT be more productive that isolation.

    When everybody is nearby it also turns into somewhat of a competition. I did 1200 lines today, how much did you do? I just fragged my 34th bug of the day.

  • Keep a hetergeneous network. [...] Pick one, and use it EVERYWHERE, without exception.

    You seem to be mixing up hetero and homo here.

  • You mean homogeneous network, and you're wrong. Unless you're Microsoft, (And even if you are in some cases) there will be at least two platforms you're aiming at: Apple and Win32.
    Within Win32, you need to do QA on at least four platforms: Windows95, Windows98, NT4.0 and Win2000. If you're a *nix software shop, you'll need at least four of the following: Irix, Tru/64, AIX, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, Linux, OS/X, QNX or BeOS.

    And I agree with the previous poster; Certs show nothing and teach little. On the other hand, experience is something you can't pay enough for. When the raid on the fileserver starts to go, do you want a MCSE who barely knows how it works and has to spend forty minutes in the Knowledge base and manuals to deal with it, and then has to run to another tech to double check, or the uncertified guy who has seen the problem before and could deal with it on the spot??

  • .. productivity. I mean I'd love to work someplace that had a whore room! I' never go home.
    oh WAR room. nevermind.
  • by jafac ( 1449 )
    um - no Solaris? You might want to include the #1 Unix. (#1 not be technical merit, of course! let's not go *there*, but let's not forget this clearly important species)
  • here's [] a conference paper that has some of the ideas of the is not merely limited to programmers though, but it is relevant and written by one of the authors [].

  • by wnissen ( 59924 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @01:46PM (#561825)
    What's interesting is that another rather sophisticated software development book, Software Project Survival Guide [] by McConnell says that one or two person offices are much better than more open, less private cube farms. He cites "After 15 Years," an essay by Tom DeMArco and Timothy Lister, that was published in the book Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams. They claim that workers who work in the top 25% of environments are 2.5 times more prodcutive than those in the bottom 25%. Maybe the addition of being in extremely close contact is enough to overcome the distractions.

    I'd like to see more research. Take the same team, put them in cubes, offices, and war rooms, and see how they do. It strikes me as entirely possible that the practices they talk about in the article as only being possible in "extreme collocation" are in fact applicable to any development team. Thus, the real factor is the implementation of software development best practices, and not the work environment. And there's plenty of studies that show good software process to be helpful, so it's not surprising that there was a big jump in productivity.

    Well, I'm off to do some software process, by myself in my office. Gotta get those requirements written down...

  • by aozilla ( 133143 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @01:52PM (#561827) Homepage
    Sorry, but good programmers who spend 1/10 of their day coding will outperform average programmers who spend 9/10 of their day coding every time. The way to increase productivity is to hire good programmers and give them the work environment to keep them there. The manager's job is to get the bullshit out of the way so the programmer can focus on what she does best. All the rest is touchy-feely nonsense.
  • by xant ( 99438 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @02:07PM (#561833) Homepage
    Not to mention keystroke monitors, hidden microphones, and the random execution of anyone caught surfing inappropriate websites.
  • You may not agree, but that's how I see it.

    You stated your position a little more reasonably; and I more or less agree with the content of your statement, but not the sentiment. You think that competition is a bad thing; I think it is a good thing.

    With what would you replace competition? Who knows so much that they can pick the correct product/strategy/etc. at the outset? And are people so homogenous that they would be happy with a pre-ordained choice? Or are you thinking of some method of having choices in similar products somehow without competition?

  • Having worked in several very fast-paced projects (mostly in .com startups) this has definitely proven to be very effective. IMHO, it all comes down to communication.

    In a war room, direct interpersonal communication is easily available at all times. Advantages compared to technology aided communication of any kind are the very high bandwidth of communication (tone, body language, ...) and very quick latency.

    Since people are in the same room most of the time, communication is always a multicast to all people related to the project. Using headphones, people that don't want to be disturbed can "filter" out such multicasts.

    Sitting next to each other also makes social contacts very easy. People get to know each other. After a short while, they also feel a team spirit which shows in toys, t-shirts and common habits.

    From my personal experience I can say that war rooms not only improve productivity, but make work a lot more fun!
  • by wdavies ( 163941 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @03:01PM (#561843) Homepage


    We just (end of October), came out of a 2 month War Room based project. Normally we live in lil gray cubes. We had a hell of a schedule - 2 months to build a meta-search engine for prices of Books, Music and Video, that used a commercial data source for book music and video data, and dynamic scrapers to get prices.

