Samantha is a project manager that uses Agile Methodologies during her workday. I reached out to her to ask her to provide some insight into her day to day work patterns, her personal experience and preferences around working environments, support equipment and furniture.
I used a semi-structured interview and Samantha agreed to have the interview recorded to that I could transcribe our conversation. The interviewee’s name has been changed to protect their identity and the recording deleted once the transcription was completed. Below is a copy of the full transcript after introductions.
Francesca: Remind me what it is that you do again?
Samantha: I am at senior business Intelligence Manager and for telecom Company and my team look after everything from; all of our data sources and feeds coming into the business, transforming them into metrics KPI’s and then everything on the back of that, whether it’s dashboards or reports just insight for the business.
Francesca: Cool and so do you manage a whole team?
Samantha: Yes, so I’ve got a mixture of onshore and offshore people, and there’s about 60 in all – 30 on 30 off. But yeah, all over the country as well, so we’re not necessarily all in the same place which makes it interesting.
Francesca: That’s quite big.
Samantha: Yeah, quite a big team.
Francesca: Do you guys use agile ways of working at work?
Samantha: Yes, so we only started to adopt Agile about 18 months ago, so probably a little bit late to the party compared to most people. But yeah, it’s pretty much instilled across everyone now. Less so in the kind of early gathering data and transforming data, but very much in the developing dashboards, developing reports and things. We use it quite heavily there.
Francesca: And so, what kind of things do you use to support your agile methods?
Samantha: So, we’re not probably textbook agile.
We probably use bits and pieces from different sort of parts of agile methodology – but daily stand ups are a big one across the teams.
We work in sprints – so all of our development work is in two-week to week Sprint cycles.
And I guess the other main thing that we use is JIRA. So, JIRA is an agile piece of software that lets you track all of your tasks and assign them to people, and we use those to manage our daily standups to keep track of what everyone’s doing, keep track of team velocity and all that good stuff as well.
So, there are three main things.
Francesca: OK, so sounds like it’s very similar to a Scrum method, but I know that a lot of companies adapt it to suit. So, you said you did standups, you used digital tracking – at the end of the two-weeks you do a Sprint retrospective as well?
Samantha: Yeah, we do the retrospective. We do the Sprint planning sessions at the start as well, and I can’t think what else we do as part of that, I don’t know.
Again, I don’t know if this is just a ‘my employer thing’, or whether it’s actually agile, but we have our three Amigos chat as well.
Francesca: OK, what’s that?
Samantha: So that’s the uh – so we use agile roles as well I guess – so we’ll have a Product Owner, we’ll have the Business Analyst – and it’s those two people and the Scrum Master that get together once a week and just check that everything is ticking along like it should be – that kind of thing.
But we also do business demos so at the end of every two-week Sprint we’ll present back to whoever the customer is on the progress we’ve made. Just checking that everything is still as they’re expecting and get feedback or anything.
Francesca: And because your team is all spread across the country as you said, how do you best like to do your meetings? Pre and Post pandemic? Do you do digital, meet in person?
Samantha: Most definitely a bit of both.
I mean mostly the daily standups in particular – are usually virtual – and so that’s where you know JIRA comes in handy, because no matter where you are, everyone could just link in and sort of update what they’re up to and that kind of thing. But pre Covid and hopefully post Covid, we’d make the effort to, you know all get together. Take it in turns to go to each other’s offices and try and be face to face as much as possible.
Francesca: Do you all meet at one office or would you go to different offices that your company owns?
Samantha: Different so we pick based on you know what is convenient for people but also where the best offices are.
So, some offices you know, they’re not as well and kit-ed out, you know, in terms of groups of people coming together.
Leeds is a good one.
London tends to be a good one.
Birmingham is pretty good, but yeah, it’s ‘where can we find a decent enough space for the amount of people?’
Francesca: So, when you say ‘kit-ed out’ – besides the size of the room – what do you mean by some of them being better than others – in terms of kit?
Samantha: Yes, so something as basic as having a whiteboard, pens that actually work, marker pens – which are surprisingly hard to get a hold of.
But yeah, space is a big thing – having your own space as a team away from the rest of the office – but so you can actually sit around a table and see each other, and look at each other, and scribble stuff on the wall. Stick post-its up everywhere.
Uh, Yeah, a whiteboard is surprisingly important.
Spider phones as well, so when you need to put someone on speaker. So, if there’s people that aren’t there that could dial in, then you can dial them into the room as well.
If we’re super lucky we get a room in Leeds that has a proper conference room and you could get video on the screen as well – and actually have people dial in that way – who aren’t there, but that’s a rarity so we can’t count on that.
Francesca: Right, OK, so in terms of technology, sounds like you have a lot of varied technology at your company. Are there certain pieces of furniture that you would say make it more likely someone would pick one of your offices – in addition to a whiteboard. Is there something else?
Samantha: Yeah, desk setup is quite important, so some of the London offices especially the desk to set up the rows. It’s not very helpful. You know you can sit next to someone, but you can’t really talk to a group of people that easily.
Leeds is much better ’cause we have more – they’re almost like pods – so you’ve got like a circular pod where maybe 8 if you could actually sit and crack on with the work but still sort of just stand up and see each other.
Francesca: OK, yeah.
