All the Small Things

The Importance of Perks in Developer Workspaces

Loss is inevitable. Be it an opportunity or my friend’s elusive bank card, humans experience loss throughout their lives. Reactions differ significantly. Often, attributes are based on personality and the perceived worth of the offending lost item.

 

Wall

Losing rather than gaining an incentive is more likely to have colleagues apply the brakes and question a decision

 

It can be surprising how significant the little things can be. I’ve discussed example agile workspace features and their affect on productivity previously. The recent movement and replacement of the comparatively lavish coffee machine with the default model had an unexpected reaction among some colleagues. This week I process how loss affects retention, and consider the importance of retaining incentives in our office environment.

 

Loss of Control

 

Confession is good for the soul. It is time for me to come clean. A subset of people, including myself, knew the coffee machine was going to be moved. We harboured the secret that it was no longer going to be accessible by Technology personnel on this floor.

 

At the temple there is a poem called "Loss" carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.

Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

 

It all came down to expense and lack of empathy. Unbeknownst to us, engineers were walking across the floor just to use the nicer coffee machine. Therefore, when it was gone, it caused an upset to their routine. Even the most spontaneous person doesn’t like an unexpected change to their schedule. Feeling their frustration was needed to action a replacement.

 

Rapid Hope Loss

 

I’ve been seeking differing opinions while awaiting installation of the replacement machine. Sympathy from friends who don’t enjoy such perks was especially hard to find at a recent brunch. It is difficult for them to empathise when they have nothing more than a hot water tap. Or in the case of another friend where they banded together to buy their own machine and pods. Understandably, developing an affinity for something you don’t have is challenging.

 

I’ve found unexpected insight at a conference this week. A talk on designing financial software systems using behavioural science to be exact. The speaker noted changes made to the Italian Driving Licence points system and their affect on driver behaviour. Moving from an incremental to decremental model resulted in a significant reduction in the number of speeding offences. Losses are far more impactful than gains.

 

Flashy Car

Losing rather than gaining an incentive is more likely to have colleagues apply the brakes and question a decision

With humans being perpetually pessimistic, it’s now no surprise that such a strong reaction occurred. No one wants to be treated differently. In large organisations that includes across other divisions. Despite the antisocial stereotype, engineers are humans. Just like accountants, HR, testers and anyone else employed by organisations. Profit makers certainly need focus for firms to generate revenue and ultimately survive. Regardless, treating cost centre employees differently breeds animosity. Their support is needed to ensure profit areas thrive.

 

Come And Get It

 

This differing treatment also applies to individual gains. A deviation from the pattern of desks is immediately noticeable. Fascination with recently installed sit stand desks is a prime example. Once two were installed, we received a large number of enquiries. It is very much the shiny new toy that everyone craves, yet understandably so.

 

Incremental improvements are a great way to test the waters and crowdsource ideas to improve your environment. The media is filled with stories of large technology firms providing numerous perks to motivate employees. However, they have an ulterior motive to keep you in the office.

 

Night Skyline

Employees want to see the dazzling night skyline from home, not the office

People do want to work, but generally they also want to go home at a reasonable hour. Well… most of us anyway! It’s about supporting programmers work while they are present in the office. Even the proposal of a floor cat and table football machine on our board were put forward to address issues of pests and productivity. Regular breaks are important after all!

 

Same Size Feet

 

It is becoming exceptionally clear that incremental improvements work for a while, but will only go so far. Bigger budget items take longer to propagate through the environment. Generally, suggestions put forward for perks have been sensible additions proposed to retain your best people and address current problems.

 

Woman with Candy Floss

Given the chance, engineers generally put forward constructive improvement suggestions. It’s not all about candy floss!

 

I’m not expecting any requests for Candy Floss Friday’s anytime soon. Cotton candy for my American friends. With all colleagues being created equal, our incremental improvements will soon need to scale to reach the masses. Given time, I hope everyone will be playing desk goes up, desk goes down Simpsons style!

 

Thanks for reading! Also check out my piece on the effects of developer perks on non-occupying stakeholders.

A Design For Life

Pursuing User Experience Agility

To be, or not to be, that is the question. Hamlet was contemplating death here. In Agile circles we don’t cover quite as morbid a topic. However, through continuous integration we do broach the subject of whether tools and techniques should live, evolve or die within our Agile process.

 

Technique X is not Agile. I hear engineers and leads alike utter this statement a lot. For some artefacts such as long, rambling requirements documentation this aversion makes perfect sense. At this point I imagine a choir of voices chanting in union the principle working software over comprehensive documentation.

 

User Centred Design

Reluctance by our software engineers to generate wireframes and mock ups is driven by their perceptions of agility

 

I never thought I would see the day where x ≠ wireframes would be solution to this equation. Even more frightening, that I would hear this feedback second-hand from a client. Here I outline my thoughts on the importance of wireframes and mock-ups within Agile development practices, and ponder their place in Agile development processes.

 

No Education

 

Firstly, an education on what wireframes and mock-ups are is required. Clients and developers alike often confuse the terms. Even I myself use the terms interchangeably. On reflection, the confusion in our team is probably driven by my conflicting usage. Now is the time to make up for past sins.

 

A wireframe is a low fidelity outline of a screen and the data groupings it comprises. Designers may also include descriptions of intended interactions. Meanwhile, a mock-up is a mid-level static representation of the product appearance that users cannot interact with. Think initial sketch versus polished image. Prototypes are high fidelity representation of the appearance and interactions the final product will provide with which clients can engage.

 

There are many resources that can outline the differences between wireframes, mock-ups and prototypes, along with the tools that can be used to create them. This article by Marcin Treder is one of many.

 

Mind Eraser

 

I am by no means a designer. I have developed an appreciation for sketching screens through years of UI development. Far from having the top tools to create wireframes, I normally start by sketching option on a whiteboard and emailing the pictures. It takes a level of empathy for me to understand the motivations for considering these artifacts anti-agile.

 

User Centred Design

Rather than immediately criticise, lets consider what experiences have driven thoughts that wireframes are “not agile”

 

Walking in another pair of shoes, I can see why designing a full screen could be construed as a Big Bang effort. Not only do the individual components need to be defined, but transitions and affordances must also be outlined. This might be construed as following a plan designed upfront, when adapting is critical. Others might argue it serves as documentation that is being developed in place of working software. To justify their place in our development cycle, we need to break these misconceptions.

 

Little Changes

 

Another fallacy driving these opinions is that wireframes are difficult to change. Linked to the all or nothing conjecture, it is perceived that swapping parts of the screen cannot be easily done. In this instance, evaluating numerous chart options with clients seemed challenging as it was believed they could not be swapped out. Therefore a decision was made without engaging users.