    Three of us went into the conference room, and we got it done on schedule (Books, Music and Movies [])

    Why ?

    • It definitely created a hard-core attitude - the three of us were there 12-14 hours a day on average. Yes, it does do that "bad" guilt trip thing to you, but its really more kind of the fact that there is a cool hi-visibility project you are in on.
    • Communication bandwidth was zero -- "What's the parameter to that API you defined ?" - instant answer.
    • Fun, Fun, Fun. We were the most psyched team in the company - people used to come in just to feel the vibe (I am not a new ager at all). We decorated the room madly - cant post a picture of the door, but it looks like a totem pole. We had a TV - and watched every play-off game that was on... We drank every night, and ate at a local sports bar...

    I don't think I could work in one of these 365 days a year - and I suspect that being THE SOLE War Room was kind of ego-boosting - if everyone was in one, who knows.

    Also, you really have to be involved in a tight project, with the ability to tell anyone coming into the room to f*ck off if it disrupts you or is not relevant to the project. In a normal multi-person office, the day to day interrupts can drive multiple occupants mad...


    p.s. There is also a similar article in the New Yorker this month (page 60, Dec 11 Issue).

  • You think that competition is a bad thing; I think it is a good thing.

    Competition (between companies) isn't a problem. Cooperation (aka collusion) is a problem.

    Competition gives you faster hardware, low-cost bandwidth, cheap long-distance service, and other nice things.

    Cooperation/Collusion gives you MSFT OEM licensing agreements, the MPAA, the RIAA, price-fixing, etc. etc.

    If I read swordgeek right, he's saying the same thing.


  • We have the same type of environment and we have a custom MP3 Jukebox that everyone logs into to queu up their songs. Seems to please everyone.
  • by zedzed ( 205839 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @03:31PM (#561847)

    The IBM Santa Teresa report 25 years ago showed the right way to build offices for software developers: private offices with a door and window. They need to be near common areas for meetings. This was later supported by Peopleware.

    The big problem with the Santa Teresa design is that it is an optimal solution. Since no brain power goes into finding better solutions, it all goes into finding excuses for not implementing it.

    These war rooms were only compared to "traditional offices", ie those dreaded cubicles.

    This article also used an oxymoron: "private cubicle".

  • I've seen a lot of mention of the use of headphones as a way of combating distracting noise with music.

    The problem with this, as outlined in Peopleware is that music engages the creative centers of the brain, resulting in work that is measurably less creative than if the work was conducted in a quiet environment.

    My feeling with war rooms is that it is likely they work for short term projects where the quality and creativity of the result is not that important. Otherwise they are inappropriate.

  • 3 of my friends took the same programming class and got together "war room" style when writing each of their programs. They got a giant white board and they would write each program in psuedocode before they wrote the first line of code. Once they were satisfied they had the logic down each of them worked out their own code separately from the pseudocode.

    This saved them many hours of coding the rest of the class had to sweat through, yet in the end their programs looked different enough to qualify as individual programs(at UNM you are not allowed to work on programs in groups in most CS classes) because they implemented the psuedocode separately.

    I watch the sea.
    I saw it on TV.

  • TWHS.

    (That's What He Said.)

  • Fun, Fun, Fun. We were the most psyched team in the company - people used to come in just to feel the vibe (I am not a new ager at all). We decorated the room madly - cant post a picture of the door, but it looks like a totem pole. We had a TV - and watched every play-off game that was on... We drank every night, and ate at a local sports bar...

    Does this imply that a war room will only work if people's private lives and personal preferences are closely matched? I am not a sports fan, don't drink everynight and avoid sports bars. I'd avoid the group on off hours if I were placed in such a group. Would too much "diversity" ruin the dynamics?

  • If I read swordgeek right, he's saying the same thing.

    Then he's saying it poorly, or in a way that I'm failing to understand.

    I agree with what you said. Unfortunately, the government during the FDR period rigged the laws of this land to favor collusion, condone monopoly, create and legitimize cartels, and weight things towards large interests in the name of "stability."

    I would prefer a system that favors many smaller competitors, rather than a few large MegaCorps. I.e., I would prefer real capitalism to the government-by-pressure-group system that we currently have.

    Along those lines, I would prefer the end of government-created and sustained monopolies, the busting up of cartels (like the banking industry), the limiting of patents and copyrights to shorter amounts of time as they once were, and either the inclusion of the "corporate death penalty" in law enforcement (i.e., corporations obey the same laws real people do) or the end of the corporation as we know it. Corporations used to be very special things, set up by the U.S. Congress and granted special legal status and exemptions. The Postal Service, for example. Private business was confined to being companies, not corporations.