Samantha: So yeah, desk setup is a big one. It’s just being able to actually stand up and look at some point over the desk makes a big difference.
Francesca: When you say pod, do you mean like and you’re all on one desk like one writing surface? Or is it that there’s smaller pieces attached together?
Samantha: It’s more like – I would call it like a bank of desks, so it’s like one continuous writing surface -desk.
But there’s partitions and so if you are on the phone you have got a little bit of a barrier between the person right next to you – but you can take them out if you need to. So, you’ve got a bit of flexibility with it as well.
But yeah, solid kind of desk, but you’ve got the options of separating yourself off a little bit.
Francesca: So, if you were meeting at one of your offices for convenience that was quote ‘less kit-ed out’, Do you have any work arounds that you would put in place to make it more suitable for your agile working?
Samantha: If you can get hold of bits of paper and pin them up to the wall, that’s usually option B.
Oh, but yeah if we’re really stuck – you end up just crowding around the laptop. If you can get your hands on a projector, that can help as well, but yeah, limited options sometimes.
Francesca: Ok, do you think that post covid you will see a lot of changes in your offices, or what do you think speculatively?
Samantha: So yeah, I mean, we know a little bit already, but not the full picture.
People will be in office less frequently – so where before it was quite traditional for, you know, the expectation to have everyone be there five days a week – that’s changing.
Three days a week is fine and then spend two days wherever else suits.
I think we’ll be traveling less. I think you know the opportunity to meet up face to face might be less frequent as well, but I also know they’re investing a lot in our office spaces on the back of that, so people are going at the office less often. They’re going to have fewer buildings overall, but then equally, the ones that are left, they’re going to spend a lot of money on making them become nicer places to be. So, I think there will be more options around that type of working area you might have. So like private pods if you’ve got private phone calls you need to take – and hopefully more spaces for collaboration.
Make it be easier than just rows of desks.
But yeah, I think we’ll have nicer office spaces, but we may not be in them as often as we used to. Or will it’ll be more of a conscious decision to go to the office for a purpose.
You’ll have a thing – you know – you’ll spend the time there a bit more productively, probably ’cause you have had a think beforehand, and you’ll probably have to book a space and have a bit of a plan as to why you’re going in, not just rock up because you do every Monday to Friday.
Yeah, I think those are the biggest things.
Francesca: So, if you’re envisioning these collaborative spaces that you said you hope you have more of, what does that look like for you?
Samantha: I think it’s nice to have a mixture of sort of structured working areas or desk, internet connectivity, so standard – you know I’ve got some work that I need to just actually crack on with but also something a bit more of an informal. So, actually if you’re just trying to solve the problem and you don’t really know where you’re going with it – if you’ve got some, you know, like couches.
So just a bit of space where you can actually just sit and talk to each other a bit more freely. And yeah, having something – and I keep going back to the whiteboard – but so that you can, you know, keep track of everything you’ve been talking about. Or you know, scribble ideas down.
Yeah, like, options, options for different types of working but all in the same area.
Francesca: Right, and so on that kindof theme – if I came to you and I gave you an unlimited budget to buy any furniture equipment – anything you want to support the collaboration that you mentioned, and your agile working – what would be the first three things you would ask for.
Samantha: Desks would be number 1.
Decent desk set up, uh, like I said some of the offices have that kind of not in rose space to actually sort of look at each other and that would be the number one thing.
My second would probably be, maybe not a whiteboard, but something – given the fact that we’re probably not going to be together as often – something that allowed you to still collaborate on a whiteboard, but from different offices, sort of technology rather than just a thing on the wall, and so that would be pretty cool.
Probably number 3 – Yeah, probably that that sort of like comfy space sort of area – so that makes it feel a bit more relaxed and feel a bit more and not just like an old school traditional office.
Something that helps people feel a bit more in the creative zone that perhaps has stopped the office, so you know whether it’s bean bags or comfy chairs – something a bit different, probably – a little bit fun.
Francesca: So, as you’re aware, I’m looking to design a product that supports this Agile way of working post-pandemic. Do you think there’s anything else that you would say might help my project? Is there something that really bothers you or something that you really love?
Samantha: Uh, I think it doesn’t necessarily bother me, but I know a lot of my team are probably gonna be quite conscious of it – but a lot of the desk setups that we have today probably won’t take into account 2 meter spacing or any kindof personal space. I think that people are gonna have that the back of their minds for long time to even if it isn’t quite 2 meters.
Even if things are then designed with giving people a bit more space in mind and maybe it is big screens. Maybe it’s simple, I don’t know, maybe that would be overkill.
Francesca: So, do you think that people are going to have a problem with sharing space, as in, you know someone sat at that desk – someone sat at that chair an hour ago?
Samantha: Yeah that’s gonna be a real problem. Because given we’re gonna have a few offices, we won’t have that dedicated desk that is yours and yours only. You will – just from what we’ve heard – it’ll be a case of your department will have a part of the office. You might have 20 desks or whatever it is, but you’ll just book first come, first serve. Book a seat and whichever seat happens to be free on that day, you’re gonna use it.
That’ll be something that people haven’t really had to think about before. Like who sat at this desk yesterday before me and touched the keyboard.
Francesca: Great thanks. And finally, if I asked you to describe Agile in one word, what would you say?
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