 

Whiteboarding

You’ll often find me with headphones on dancing in front of a whiteboard sketching my ideas out, much to the annoyance of my colleagues

 

In reality, I often change mine through the swipe of a whiteboard eraser. Recently in the midst of an ideation brainstorm, I was able to create three different screen designs with the help of my trusty whiteboard. Carly’s corner whiteboard is becoming an ongoing joke as a result. These designs can be reviewed with clients and programmers alike. Designs can evolve iteratively through this method. Engineers just need to realise that rough scribbles are a valid design tool.

 

Draw the Line

 

There is still work to do to get buy in from our developers that sketches are a critical element in their client engagement. Looking forward, I envisage creation of mock up and prototypes without debate. They can help address some of our ongoing challenges in enforcing consistent design and common styling. Mock-up software such as Sketch has powerful capabilities to generate style sheets from designs. Automating our centralised style sheet changes would greatly reduce our current review overhead. With developers rushing to write code, it is important to highlight the output mock-ups can have in making time to develop more streamlined.

 

Wireframe

One day, once wireframes are established, mock ups could help us further engage with our clients

 

The effort required for collaborating over wireframes can make delivery of a feature in a single iteration exceptionally challenging. I’ve heard recent reflections from others in their adoption of UX within Agile development that will help. Generating designs ahead of time will ensure they continually feed into our development cycle. Regardless, these are a powerful tool for fostering user participation in our development practices. With client collaboration driving our agility, any mechanism that supports this engagement should be adopted.

 

Thanks for reading!

Cherry Blossom Girl

Part Four of My Japanese Adventure

I’ve never been the best at maintaining that elusive work-life balance. I certainly have enjoyed blogging about my recent Agile and UX experiences over the past few months. Nevertheless, I’m only human after all. Therefore once in a while I need to take a break.

I’m currently embarking on my dream holiday of travelling through Japan with my panorama pro husband. I have loved sharing our experiences thus far. Furthermore, it allows me to keep my promise to numerous friends and colleagues to share some of the hoard of photographs I’ve taken along the way. Following on from our exploits in Hiroshima and Miyajima, check out our adventures in Kyoto and Osaka.

Day 9

Today we say goodbye to the beautiful island of Miyajima. Wandering through the quiet morning streets before the crowds arrive is exceptionally peaceful. It gives us a great last opportunity to savour the sites of the shrines and Tori gate before boarding the ferry back towards the mainland.

Another day, another Shinkansen. This time we are off to Kyoto. With the average speed of 300km/h we make it from Hiroshima to Kyoto in no time at all. The efficiency and comfort of these trains certainly doesn’t get boring when you are used to the fun of London rail delays caused by leaves and sunshine.

Welcome to the bustling city of Kyoto! The former Imperial capital of Japan. We arrive at the station famished and find a tiny place serving udon noodles. It was exactly what we needed. I also received much thanks for finding a lost phone. Gratitude does indeed translate across language barriers.

Wandering around the station we find the Miyako no Taki Water Sign. Yes, this is far from a tourist site worth mentioning. Regardless this gave us a reminder of the Canary Wharf installation we regularly see back home. This one is far more sophisticated projecting shapes rather than words, but was still a nice sight to see.

Our first stop is Nijo Castle, completed in 1626. Finding the moat is indeed easy, but the entrance itself not so much. Regardless, once you enter there are many amazing sites to see. We enjoyed savouring the palace and gardens. The palace and rooms are exceptionally ornate.

Following checking into our hotel, we ventured out into downtown Kyoto. The central region has a surprising number of western style restaurants and bars. These are separated by numerous karaoke bars. Not that I’m inclined to venture into those and inflict my voice on the population of Kyoto!

Instead we opted for a more chilled out evening in a back street bar. After a day of travelling and sightseeing it was great to chill with wine and grilled beef tongue.

What has became apparent over the course of the day is there are a lot more tourists in Kyoto who are more likely to drum up a random conversation. The chatting Singaporean living in Sheffield striking up a conversation on politics would definitely be less likely in Tokyo.

Day 10

On our first full day in Kyoto, we are off to Arashiyama to explore the legendary bamboo forest. Even with the crowds of tourists, it is an absolutely stunning place to explore. There are indeed ruminants of these hoards left behind, including carvings in the bamboo. Nevertheless, staring up among the trees and admiring the various shrines dotted around the forest made for an enlightening morning.

Navigating the various transport lines and buses takes us across the city to Kinkakuji. This stunning golden Zen temple is the former retirement villa of the shogun. Us and the other throngs of tourists were fortunate enough to stroll around the temple and gardens on a sunny autumn day when the sun reflects off the golden floors perfectly.

From golden yellow we move onto vibrant red and visit the famous red gates at Mount Inari. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head Shinto shrine of the god Inari. This is apparent from the foxes dotted around the various ornate shines present across the mountain. Wandering amongst the gates gazing at the setting sun was definitely a good end to the afternoon.

The evening brings a new adventure with us heading back into the city centre to explore Gion. The historical Geisha district is a bustle of bars and restaurants today. Exploring the bright lights we did catch glimpse of a geisha while teaching a kindly Japanese man English. You can’t make these things up!

Day 11

Today is wildcard day, with a surprise trip to Osaka. We can’t plan everything after all! Being Scots and Whisky fans, our first stop has to be the Suntory Yamazaki distillery. This is the first Whisky distillery built in Japan.

Tours are available, but unfortunately were booked out before we left for Japan. Nevertheless, the museum is is definitely worth a visit to discover the history of this amazing distillery. Downstairs is the Whisky Library, which shows the numerous different malts these use to blend their whisky. A cheeky tasting flight in the bar is definitely a must as well!

Next we head onwards to downtown Osaka. Our first stop is Osaka Castle, a key site in Japan. Located in the middle of a large park, we enjoyed strolling by the river gazing at the castle and eating pastries. We found this more our style than the small train that runs through the park.

Next we head to the Tsuyu-no-Tenjinja shrine. Historically this has been the guardian shrine of the Umeda district of Osaka. However, it also highlights the story of forbidden lovers Ohatsu and Tokubei. These characters feature in a Japanese play apparently based on a similar double suicide of two lovers. Unlike the bustle we have seen in Kyoto over the past few days, this shrine is pleasantly silent and reflective.

The quiet of the shrine is a stark contrast to our next stop, the bustling Shimsaibashi shopping district. The arcade is absolutely packed with people. Imagine the crowds of Oxford Street multiplied by a factor of 100. The shops house a mix of Japanese and Western brands. It was this moment where we finally find those elusive Matcha Kit Kats!

The Shimsaibashi arcade intersects with Dotombori, the main restaurant area. The intersection is also packed with people. Upon crossing the river you see masses of people and lights. Many of the adverts have sound so you have multiple messages mashing together in your ears as you cross.