    This day of government licensing of all activity and "public-private partnerships" is really detrimental to capitalism, to our culture, and to our system of governance (a federal republic -- which is neither a democracy or a corporate state).

  • I couldn't agree more.

    I have a headphone rule. I am fair game in all rocket fights *unless* I have my headphones on.
    Then, if I am hit with a rocket, it is for informational purposes only.
  • by jon_adair ( 142541 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2000 @05:09PM (#561862) Homepage

    Do not all go out together for a TexMex lunch.

  • That's my point exactly. Good programmers are hard enough to find when you aren't stuffing them together in a small little "war room". You might get the job done quickly, if it's a short enough life cycle, but after that project is done you're going to lose all your best programmers to another company with better working conditions. Software teams are like basketball teams. Fortunately, we don't have salary caps and most of us are free agents.
  • Well, 2 of us had previously worked together in a telecommuting environment, and it was naturally and obviously invaluable there. We liked it enough that we gave it a try once we wound up working together again for another company, despite the fact that we did, indeed, feel silly doing so. But it quickly became apparent after we got a few more people in on it that was easily worthwhile.

    I don't know how you'd convince people to do it otherwise. If they're using ICQ or AIM, or telecommuting some of the time, you could relate it to that (it's much better for a group environment). Otherwise it might be a hard sell.
  • Well I worked in both environments and I can say one thing. For high demand, high production work, war rooms are the "only good one". But your boss should be on it... Or else it is not a war room but a barrack. Right now I'm working in war room "version 2". A not so big room (we're really stuffed here) with ten people and 15 computers. There is also the "no man's land" where all servers are located. You only enter there in case of trouble, maintenance "in situ" or to install something new. 24 hours a day there is always someone here. Most of us have computers at home and mobiles. This allows us to hold three ISP structures and a series of several other tasks for the University we work.

    Our team is the best and most tighted together among all here. We passed over crises, problems of different kinds and till now many "old guards" are still working here, while they "officially" already left their job. Most decisions are considered and weighted by the team and only then a decision is taken. Frankly, we don't have "soldiers" here. There is only one trouble - music. Tastes are so different that it gets some conflicts here.
    I should note that this team is a hallmark around here. While not being the biggest ISP, we are the most influential in terms of methods and technologies. One of the biggest ISPs is made mostly of our "old guards". And this structure has proved to be the best. The examples of "cubicle" schemes on this fiels and which I work with, had all failed. Specially due to the fact that there was no normal communication schemes between the boss and you.

    In a work that demands the minimum of failures possible, the boss should not only be in contact with the team but also be an effective member of it. Yeah it is hard for some, any private/confidential talk is nearly known by all. But we are also decisiomakers so it does not make a big difference. It may also look hard to divide work between business deals and technical tasks. But this brings decisionmaking into a more strightforward position. The boss knows things as a captain should know the battlefield. This is very fundamental under the intensity of some tasks we have.
  • Good project teams = better productivity, and providing an environment where good teams quickly flourish, and bad teams quickly fall apart is the best way to ensure you have good teams.

    Have a team go back to their respective cubes/offices/whatever after every meeting, and you can only judge at meetings.

    Have the team in their own war-room, and you quickly know who's not a player.
  • That sounds like my final project for a CS class I took/am taking this semester. (Final is at 2pm tomorrow... er, today...)

    We had both forgotten the due date of the project. I realized, on Saturday, that it was due Monday, and tried to contact him. I was unable to do so until early Sunday afternoon. At the time, he thought it wasn't due till Wednesday, and was busy working on another project, so I went at it. This was at about 2PM Sunday.

    Being that I'm not the best programmer in the world, and more of a 'systems guy,' writing the program was fairly difficult for me. The course is pretty crappy, being a first year CS program, and was oritented for the non-geek... For instance, we went over C++ vectors in the class, which IMNSHO, are total crap, and didn't go over linked lists, arrays, pointers, etc... lots of STL stuff, and little practical things.

    I ended up having a lot of practical things in my final project, and only as many vectors as were required. :) ~40k of commented code and 22 hours with no sleep later, my online friends and I were done with the project. (Thank God for their help!) It was mostly broken, but it worked decently enough to submit.

    Needless to say, I shall crush the balls of my supposed project partner, and feed them to him in a bottle.


