Research bearing out Agile Manifesto claims

Back in 2001, the Agile Manifesto made some bold pronouncements about the best ways to develop software, and work in general. More than 10 years later, research is proving some of it claims. From the WSJ:

A few years ago when  Bank of America Corp.  wanted to study whether face time mattered among its call-center teams, the big bank asked about 90 workers to wear badges for a few weeks with tiny sensors to record their movements and the tone of their conversations.

The data showed that the most productive workers belonged to close-knit teams and spoke frequently with their colleagues.


Like Bank of America, Cubist discovered a correlation between higher productivity and face-to-face interactions.

That sounds a lot a few of the manifesto principles:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

The article goes on:

Dr. Waber says his work with one client, a tech company, revealed that the size of a lunch table matters. Workers who ate at 12-person tables were more productive and collaborative than those who dined at tables with four seats. Data collected from sensors showed the larger lunch groups had more social interactions with teams across the company.

Here, too, are echoes of agile. Scrum talks about the optimal team size being “seven — plus/minus two — members.”

So it’s encouraging that these companies are using the data to make potentially positive changes. But it seems that they’re wasting the opportunity by focusing on lunch rooms and water coolers, when they could be making more meaningful changes by fostering collaborative, shared team spaces. Perhaps they already are doing that, and the article simply doesn’t mention it. In my experience, the real power comes from the “dining-room” table of an co-located, space-sharing agile team throughout the day (and often lunchtime is a needed and helpful break from the intensity of the social interactions). The findings further underscore what some of my fellow ThoughtWorkers and I feel about the necessity of team spaces for being able to succeed in agility. Yes, give motivated people the environment they need, but also support them and trust them to get the job done.

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