As Mark mentioned in his blog post last week, daily stand ups at GDS take place in front of the team walls. The walls are a great focus for the teams, but they have a lot of other benefits that make them a key part of our day-to-day work.
If you visit the GDS offices one of the first things you will notice is that every spare bit of wall space is covered in drawings, sticky notes, index cards and diagrams. Instead of keeping our ideas, plans and work-in-progress buried in digital tools, documents, Gantt charts and emails, the teams here manage their workflow through their walls. We love our walls and they talk to us.
Walls are a key feature in most agile methodologies. The cards showing the current team tasks, are displayed on the walls. At GDS, for the most part we practise scrum and where necessary we use other methods like kanban. Some teams plan and prioritise their projects using digital tools such as Pivotal Tracker and Trello. Whatever method we use, the walls show our work.
As well as a place to hold the daily scrum, the walls bring transparency to what we do. They help us to manage and measure workflow, and enable us to spot the bottlenecks.
A huge benefit of using the walls to track our work is that everyone in the office can see what other teams are working on. This encourages open dialogue. We really appreciate it when people from other teams look at our walls and talk to us about what they can see, especially if it overlaps with their own work.
The teams often use online tools to hold information about a project, but they'll always post information about current and future work to their wall. Being able to look at a wall to see where a task is up to or simply having something to point at during a stand up helps teams to focus and see at-a-glance how projects are progressing.
There will be several columns on each wall. A development team wall may well have columns called 'To Do', 'In Progress', 'Ready to Review', 'To Deploy' and 'Done'. As the work gets done, the team will move the cards along the wall in the daily stand ups. The very act of moving the cards gives us a clearer understanding of how tasks move through the workflow. There is nothing better than moving a card to the “done” column (except perhaps stamping the card with 'DONE').
Cards that don't move along the wall often depict bottlenecks. If several cards are stuck in the 'In Progress' column then perhaps the team is trying to focus on too many things at once. If there are too many cards in the 'To Deploy' column there may be a problem with the deployment process. By visualising workflow on the walls we can easily spot problems and focus on solutions.
If a task is completely stuck, we mark it as blocked and leave it on the board. Teams can decide whether to move it along or to leave it for a later date. Either way it will be left on the wall until it can be dealt with.
Monitoring how the cards move across the wall gives us useful information about how long tasks take on average to go from the 'To Do' column to the 'Done' column. This gives us cycle times for tasks, and an understanding of the team's capacity and capability.
These metrics help us understand how much work the team can take on. Coupled with the metrics we get from our digital tools, we can limit the amount of tasks that are displayed in each column. This will ensure that teams aren't given more work than they can manage.
The walls keep us informed and keep us focused. They drive conversations with other teams and allow us to be open as we plan and deliver.