  • A few months back, my manager told me a story.

    There was once an office manager for a medium sized company. Productivity was lagging, so it came down to him to help the problem. He decided it was time to change the lightbulbs. Changing the lightbulbs up 10 watts increased productivity 20% "Wow!" thought the manager. "What an increibly increase for just lightbulbs!"

    So he decided to do it again. Up another 10 watts. Another 5% increase! "Excellent. By upping the wattages on the bulbs, i've gotten higher productivity." He tried it again, another 5 watts. Another 2% increase, but people were complaining about the lights. So he took it down those 5 watts. Yet another 2% increase in productivity.


    It has nothing to do with the lights, it's the change. People need an engaging changing environment so that they do become stale, and can remain productive. War rooms probably provide that sort of dynamic environment, but most likely at the cost of high stress.

    Maybe they should look into new light bulbs instead.


  • These war rooms were only compared to "traditional offices", ie those dreaded cubicles.

    It's interesting that everyone seems to assume that cubicles are the norm. Here in the UK, they're virtually unheard of. I've never worked in a cubicle based company, and although my girlfriend once did, that company has since got rid of the cubicles...

  • by dmorin ( 25609 ) <[dmorin] [at] []> on Thursday December 14, 2000 @02:14AM (#561895) Homepage Journal
    I agree with the idea but not necessarily the ratio -- you're essentially saying that a good programmer is 9 times better than an average programmer? That makes for one hell of a curve, don't you think? That would also imply that the average programmer is 9 times better than a bad programmer. And you didn't even use the term "great" or "excellent".

    I took a quick poll of my developers recently and asked "How busy do you feel you are on a scale of 1-10? Say a 5 or less is equal to I'm bored I need something to do, where a 9 or 10 is more like oh shoot even if i never leave my cube I still don't know if I'll meet my deadlines." The idea was that we were aiming for about an 8 for everybody. Some of my results:

    • One of my best programmers, who I know has a handful of very critical projects on him,immediately said "Oh, a 3. What else have you got?"
    • The more junior programmers had a tendency to say 5-6, whereas the senior programmers said 9. Is this because we loaded up the senior guys more? Or because the junior guys aren't as good at estimating their workload? I'm still not sure.
    • TOO MANY said "For bursts at a time, a 9, and then for longer periods a 3." THIS is what causes horrendous productivity, because during those 3 periods nobody wants to take on additional projects for fear that the 9s are going to kick back in and leave them in chaos.

    So back on topic I'd suggest that ALL programmers should be spending about 70-80% of their day coding. If you have good coders, then the solution is not to let them be productive for less time during the day, but to give them more to keep them challenged. (I used to have a job where I played games 90% of the time because there was no challenging work to do. I *hated* that!)

  • As for ringing phones, that WAS annoying! It wasn't too bad, though, because we also had a "mini room" (actually two spare offices) across the hall.

    Too bad you could not put ALL the phones in there. Any ring is anoying. When will people stop using those stupid things except for emergencies? I hate it when people reach out and grab my attention like that. Even the awful Outlook, which interupts my typing, is better than the dying bird sound the phone makes.

  • Well, let me try again here. You're both sort of getting what I mean, and at the same time, not quite. (I take full blame for not explaining myself clearly. :-)

    Competition per se is a good thing, on the whole. However, it's fairly ruthless--companies (or individuals) go up against one another, and in the end someone wins and someone loses.

    The best way to become a stronger competitor is to ally yourself with someone else. In other words (ironically enough), Competition leads to collusion.

    At this point I should probably point out that I'm posting from Canada, which is definitely less of a free-enterprise capitalist country than the US is. That undoubtedly colours my opinions in some manner.

    Also, I don't claim to be absolutely right about this, although I do believe it. Of course, I also think that all economic and political systems are inherently unstable, and won't last more than about a century at a time, so what do I know?

    It's been an interesting discussion at any rate.

  • All political systems ARE inherently unstable. Dictatorships go broke and destroy themselves at the top via corruption and power struggles. Democracies last until the people vote themselves money. :)

    The Byzantine Empire lasted 800 years with the same economic system, though; they were really strict about how money was to be handled. The penalty for debasing the currency (shaving gold coins in those days) was to have a hand cut off. Their currency was accepted the world over, even after the fall of their civilization.

  • Note that I said 8-5, M-F _theoretically_. I was just suggesting that such things as flex hours and 4x10 M-R hours still weren't really common despite the fact that they've been about to take off RSN.

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