Week Seventeen: Wednesday

This is one of many entries in the Change Diary: a true story of success and failure, written as it happened.


24 Apr, 2002

The bullpen idea is forging ahead. Today, I talked with the person in charge of the new floorplan, who is also the manager for the DB guys here. (We're split into UI programmers and DB programmers here.) It was a great conversation: constructive, to the point, and resulting in action. It was wonderful. I've never had a conversation like that with management here.

The overall floorplan is excellent: DB and UI guys are going to be put together into little pods scattered across a single floor. Although this might not sound like a good idea, it's actually perfect: the isolation will encourage the formation of teams. Each pod has about ten people in it, which is just the right size. You see, one of our biggest problems here is matrix management: part of that is the idea that when you were Created, you were Created as a UI Programmer or a Database Programmer... and Thou Shalt Not Fraternize with the Other Side.

This is a wonderfully subtle attack on that problem. I wish I had been responsible for it.

So I went to talk with the guy in charge of this today about pair-programming faciliities. First thing I did was tell him how much I liked the new layout. I did that partly because I figured that most people would be reacting with complaints about how their new area wasn't as good as the old one. Then I told him that with the current situation, it was hard to get two people in front of a computer for collaboration or pair programming. I gave a couple of examples of when I had been trying to work with someone but couldn't do so comfortably.

He agreed with me, and asked for some alternatives. So I sketched out some ideas that focused on getting rid of the interior walls in the bullpen and using big rectangular tables. He raised some objections, I agreed, we batted around a few more ideas, and finally came to a conclusion that should work. Meanwhile, we talked about the advantages of pair programming, convection currents of information, and how people would react to the reduction of personal space.

I came out of that meeting feeling like I had actually made a difference. That's a first for this organization. I hope this conversation results in actual action. I'm going to follow up on it next week.

Years Later...

1 Jun, 2006

What happened? In last week's entry, I lamented that nothing ever changed. Then, this week, change is occurring. The bullpen idea I had pushing for several months looked like it was really going to happen. (And it did! I believe the company continues to have these pods today, although I don't know if they're suitable for pairing.)

This was my second significant success. It's hard for me to say what happened: patience and persistence--hot soup--is my best guess.

Of course, the actual bullpen idea would never have come to fruition without the support of a good manager. This manager was new to the company. (I don't think that's a coincidence. He had a level of energy and drive that was notably absent in the other managers.) The nice thing about the "hot soup" approach is that I didn't have to recruit the services of a champion; the manager selected himself. He heard the ideas percolating through the organization, I presume, decided that they were ideas he liked, and got behind them.

As a result, when we talked, I didn't have to sell him on the ideas. Instead, we talked in concrete terms about consequences. It was a good conversation.

I like this approach a lot. It takes time and patience... almost more than I had. But it has the significant benefit of bringing management champions to ideas, rather than bringing ideas to champions.

Next: Week Seventeen: Thursday

If you liked this entry, check out my best writing and presentations, and consider subscribing to updates by email or RSS.