This seemed like a good stop for some food. One of the items we’ve been itching to try in Osaka is Takoyaki. Osaka is the city of food after all! These squid balls are exceptionally tasty indeed. Even if ours didn’t have any tentacles sticking out!

Travelling back to Kyoto was a fun experience. The Keizen railway has different train types that stop at different station. Thankfully the limited express did stop at the right station for us, and in record time too!

Our final moment of Kyoto consisted of enjoying cocktails in a local bar with travellers from all over the world. Being able to sample a few Japanese gins, including the Ki No Bi recommended to us back in Tokyo was definitely a good end to our stay before heading home. Somehow the trip has come full circle.

All good things must come to an end unfortunately. We have absolutely loved experiencing the sites and lights of Japan. Hopefully you have enjoyed reading about our journey too.

Thanks for reading!

Island Girl

Part Three of My Japanese Adventure

Those who know me are fully aware that I’m not the best at maintaining a good work life balance. I have nurtured a love of writing about my Agile and UX experiences over the past few months. It has never felt like work. Yet some would argue I have used my spare time to extend my work hours. Nevertheless, even the most industrious of individuals needs the odd few days off.

I’m currently embarking on my dream vacation of travelling through Japan with my exceptionally patient husband. With strong interest from friends and family back home, I have been regaling my adventures through my blog. Following our exploiting in Tokyo, Kawaguchi and Hakone, we are experiencing a change of scene exploring Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Day 6

Today we are leaving the hot spring resort of Hakone to travel to Hiroshima. With no seat reservations we did wonder if we would be able to get on the train. I am haunted by a rather uncomfortable bank holiday train to Glasgow standing in a vestibule all the way to Carlisle.

Using the Shinkansen it could not have been easier. With one change and an operating speed of 320km/h, the 729km journey took just over 4 hours. Leg room is never a problem, so it was a far more comfortable experience too.

By mid-afternoon we are in downtown Hiroshima. The immediate notion we have is the height of the buildings. While not as tall as the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo, they certainly put Glasgow to shame. The daytime views are stunning. It was easy to gaze out from our hotel and see the buildings nestled by the surrounding forests and mountains.

Regardless, this pales in comparison to the night view. Being the hubby’s birthday we enjoyed steak cooked on a teppan grill overlooking the bright lights of the city. That and a couple of cocktails made for a chilled evening following a long day of travelling.

Day 7

To ensure adequate fuelling for our exploration through Hiroshima, we had to have a substantial breakfast. The majority of our hotels so far have offered a mix of Japanese and Western style food. This morning we decided to be adventurous and try out a traditional Japanese breakfast.

Although not my image, we were presented something similar to the above including Japanese tea. I’m proud to say I enjoyed almost all the elements. Eggs have never been my thing, so did give the rolled eggs a miss. Mr Richmond wasn’t a great fan of some of the more sour pickles either. But definitely would have most of the elements again, especially the fish and miso, which have been an ongoing holiday staple for us.

One of the main transport mechanisms in Hiroshima is the Streetcar network. Riding on these cars brought back fond memories of navigating the San Francisco Trolleycars. These proved invaluable for reaching all the sites we aspired to visit.

Our first stop of the morning is to Hiroshima Peace Park. This gorgeous green space and its many monuments are dedicated to the memory of the dropping of the atomic bomb during WWII. Upon entering the park, you are faced with a stark reminder of the impact: the Atomic Bomb Dome. The former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall lay within the epicentre of the blast.

On this glorious day it was pleasant to walk through the park. There are numerous landmarks dedicated to the eradication of nuclear weapons throughout the park. In addition to the eternal flame, the Children’s Monument Bell and Phoenix Tree are definitely worth admiring. I did see a rather amusing moment of a child enthusiastically ringing the bell which made me smile.

I was indeed surprised at how respectful the majority of tourists were. Unlike the majority of other sites we have visited, pushing to read signs and take photos is replaced by polite and quiet reflection.

Onto happier notes, we went off in search of Hiroshima Castle. The original castle was built in the 1590’s, and reconstructed following its destruction by the Atomic Bomb. Stepping over the moat and visiting the carp, shrines and former home of the daimyo in the midday sun was immensely enjoyable. Especially for Mr Richmond who managed to capture an image of a ninja sneaking behind me, which is available on request.

All that walking does makes for hungry travellers. Following recommendations at the hotel, we were keen to try the local delicacy of Okonomiyaki. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a savoury pancake loaded with noddles, vegetables and meat toppings cooked on a teppan grill. There are many restaurants dedicated to making it across the city.

Okonomimura has around 25 different vendors producing their own variations. This tower of food is definitely a good place to start! This was one of our favourite dishes of the trip so far. While I kept things a bit more traditional and enjoyed the scallops version, Mr Richmond went all out for cheese and rice cake. Both were exceptionally tasty, so do give it a try if you ever have the opportunity.

Following our enjoyment of the Hamarikyu Gardens back in Tokyo, it seemed only fitting that we explore another Japanese garden in Hiroshima. The Shukkei-en Gardens are a tranquil escape from the bustle of downtown Hiroshima. Our latter portion of the afternoon was spent strolling through the peaceful gardens admiring the various shrines and bridges across the route. Every nook and cranny of this garden has a site to see. Look out for the mini bamboo and tea gardens, which were highlights of ours. I also suggest checking out the plum orchard if you have time.

Being a Saturday night, we can’t just stay in the hotel. This evening we chose to explore the Naka region, which is the lively entertainment district of Hiroshima. Unsurprisingly it has an array of shops, bars and restaurants lit up by neon signs in the evening.

The perfect end to our day was trying the Hiroshima delicacy of baked oysters, washed down with Shochu. Japanese food is very seasonal, son we were fortunate being here in the autumn that they were starting to come into season. This seemed like a good compromise over the milt that Mr Richmond was reluctant to try!

Day 8

No journey to this region would be complete without a trip to Miyajima island. It is a small island off the course of Hiroshima, where people are forbidden to give birth or die on the island. Spoiler alert! Neither of these happened to us.

The ferry from the mainland to the island itself is only around 10 minutes in duration. With such a short window, it is amusing to watch tourists attempting to determine the best side to capture the famous Tori gate. Although we did get a few photographs on the ferry, the best shots are yet to come!

Our research before arriving told us much about the numerous shrines, shops, ryokans and other attractions present on the island. Nevertheless, surprises are indeed waiting to be found. Our first of the day was encountering the Sika deer that roam the island. These creatures are exceptionally friendly and docile when encountered off the beaten track. Do be wary that, like the seagulls of Largs, you may find yourself wrestling with them for your lunch if they catch a whiff of it!

