Filed Under: Seriously Cheap Wins
Why this is true, I really do not completely understand. I want to understand it, and not judge it, but I admit I have difficulty there.
In the kinds of companies at which I have been doing agile software development consulting — coaching, mentoring, training, development — over the past few years, there is an odd trend: lots and lots of wall space, and too little whiteboard space.
I have been seeing lots and lots of conference rooms, team rooms, and miscellaneous rooms in which software development works gets done. And there are acres of wall space around. And there are tons of ideas that must be worked through collaboratively. Brainstorming that must happen, and design and architecture, and project tracking, and planning, and learning and mentoring, and training, and you name it.
Yet, there is this incredible dirth of whiteboard space. As if whiteboards were made of platinum. My favorite example of this is the very large conference room with a 20′ table that seats 24, and at the end of it, a tiny, 4′x4′ whiteboard, folded away in a little closet of its own (as if to say, “Only to be used in dire imaginative emergencies!”). Oh, and best of all, those little round whiteboard erasers maybe 3″ in diameter. They don’t so much erase as they smear.
Closely related to this: the dry-erase marker to whiteboard ratio (DEM/WB), and the dry-eraser-size to whiteboard-size ratio (DES/WBS).
How in the world do people get any creative, collaborative work done in such environments? In high-function agile teams of yore, I have seen walls covered with whiteboard stuff, and we have blithely scribbled floor to ceiling and wall to wall on it, with genuinely useful information. When I walk into a high-function team room, this is one of the things I immediately look for: huge whiteboards slathered with passionate creation and communication and clarification.
At one past engagement, 7 or so of us on a client site shared a little room the size of a large walk-in closet, with no windows, and a single 5′ square whiteboard. We positively crammed that poor board with ideas, then took digital pix of it, then erased it and crammed it with ideas again.
Our ability to think and create and collaborate in software development can literally be constrained by the whiteboard space available to us.
Coming Soon: Whiteboards On Me
I haven’t begun doing this, but I suspect I shall shortly. When I am brought to one of those conference rooms with the tiny closeted whiteboard, I shall say “Hey, I’ll work for you tomorrow for free, if you’ll let me put up 80 square feet of whiteboard on that empty wall there, at my own expense.” I’m going to start building that into my bill rate. [My fall back position will be that suggested by my pal Mike Gantz in the comment below: I'll bring in several whiteboards on wheels.]
Meanwhile, here is my contention around Whiteboard-Space to Wall-Space ratio (WBS/WS). The higher it is, the more time it takes to get things done, the more waste and rework you are likely to have, and the more, in particular, people end up communicating across one week and 50 emails what could have been handled elegantly in 5 minutes with a decent whiteboard diagramming session. Talk about muda.
Go forth, agilistas, and shrink the WBS/WS. Increase the DEM/WB, and the DES/WBS. Every room should have at least one wall where at least half the wall space is covered with whiteboard. Every whiteboard should have at least 8 markers on its little ledge per 30 square feet. And you can get these awesome extra large erasers that clean the boards faster and better. Every whiteboard should have one of those, regardless of size.
Surely this falls under the “cheap win” and “low hanging fruit” category for agile coaches everywhere.
Maybe I should just become a whiteboard consultant. Then I could wear my leather toolbelt and tools everywhere. I love to wear that thing. It’s all pockets and loops.