Thursday, February 17, 2005

Don't underestimate the power of the whiteboard

A couple of months ago we had a bit of office remodeling. We moved our 8 man team from a pokey little office with enough space for 4 people into a nice open plan room with enough room for 10. Definitely a better working environment. We also moved next to the project's customers. This meant that we could talk more. We were talking about stories with them more and more, and started giving them things that really fitted with their way of thinking. The project moved on at a pace and things felt good.

But there was a general feeling that something was wrong, and we couldn't quite work it out.
We knew that we were writing our tests, but the tests weren't quite, I don't know, right.

The code started to feel more and more cumbersome, things seemed less and less intuitive. But we couldn't put our finger on it. People started to loose track of parts of the system that they weren't working on, and no one was quite sure what everyone else was doing.

And then, one morning, someone put our whiteboards up.

For the last two months we'd been working without our whiteboards. When we had our whiteboards, we used them: If there was a story test to write, we wrote the test on the whiteboard. If there was some design to do, class diagrams were drawn on the whiteboard. If there was some major refactoring that needed doing, it went on a list on our whiteboard. And whenever something went on the whiteboard, we discussed what was on the whiteboard. Sometimes just the pair, other times the whole team, always those people with valuable input.

The result? Everyone knew which stories were being worked on because they helped to write the tests.

Everyone knew the implementation of other components was at the right standard because they helped to design them.

Everyone knew which major bits of refactoring needed working on, because they vetted the list, as it's there... On the whiteboard... Look... Right in front of you!!

Pretty suddenly the niggling feeling was gone and everyone seemed that little bit more focused.
We've got our whiteboards back and boy did we miss them!


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