There are plenty of shines and temples on the less well travelled track that are worth exploring on this picturesque little island. The less visited Tokujuji temple gave a pleasant moment of peace before rejoining the throngs of tourists in the main shopping arcade.

We are drawn to the main shopping streets by the sound of drum beats. Amongst the myriad of souvenir shops and restaurants, natives and willing tourist volunteers were bashing dough with hammers in preparation to make local bread.

Watching all this dough beating was indeed hungry work, so at this point we decided to sample some local delicacies. Since Mr Richmond had missed out on oysters the night before, he elected to try the fried variety. Meanwhile I branched out to try anago, or conger eel. Although jellied eel is a delicacy in London, it’s not really the most appetising sounding dish. This eel however, was fresh and delicious!

Over the course of the afternoon we visited the more popular sites of the island. It definitely showed as we navigated our way between the throngs or tourists and the friendly Sika. The Itsukushima Shrine and corresponding floating Tori gate are world renowned. Judging by the large volumes visiting this proportion of the island it certainly seems to be the case. Yet, when gazing upon their vivid orange colour I do understand the appeal. Thankfully there are numerous other attractions such as the Pagodas and the aquarium to provide variation.

Walking around shrines is thirsty work. Before settling in for dinner at our Ryokan, it was time to relax with a beer or two. By chance we happened across the Miyajima Brewery. It may be unbelievable to consider we had no knowledge of this brewery prior to visiting, but this was indeed our second surprise of the day! They have the small seating for takeout beer as well as the restaurant and bar where you can gaze out at the dusk skyline enjoying a beer flight.

Our final stop for the day is to our Ryokan to enjoy some Japanese hospitality. After settling into our Japanese style room to savour green tea and Momiji Manjyu, we enjoy a meal of local delicacies in our room including oysters and sea urchins!

The perfect lazy end to a busy day on the island is to soak in the Onsen. Following that we are on to Kyoto and Osaka!

Thanks for following my adventure thus far!

Lady of the Lake

Part Two of My Japanese Adventure

Maintaining that elusive work-life balance has never been my strong point. I do enjoy writing about my Agile and UX experiences. It has never felt like work. However, even a workaholic such as myself needs to occasionally call time out.

I’m currently embarking on my dream vacation of travelling through Japan with my now slightly older husband. Given it’s been all I’ve talked to friends and colleagues about since I booked it back in March, it seemed only fair that I share my experiences in blog form. Following our trail through the neon lights of Tokyo, we continue out travels through Kawaguchi and Hakone.

Day 4

A new day, a new means of transportation. The small town of Kawaguchiko is the gateway to Lake Kawaguchi. Stumbling into the daylight following a two hour bus journey, food seemed an appropriate first stop.

One of the key delicacies from this area is Houtou. These thick Japanese noodles are cooked in a cast iron pot with miso broth, sweet potato and root vegetables. It tastes wonderful, but that is a hot bowl! Even I, known for eating boiling hot food initially struggled with this one. Nevertheless, sitting shoeless on the tatami matts waiting for the broth to cool made for an enjoyable and authentic experience.

After sourcing sustenance, we explored the town of Kawaguchiko and the lake itself. The ropeway serves as a great mechanism to reach the Mount Fuji viewing platform. If you can resist the delectable smells of the cookie shop, it’s worth a trip to the viewing platform. Today wasn’t particularly clear for us, but Mount Fuji was definitely an extraordinary site to see.

Lake Kawaguchi hosts numerous activities on its shores from museums to cafes. All outlets are geared to enjoying the lake. I can imagine the shoreline teaming with people in the summer. In October it is beautiful, but decidedly quiet. Our highlights were walking around the lake capturing the shrines and stillness of the water. That and the paddle boat ducks of course!

Wandering back through the town to the bus station, there are definitely other sites to see. The Ide Sake Brewery and the nearby Sake shops are definitely worth a look. If you visit earlier in the year around brewing season, embarking on a tour to see the brewing process would certainly be a sight to see.

From here it was back on the bus to enjoy the last spectacular sites of Tokyo. Check these out in our day four Tokyo highlights!


Day 5

Today we leave Tokyo to continue our journey west. Hakone is a short journey from Tokyo. This is our first opportunity to ride the Shinkansen! For this unfamiliar, this is the famous bullet train that can reach speeds of up to 320km/h. Definitely puts the speed of my morning commuter train in London to shame!

Odawara serves as one of the main entry points to Hakone. A short walk from the station is Odawara castle, built during the Sengoku civil war. Similar in style to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, it was a nice deviation on our journey.

Before we know it we are in Hakone. This area is know for its mountains and hot springs. One further reputation unbeknownst to us before we arrived, was the sheer number of different transport mechanisms used to get around. It makes the London commute of switching trains seem far more straightforward.

Our first stage was utilising the Hakone Tozan railway to get to Gora. This is definitely the first time I’ve had a train change direction several times over the course of the journey.

Following a post-stop ramen break, we take the cable car to Sounzan.

Then several ropeway connections to Tokendai-ko. From the cars you can get spectacular views of Mount Fuji, the hot springs, the vast forests and Lake Ashi.

The Lake Ashi pirate ship, yes I did say pirate ship mateys, gives stunning views over the lake. This was the perfect opportunity to capture some of the red gates floating in the water.

Our final transportation of the day was the bus to Hakone-Yumoto station. Following a brief stroll through the town, and saying hi to Darth, we arrived at our hotel for the night. With this being the most varied journeys I’ve taken to date, I’m going to at least try and complain slightly less about the London commuter parody for at the the first couple of days after we return!

Tonight we are staying in a Ryokan, or Japanese inn. Often they have both traditional Japanese and Western style rooms. Thankfully, we got the former. The room itself is initially laid out for sitting, and will be converted to sleeping quarters later in the evening. We also had an outside bath area backing onto the river, which was pretty peaceful.

Dinner is included with your stay. The set menu covered various different delicacies, including conger eel and rice boiled by candle in a cast iron lantern. Depending on guest preference, some choose to eat in their Yukata and Haori. The key difference between a Yukata and Kimono is the fabric is it made from. Don’t worry, we didn’t partake until later! A nice addition in this case was the extra dessert offered for my husband’s birthday. A complete and pleasant surprise.

Ryokans commonly have communal and private Onsens, or baths. It is traditional for all guests to bathe in the Onsen. Culturally this is a pretty unique phenomenon. The closest equivalent for us Brits is booking in for an overnight spa visit. Relaxing in the warm water was a perfect way to recuperate after walking around in the Tokyo bustle. This is the point we put on our Yukatas and settled onto our foutons for the night. Photo evidence was obtained, but I think I’ll leave those for me.

Thanks for reading! The next stops are Hiroshima and Miyajima.

