Terraforming: Evolving Your Agile Workspace


Terraforming is the act of making an environment suitable for human habitation.  Terraforming has been popularized in science fiction as the act of evolving a planetary ecosystem, but in our context terraforming is the act of evolving your team’s physical workspace to make it more habitable for you to work.  Doing so in an important enabler for improving your way of working (WoW).

The Evolve Way of Working (WoW) process goal, the diagram for which is shown in Figure 1, involves several decision points that are pertinent to terraforming. In Disciplined Agile (DA) our philosophy is that teams should choose and evolve their WoW over time as they learn, and an important aspect of doing so is to recognize that you should be able to evolve your physical as well as virtual workspace.

Figure 1. The Evolve Way of Working (WoW) process goal diagram (click to expand).

Evolve WoW process goals

As you’d expect, you have choices available to you.  In Figure 1 there are three decision points relevant to terraforming:

  1. Organize Physical Environment. There are many options for organizing your physical environment.  A key issue is that you want people to be as close to one another as possible – the further away you are from someone the less likely you are to interact with one another, and the harder it becomes to share ideas and information. Ideally you want your team to have its own work room or at least be in a common open area together.  Having said that, it’s still useful to have “caves” or separate collaboration areas where people can escape to as needed to focus their efforts.
  2. Choose Communication Styles. Some people are leery of work rooms or common workspaces because they’re afraid that they won’t be able to concentrate due to the noise.  There has in fact been numerous studies that show that productivity drops when people are forced to work in open work areas or worse yet “hoteling” desks.  Yes, this is definitely a problem.  However, it is vitally important to differentiate between the noise generated by people who aren’t working on your team and the information/discussions generated by those who are. In short, I want to hear what my fellow teammates are saying but not what the stranger beside me is. When your office is organized in an “open” manner we’ve found that you should strive to have everyone on your team is sitting together.  Furthermore, erect sound barriers (such as sound-proof whiteboards or moveable walls) between you and the other teams near by to provide further focus.  And speaking about whiteboards, you can never have too many.
  3. Choose Collaboration Styles. The more flexible your physical workspace the greater your ability to collaborate with one another in an effective manner.

We’ve found that a great strategy for a company is to make physical things such as furniture and whiteboards readily available to teams.  Something as simple as a room full of (currently) unused furniture that a team can simply take from, or contribute things they’re no longer using into, goes a long way to providing flexibility.  And of course allowing teams to buy what they need, when they need it, is also crucial.  Smart organizations realize thatone of the best investments they’ll ever make is to spend a few thousand dollars on furniture and whiteboards to enable a team of people earning five or six figure annual incomes to improve their WoW.

Ideas for this blog was adapted from the book Choose Your WoW! This book is a handbook overviewing hundreds of agnostic techniques and strategies that agile and lean teams may decide to experiment with to see how well they work in the situation that they face.

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One comment on “Terraforming: Evolving Your Agile Workspace

Daniel Gagnon

Great point in distinguishing ‘good’ from ‘bad’ noise. In the rush to the open office, somehow the ‘caves’ part fell by the wayside, and we ended up with no escape from the stressful, cacophonic ‘commons’


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