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The Real “Elephant” in the Room

This phrase usually refers to something that is wrong or out of place that everyone knows about but no one wants to bring up.  Scrum and agile practices are very good at making these “elephants” so visible that it takes effort to ignore them.  But this is not what I want to discuss right now.  I want to talk about a tangible “elephant” in a team room that causes a simple, yet very powerful impediment.

Those familiar with Scrum and XP and other agile practices know about the daily team meeting.  Sometimes called a “daily stand-up,” this is a meeting held every day at the same location and time.  In this 15 minute meeting the team usually stands in front of the team board to discuss three questions, and three questions only:

A Simple Task Board

A Simple Task Board

  • What did you get done since the last meeting?
  • What will you do before the next meeting?
  • Do you have any impediments to your work?

The team board has story and task cards that are moved across to document the progress of each task.  Each team member owns the task he is working and signifies that ownership by moving his task cards in turn as he answers the questions.

So what is the elephant in the room?  In this team’s case, it is the table.  Yep, a simple and useful object that decreases the effectiveness of the daily team meeting.

This team does not have a dedicated team room.  This less than ideal situation is handled by using a task board on wheels that lives in the hall where the team members work for visibility throughout the day.  The board is wheeled into a conference room for the daily team meeting.  The conference room has a table in the middle.  A large one that is difficult to move.

The team board is placed on one side of the room and, due to the limited space directly in front of the board, the team groups on the other side of the room.  With the table in the middle, between the team and the team board.  Suddenly, it is too cumbersome for each team member to come around the table and move their own task cards.  The ScrumMaster stands at the board to move the cards for the team.

List the damage:

  • Team disconnected from the task board
  • Members disconnected from ownership of their tasks
  • The meeting feels and operates like reporting to the ScrumMaster instead of reporting to team peers
  • Less energy in the room
  • Team is physically divided

Scrum is about people, not technology.  The subtle but real psychological effects cause by the table cut the effectiveness and communication of the team in half, or more.  It seems a small thing, it’s just a table after all.  In physical reality, perhaps it is small.  But the mental and social structure of the team is decimated.

Maybe you can think of more negative effects of this situation.  It’s all bad.  And it’s just a table.

Does your team room or meeting location have such “elephants” in the way?  Are the chairs too inviting?  Is the lighting wrong?  Assess your environment to from the team cohesiveness point of view and eliminate the physical “elephants” that distract your team from the best agile experience possible!

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