Woman From Tokyo

Part One of My Japanese Adventure

I’ve never been the best at maintaining that elusive work-life balance. I certainly have enjoyed blogging about my recent Agile and UX experiences over the past few months. Similar to recent sitcoms, I too need a mid-season break.

I’m currently embarking on my dream holiday of travelling through Japan with my patient husband who has a sense of direction. It would be unfortunate if I couldn’t share our experiences along the way. Furthermore, it ensures I keep my promise to numerous friends and colleagues to share some of the prodigious photos I’ve taken over the past few days. This piece covers our exploits in Japan’s capital Tokyo.

Day 1

Having arrived at 7am local time with next to no sleep, myself and the hubby have been doing some initial exploring to ensure we stay awake until our 3pm check-in time. What better way than to explore Tsukiji market. Everyone is exceptionally friendly and welcoming, including this guy!

Although the main market closed a mere one day prior to our arrival, the outer stalls are still selling a variety of delectable treats. I definitely recommend trying out the various fish on a stick, or yakitori. I wasn’t brave enough to try eel livers or crab brains in my jet lagged state, but they did look pretty yummy. The sashimi also looks exceptionally enticing.

Dessert proved to be interesting. My husband’s initial attempt to buy ice cream turned a bit wrong when he came back with a Japanese omelet. I’m not complaining. It meant I could try out matcha mochi with strawberry, which puts UK mochi to shame!

Following check-in and a quick power nap, we’re off to seek ramen. It’s only until you actually try the real thing that you realised what we enjoy as ramen in the UK is not the same. It’s always pork, and is absolutely delicious. Thankfully when ordering food either from cryptic vending machines or vendors, everyone has been exceptionally friendly and helpful. Any attempts to speak Japanese have always been very well received!

Today has mainly been about food and trying to acclimatise to the new time zone. However, in the evening we still found time to explore Shimbashi, housing an array of shops, bars and restaurants.

Among the lights of this amazing city, we have managed to find a steam engine and a Wacky Wailing Inflatable Arm Flailing Tube man. When your Wifi hotspot has died on the first day and you are totally lost, it’s the little things that can make you smile.

Day 2

As I’m writing this I definitely feel like I have walked over 26,000 steps today. On our first slightly less jet lagged day we braved the bamboozling transport system to explore the city. Our first stop this morning was the Meiji shrine. Following the lights of Shimbashi, finding a more reflective spot was appreciated. With the leaves starting to turn, you could spot flecks of autumnal red in the trees starting to appear.

Despite being a national holiday, the shrine was reasonably peaceful. We wandered through the gates, and caught sight of a wedding ceremony at the shrine. At Shinto shrines across Japan, offerings of Sake by distilleries are common place. Regardless, Meiji is the only shrine in Japan where are also wine offerings from French wineries. Of course I had to capture the latter!

Next was a tale of two shopping areas. Walking down Takeshita street in Harajuku on a bank holiday makes Oxford Street seem eerily quiet. The street was filled with youngsters and tons of shops. Definitely far more crepes shops than I expected!

Not that Ameya-Yokocho market is any quieter. This bargain haven reminds me of The Barras market in Glasgow. Just like The Barras, it is filled with an array of stalls selling wares from fish to metal band t-shirts.

After lunch we are off to the Senso-ji Buddhist temple. This was where the national holiday became apparent. In addition to the sea of people eagerly taking selfies in Kimonos, Japanese flags waved proudly from the souvenir stalls.

From underground we moved onto the river to cruise down the Sumida river. With the boat ducking under the many colourful bridges on route, we spotted some additional sites including the Skygarden and the Asahi brewery headquarters, which looks awfully like a pint of beer.

Our final stop for the day restored some tranquility following the bustle of the markets with a trip to Hamarikyu Gardens. It is surreal that this natural haven is present in such a big city. The Tokyo Tower in the background serves as an ever present reminder of where you are. Walking around the pristine gardens and enjoying Matcha was a good reflection point before heading out in the evening.

No day in Japan would be complete without an amusing anecdote. Today’s tidbit comes from our evening in Ginza, searching for an open restaurant on a national holiday. My excessive over reliance on Google Maps, and lack of direction certainly made for an interesting evening. Especially when we gave up and ended up in a Belgian beer bar a couple of months after going to Bruges. All I can say is that I finally tried Coconut beer, and it was awesome!

Day 3

Now that we have our bearings, it’s time to venture outside the usual tourist haunts. Well… sort of. Following a recommendation, our first stop of the morning was Odaiba. Since capturing the best shots of the NYC skyline from New Jersey as a graduate, I’ve always thought the best city views come from afar. Odaiba did not disappoint.

During the day, Tokyo looks amazing from here. However, the above bridge is called the Rainbow Bridge for a very good reason. If you come back in the evening, this pristine white bridge is lit up in a series of colours that I imagine would entice the imagination. Definitely worth considering if you have the time.

Views aside, there was a secondary motive. Odabia also has a replica Statue of Liberty, which taking selfies in front of is a massive tourist hot spot. The only area exhibiting this level of pop culture pilgrimage that I’ve seen first hand is the zebra crossing outside Abby Wood studios in London. Nevertheless, it does mean I’ve now seen three lady liberties including those in Paris and New York. It does bring back fond memories of graduate training in NYC. More akin to the cheese of Coney Island Pier or Blackpool Pleasure Beach, but hey we’re on holiday!

Next we’re off to central Tokyo to check out the Imperial Palace. I did skip the gardens. Nevertheless, wandering around snapping the gates and statues was a lot of fun.

The proximity of the palace to Tokyo station means it would be rude not to visit. The red brick exterior hides to deceptive maze of tunnels that commuters migrate through. For us tourists, it also houses the aptly named Ramen Street and Character Street. Visiting the former was for me. Strolling down the latter was for the nieces and nephews back home. When you see the biggest Pikachu you’ve ever seen, you just have to take a shot for the little ones!

Next, we’re off to Udeon. There is a nice balance between greenery, museums and shrines that are worth exploring. If you are a museum buff, it would be exceptionally easy to spend a full day here. We spent a couple of hours investigating the park, with our key highlights including the Tsongu shrine and the giant whale outside the Natural Sciences museum.

This evening it was back to Ginza on a non-bank holiday to sample some of the restaurants and bars. I’ll be honest, I did fall in love with a cocktail bar. Doesn’t matter what city I’m in, if I can find a small quiet spot where they make a mean Old Fashioned I’m happy to perch. However, it has thrown a spanner in the works as the Martinez made with Dutch Jenvever was exquisite. We received a great gin recommendation that I intend to find when we visit Kyoto.

Day 4

Today we were up bright and early travelling to Lake Kawaguchi to bask in the glory of Mount Fuji. Full details on our expedition through Lake Kawaguchi and Hakone will be documented in my upcoming blog.

