peopleware

Open Office Plans – Excerpt from Peopleware

From PeopleWare: Productive Projects and Teams, Third Edition, by Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister, © 2013 Addison-Wesley.


The bald fact is that many companies provide developers with a workplace that is so crowded, noisy, and interruptive as to fill their days with frustration. That alone could explain reduced efficiency as well as a tendency for good people to migrate elsewhere.

The hypothesis that qualities of the workplace may have a strong correlation to developer effectiveness is an easy one to test. All you have to do is devise a set of fixed benchmark tasks, similar to those that developers do in their normal work, and observe how well they perform each of these tasks in different environments. The Coding War Games were designed with exactly that purpose in mind.

In order to gather some data on the workplace, we had each war game participant (prior to the exercise) fill out a questionnaire about the physical quarters in which the work was to be performed. We asked for some objective data measurements of the dedicated space provided and the height of partitions, (for example) and for answers to some subjective questions like “Does your workplace make you feel appreciated?” and “Is your workplace acceptably quiet?” Then we correlated their answers to their performance in the exercise.

An easy way to spot the trend is to look at the workplace characteristics of people who did well in the exercise (based on a composite performance parameter) against those of participants who didn’t do so well. We chose to compare the top quarter of finishers with the bottom quarter. Average performance of those in the top quarter was 2.6 times better than that of those in the bottom quarter. The environmental correlations are summarized in Table 8-1.

The top quartile, those who did the exercise most rapidly and effectively, work in space that is substantially different from that of the bottom quartile. The top performers’ space is quieter, more private, better protected from interruption, and there is more of it.

Table 8-1. Environments of the Best and Worst Performers in the Coding War Games
Environmental Factor Those Who Performed in 1st Quartile Those Who Performed in 4th Quartile
1. How much dedicated work space do you have? 78 sq. ft. 46 sq. ft.
2. Is it acceptably quiet? 57% yes 29% yes
3. Is it acceptably private? 62% yes 19% yes
4. Can you silence your phone? 52% yes 10% yes
5. Can you divert your calls? 76% yes 19% yes
6. Do people often interrupt you needlessly? 38% yes 76% yes

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