Arriving back late to Tokyo, we needed to make the best of our last night in this amazing city. Like a moth to a flame, we were drawn to Shibuya Junction. This point for me represents the bustle and bright lights of Tokyo. In addition to capturing a panorama of the new signs, it was only fair that we amble across the junction and back. I’m proud to say our years of living in London have taught us the importance of crowd management. We didn’t bump into a single person!

Following the bright lights, we spent the remainder of the evening exploring Shinjuku. Above ground are towering buildings and flashing advertisements everywhere. Below ground is a behemoth of underground shopping malls that are easy to lose yourself in.

Regardless of this challenge, we reached Golden Gai. For those unfamiliar, this is a maze of tiny bars popular with tourists and expats. This did reaffirm my notion that shag carpets on walls is definitely out. Nevertheless, the journey through the alleys for food and libations was a satisfying end to a frantically fun few days.

Thanks for reading! Do read on to find out all about my adventures in the lakes of Kawaguchi and Hakone!

Pushed to The Limit

The Importance of In Progress Limits in Software Development

Life is full of limits. Whether they be imposed by societal pressures; government legislation; or even a byproduct of unfortunate events; they are indeed present. Breaking the smaller rules is exhilarating. However, generally we abide, even with those that seem less sensible.

 

Restraints also apply on the amount of work we can undertake. For humans and computers alike, multitasking is a fallacy. Rather than exhibiting true parallelism, we context switch between operations. If we believe that we are truly good at multitasking, it is more the case that we think our context switching overhead is minimal. In reality, it contributes to wider productivity issues.

 

Sprinting Over Multiple Cores

Computers can multitask with multiple cores, but humans only have one brain

 

Recent events have highlighted the challenges multitasking imposes on software delivery. Here I reflect on programmer parallel processing, and the importance of establishing work in progress thresholds.

Working on a Dream

Before delving into my personal experiences, it is important to reflect on the origins of Work In Progress. WIP is a fundamental principle of Kanban. The aim of the game is to match the velocity of developers to establish a consistent effort cadence.

 

Adoption of a constant pace allows us to develop software in a dependable manner. Our clients think it’s great that they have a regular release cycle. Engineers are happy that their work rate is constant. Previously we had significant up rates as they scrambled to finalise features for the next release.

 

Despite experiencing these established benefits, we have seen bad habits emerge. Management pressure occasionally results in programmers working on both new enhancements and bug fixes concurrently. I find myself asking, is this the right approach?

 

Parallel Minds

 

Context switching may feel like we’re being more productive. We do have several engineers that will commonly work on two tasks at once. I understand the appeal. Humans do like variation in their tasks. Working on several items provides a level of satisfaction. Nevertheless, it has side effects.

 

Multitasking

Engineers working on concurrent tasks lead us to believe limits were required to prevent delivery delays

 

Lack of dedicated time may affect the quality of the final implementation. Splitting your attention will also split your attention to the details. Programmers may miss edge cases that would have otherwise been detected.

 

For me as a lead, tracking what items are going to be available for a given release becomes an impossible feat. Keeping clients abridged of upcoming features is challenging enough. Ideally, developers would focus on a subset of stories and complete the features at a regular pace. With multitasking, we run the danger of no features being available if an unfortunate events arise. Even in an opportunistic world, individual stories will take longer to ship.

 

Take it to The Limit

It was becoming clear that key individuals were task thrashing. Subtasks were not being distributed among the team. This lack of distribution is partly a side effect of engineers wanting to own their own feature. It’s one of the key reasons we have struggled with feature toggle aversion in the past. Senior developers can fall into the trap of completing common tasks because they can complete it more rapidly than less enlightened colleagues.

 

Brent is a bottleneck in The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim et al.. For those unfamiliar, Brent is an experienced engineer that is found to be a process bottleneck due to his superior knowledge. I recently faced the terrifying realisation that I have more than one Brent in my team.

 

With reliability of delivery starting to slip, action was needed to reduce the number of concurrent items on which individuals were working. At this point, it was imperative to introduce limits. Ideally, I would have preferred no more than one task assigned to any given developer at any one time. As our tools prevented this, I resorted to a simple task count on the development state. The team had concerns of such a low ceiling impacting release management items. So a compromise of two points was reached, and evaluated over several weeks.

 

Invisible Limits

 

Applying an upper bound to the development state on our board initially proved effective. The first week saw programmers progress work items through the states without breaching. Regardless, all good things must come to an end. Far from being a warning, after a while it became an everyday event. It seemed like for a significant period of time we were always infringing on our limit.

 

Speed Limit 55

Like speed on a highway, development teams need to establish limits on work in progress

 

Originally, I feared we were becoming desensitised to the red. My inaugural mindset of stopping developers pushing the boundary needed to evolve. It’s more important that engineers adopt the habit of clearing items when they do infringe, rather than continue to take on work items.

 

The squad must also become comfortable with reassessing any established workflow restrictions. Like any part of our process, experimenting with thresholds will allow the team to improve their development practices. Just like people, every collective has their limits.

 

Thanks for reading!

Coffee Homeground

Revisiting Java Code Reviews

Coffee. Chocolate. A good ol’ cup of tea. Food or otherwise, we all have those home comforts that instill a feeling of coziness. The little things that give you a warm fuzzy feeling when curled up on the couch in times of joy or strife. Technologists commonly exhibit similar attachments to programming languages and frameworks.

 

Tea Party

Programmers develop a technical comfort zone for languages and frameworks that are as inviting as a cup of tea

 

Be it Java, Haskell or Typescript, nothing gives you a higher feeling of elation than being in the coding zone using your comfort blanket language. Coupled with your favourite IDE, solving problems in the comfort zone is immensely gratifying.

 

With my recent role change I’ve been forced out of my Typescript comfort zone. Moving to a product focused role has meant I’ve had to dust off my Java skills and review team changes. With me completing my last from scratch feature 7 years ago, it has proven difficult. This week I reflect on the challenges of reviewing code in unfamiliar languages, and how my experiences can help you re-adjust.

 

Wake Up And Smell the Coffee

 

Technology evolves rapidly. Programming languages and frameworks are no exception. One such example that has been close to my heart over the last 3 years is the evolution of Angular. From Angular JS to the upcoming Angular 7, I have used the majority of these versions. Each contained a host of new features. The JS rewrite in particular resulted in a significant learning undertaking for developers.

 

Lack of experience with new language features leaves you playing catch up. One of the major features used extensively by our team that I bypassed is Java streams. This enhancement introduced in Java 8 allows for adoption of a functional style. I can safely say this has been one of the constructs that I’ve had to invest considerable time investigating.

 

Secluded Stream

Drawing from my prior experiences of JavaScript frameworks has helped me learn Java streams

 

Another strategy that can help is drawing parallels with technologies recently used within your comfort zone stack. Within the Web domain, similarities to both Lodash and RxJS Observable pipes have helped me adapt to Java streams. Your experiences with all languages will help you grow and adapt to new technology more quickly.

 

Clouds In My Coffee

 

Coding involves an element of pattern matching. Think back to an internship, or your first role. At that time, you were most likely more humble. You were comfortable acknowledging that you didn’t know everything. If your experiences were anything like mine, there was a lot of online searching and combing of forums such as Stack Overflow to find your desired answers. Another strategy to acclimatise to unknown code bases is to replicate any common patterns that you detect. The latter is one I’ve seen our interns adopt more recently.

 

Patterned Stairs

In different languages, there’s a pattern, there’s a pattern, there’s a pattern, there’s a pattern…

 

Heuristics such as Uncle Bob’s Clean Code guidelines and Martin Fowler and Kent Beck’s Code Smells translate across technologies. When adapting to repositories written in unfamiliar programming languages, not all patterns from your home code base will translate. File structure is one obvious example. Our Java code bases follows the Gradle structure. Meanwhile our UIs adopt a flat file system as per the Angular Style Guide. It is worth identifying the build frameworks used to develop an intuition on where code will live.

 

Class design patterns also differ. With years of Web and Desktop UI experience, structuring features using Model View Controller, or a related variant, is ingrained. I’ve had to acclimatise to the common REST service endpoint class composed of a dedicated response handler and DAO. Your friendly neighbourhood IDE can help greatly, especially the search and find definition functions.

 

There Might Be Coffee

 

Contemplating possible performance issues in unfamiliar languages is another issues I’ve faced. Identifying potential bottlenecks and concurrently issues is challenging at the best of times. I’ve always found that programmers struggle to write and understand concurrent code. It has certainly been a cause of some recent production issues. Throw in confusion regarding concurrent collections and locking mechanisms and these issues can be difficult to prevent.

 

Bottles

Identifying bottlenecks and other performance issues is not easy in unfamiliar technologies

 

Without knowledge of language specific best practices, you’ll struggle to reason about performance outside general algorithmic complexity. Utilising various resources can assist you in your learning quest. Tools such as profilers can help you diagnose elusive bottlenecks. Also, seek out technical mentors to work through your ideas and concerns. Ideally have more than one to obtain differing opinions and to ensure help remains if your rock star mentor leaves. Reading can expose industry best practices. For Java specifically, I’ve added Java Concurrency in Practice by Brian Goetz et al to my reading list to continue my journey of enlightenment.

 

One More Cup of Coffee

 

Delving outside our technical comfort zones can be daunting. It is assumed that a technical lead will be able to lead across the stack. Some patterns do translate across the technical expanse. But others do not. Regardless, it is important to ensure unsuitable constructs and designs are not translated into the new technology. Such mistakes will affect readability, maintainability and system performance.

 

With our ongoing push for our technologists to become full stack developers, my recent experiences has proved enlightening. I’ve been able to empathise more with the key challenges our Java developers are facing as they learn Web technologies. It has given me more of an appreciation for the support managers need to provide programmers.

 

I hope my experiences allow me to lead by example. I’ve always wanted to encourage engineers to embrace diving into unfamiliar technologies. Only then shall we all evolve as technologists.

 

Thanks for reading!

Untold Stories

Pondering the Pitfalls of Product Ownership

The Product Owner role is a challenging one to understand. I often hear people describe this position as the Scrum equivalent of a Business Analyst. This may be in part due to the established relationship between requirements and stories.

 

These roles are not the same. Product Owners are responsible for ensuring all features proposed fit with the overall product strategy. Meanwhile, Business Analysts propose requirements without necessarily taking the wider roadmap into account. The Product Owner role, as defined in The Scrum Guide, is responsible for the product backlog. The word owner highlights a level of accountability that an analyst does not possess.

 

Trapped Bird

Beware of some of the traps I’ve found with Product Owner

 

Confusing these roles is hampering the building of our software. I’ve seen first hand that we are struggling to identify suitable candidates on which to instil the honour of Product Owner. Here I discuss some of the traps triggered when identifying Product Owners, and the characteristics that people need to succeed in this role.

 

Cluster One

 

One common challenge faced by many of our teams is having a dedicated Product Owner. Historically, we have selected representatives from our client base to fill this seat. The typical profile has been a lead in that particular area with significant knowledge of current processes.

 

The key struggle we have with our Product Owner strategy is their lack of dedicated time. They have a day job that takes priority. When the going gets tough at work, their Product Owner responsibilities are the first thing that is dropped. This leaves development teams struggling to get the support they require on both ongoing development items and upcoming prioritisation.

 

It is important that the Product Owner and development team work together to build out these features. To guarantee development teams receive the support they need, and vice versa, Product Ownership must be a full time job. Only by having one person continually dedicated to the cause will ownership be guaranteed.

 

Missing Pieces

 

Another difficulty with the parallel role is that their expertise may apply to one small segment of a larger process. The expertise of our nominated team leads has proven to be immensely valuable in the identification of new features. Nevertheless, they are unlikely to know the intricacies of the next stage once they have handed over their output to the next team in the chain.

 

Choosing someone previously responsible for part of the puzzle introduces a level of bias. They often provide stories directly related to their role. Furthermore, they can miss proposing the enhancements that will benefit downstream stages, which also require representation.

 

Puzzle

Product Owners own the entire process puzzle, rather than just a single piece

 

Elimination of these predilections is important to obtain a holistic view. Through story identification, we can recommend process optimisations to identify the client’s true needs and remove manual stages. A dedicated Product Owner will be more likely to propose such enhancements.

 

I’m So Curious

 

Understanding of business process is vital to being an effective Product Owner. Starting with a complete comprehension of the business domain can introduce complacency.

 

Processes evolve over time. The funding process that I’ve come to know over the past few years has evolved. I’ll be the first to admit that keeping up to date with these changes can be a struggle. The knowledge I gained when I first joined the team remains useful. However, to provide useful solutions to our users, I must keep asking questions. A level of smugness can kick in if Product Owners don’t keep probing procedures at every stage.

 

User Story Mapping

Techniques such as User Story mapping can help Product Owners to ask the right questions

 

Effective Product Owners must be curious. They need to have the initiative to ask both the obvious and obscure questions. These techniques can be used in conjunction with user story mapping techniques to extract key features. This ensures that when developers ask the same questions when building these features, they are able to obtain the answers they need.

 

That’s How People Grow

 

Product Ownership is a massively underrated role in some regards. Part of the reason we struggle to attract full time collaboration by curious individuals is it doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. Like any role, to attract strong candidates we need to show their work will be appreciated.

 

Organisations should ensure there is a career pathway for all role types, including Product Owner. The ability to manage a backlog and support development teams is not a trivial task. The best candidates don’t have to come from a business background. Strong technical individuals able to facilitate with users will make for excellent Product Owners if they see the role has growing space.

 

Superhero

Product Owner is a superhero role that deserves more respect than it often earns

 

Adhering to the guidance outlined in this article will reduce the chance of encountering these pitfalls. Stop seeing Product Ownership as a secondary role. For people to aspire to be Product Owners, it needs to be seen as a viable role where colleagues will receive recognition, and be able to progress.

 

Thanks for reading!

Sound of Silence

The Effects of Work Environment on Developer Productivity

Space may be the final frontier. It may be wide and open. Or even closed and confined. In the software development world we often focus on tooling and its effect on programmer productivity. This crazy distributed world is encouraging us to think less about the importance of physical workspaces.

 

Our work environment historically hasn’t been given much focus. Only when Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister was published in 1987 were the social aspects of software engineering popularised. Today the notion of Agile workspaces is being advocated for fostering collaboration and productivity. The question we should ask ourselves is what environmental factors support agility?

 

Working Together

What attributes of our working environment make us more or less productive?

 

I read Peopleware in university when examining personality composition of productive teams. Yet, the lessons regarding workspace and its effects are another vital consideration. Changes to my own desk positioning have caused me to re-investigate the insights proposed by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This week I’ll outline my musings on the office surroundings, and how it affects our productivity.

 

White Noise

 

Noise travels. Having a multitude of colleagues speaking on the phone leads to an incessant buzzing travelling around the floor. Individual conversations on the floor contribute to the swarm of bees buzzing around your head as you work. Software engineers perform very thoughtfully intensive work. Concentrating on writing code, reading code, or completing any intellectually gruelling tasks requires peace and quiet.

 

> Your folks are intellect workers- they need to have their brains in gear to > do their work, and noise does affect their ability to concentrate. > > Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

 

Separation of collaborative and individual spaces is crucial. Don’t cram floors with developers like battery hens in cages. They need some personal space to focus on computationally intensive tasks. Yet they also need booths and collaborative spaces to encourage working together.

 

Person With Headphones

Programmers shouldn’t need to utilise headphones to help them complete thought intensive tasks

 

I’ve never been one for continually sitting in silence. Nevertheless, through disregarding the babble we are enforcing every developer to require a set of noise cancelling headphones to be productive. Introduction of noise reduction mechanisms on the floor itself is one of the latest advancements that should be adopted. It would certainly have been useful of late, where I could hear colleagues from my dark corner on the opposite side of the floor.

 

Let’s Get Together

 

Whether you work to live, or live to work, we spend the majority of our week in the office. The office needs to feel homely yet not encourage leaving at an unreasonable hour. Being human, software engineers will still want a fixed location to flock to every day. My experiences with hot desking early in my career emphasised that human beings are creatures of habit. The majority sat in the same desk everyday. Their lockers were only filled with their non-essential hoardings when visitors needed a desk. Flex desking possesses primarily fiscal benefits as you have less empty desks in the case of sickness and holidays. However it does depersonalise individual work settings.

 

Person With Headphones

Sitting teams away from each other is not as good for the pedometer as you may think

 

Proximity to your team can have a strong impact, regardless of organisational strategy. Strong teams have diverse personality sets that will gel together, but that is not the only factor affecting their productivity. Offices shouldn’t be treated as a peak-time tube train, cramming new arrivals into every free centimetre of space. It is a misnomer that colleagues will walk to your desk irrespective of where you sit. Even if they are counting the steps on whichever pedometer app or device they use. Instant messenger applications become the default communication mechanism, which can leave segregated developers feeling isolated.

 

Teams should be placed in collaborative facing groups rather than endless rows of desks. Areas should also by extensible to allow teams to grow. Like blocks of memory, slotting new arrivals into the first available slot rather than encouraging concurrent access is not a great impression to set for new engineers.

 

Where I Draw the Line

 

With an emphasis on co-located teams within many Agile methodologies, collaborative spaces are required to foster fraternisation. To encourage innovative solutions means your work environment must include tools to help encourage ad-hoc creative thinking. Tools must be openly available without the need to lock coders in conference rooms.

 

> You may be able to kick people to make them active, but not to make them > creative, inventive, and thoughtful. > > Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

 

Many Agile spaces boast every wall being a whiteboard, as well as smaller versions at developers desks. Having boards only in meeting rooms can introduce challenges, especially when you have a shortage of quieter spaces for deep thought. Even windows can allow sketching of new ideas with the right pens. The added bonus of getting creative with your collaborative space is programmers can bask in natural sunlight for the few months per year that we have it.

 

Window Menu

Windows and whiteboards can be used for collaboration and design, not just menus!

 

The little things are important to developers. Engineers crave more monitors, better mice and keyboards. Even the specification of the coffee machine can prove to be a source of contention, as I’ve found of late.

 

With the exception of the pricey coffee machine, the start up paradigm of giving coders choice over their tools is something us larger organisations should consider. Having them build their own PC or laptop spec will not be scalable. There is no reason that personal budgets for mice, keyboards and monitors couldn’t be adopted to give programmers the tools they need to operative productively. Such mechanisms must be applied consistently to prevent the spread of animosity.

 

Common People

 

There are far more productivity enhancements I can recommend based on my time in the relegation zone. It is important to regularly evaluate our work environments and experiment to determine which options will work for the engineering collective. Measurement of individual productivity would be the best mechanism to determine if developer productivity is being impacted by their surroundings. Once the fix is identified, it should be adopted across the entire group to prevent feelings of resentment developing.

 

> When the office environment is frustrating enough, people look for a place to > hide out. They book the conference rooms or head for the library or wander > off for coffee and just don’t come back. No, they are not meeting for secret > romance or plotting political coups; they are hiding out to work. > > Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams

 

Peopleware outlines several strategies employed by people unhappy with their environment. Looking out for these signs can help identify workspace issues. One of the notable approaches that is easy to spot is employees diving into offices or conference rooms to get work done. This is a more drastic mechanism than the more common headphones on strategy. Another possible strategy is working remotely more regularly. This can also be an indication of developer frustration. Managers should be on the lookout for these warning signs.

 

Woman Working From Home

Measure developer working habits both in and away from the office to determine space effectiveness

 

Dissatisfaction can stem not only from the work itself, but also developer surroundings. Regardless of profession, people want to go home every day feeling effective and accomplished. Be mindful of the small environmental factors appreciated by programmers. Even the cackle of colleagues echoes across a packed engineering floor.

 

Thanks for reading! Do also check out my follow on piece on workspace impact on non-occupying stakeholders.