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Creating an agile working environment
Things move fast in agile, so digital teams need easy ways to coordinate their activities, communicate progress and collaborate.
You should design your physical working environment and choose suitable technology to encourage agile ways of working.
Meeting the Digital Service Standard
What an agile environment looks like
You should expect to see lots of short meetings throughout each day, often around walls covered in notes or reference material. This may seem strange in office cultures that are more used to formal meetings or conference calls.
Those working in creative and technical fields often need plenty of space for focused, detailed work. It’s common to see people spend most of the day with headphones on to help them focus, or deep in conversation with just one person with whom they’re pairing.
Decide what you need from your environment
Working spaces for digital projects will vary. At the beginning of a project, decide with your team:
- how to structure your space
- what tools you need
Your physical environment
The space a team works in is a tool. It’s just as important as the choice of programming language or project management tools.
Ideally, your team will work from the same location and sit together.
Short, informal conversations are an important way to test assumptions. These are much harder when a team is spread across an office or in different buildings.
Hacking the environment
Removing dividers between desks makes a big difference and allows conversation between the team to flow more freely. If large monitors are getting in the way, remove them.
You might also want to think about getting a desk organiser.
This process is known as ‘hacking the environment’.
Teams using agile approaches need wall space in their work area. If you can’t use a wall, whiteboards or even windows are an alternative.
You’ll need sticky notes or cards and blu-tack to stick your work to your walls.
The wall creates a physical focus for the team so they can:
- gather round it at their daily standup
- refer to and update it during the day
- show the status of their work to anyone outside of the team
This helps the team to:
- discuss what they’re working on
- sort out problems
- talk through ideas
This is called ‘visual management’.
Find out how to set up your team wall.
The right technology
As a team, you’ll also need online tools to help you communicate and manage your work.
Individual members of the team may also need access to tools to help them with their role (eg your user researcher may need access to video editing software).
You should check if anyone needs training to use the tools you choose.
It’s essential that your team can be in constant contact with one another to:
- make quick decisions
- provide support and information
- make sure everyone’s aware of the project as a whole
You’ll achieve some of that through regular short meetings (eg at daily standups or team reviews) but you’re also likely to need a tool for online discussions.
These tools work like chatrooms and allow your team to talk in a more conversational way than they would with emails.
They stop large backlogs of emails building up for people who are out of the office, and allow the team to communicate even if they’re not in the same room.
You must have a browser-based editing tool so your team can work on the same documents at the same time.
This is a mandatory open standard requirement for government.
It also helps you avoid problems with having multiple versions of the same document. GDS, MoJ and many other departments use Google Drive for collaboration.
Managing your backlog
You might find it useful to use an online board as well as your physical wall to manage a large backlog.
This is helpful to record further detail behind backlog items (eg draft designs), or to link to discussions on collaboration tools (eg Confluence).
Teams at GDS use Trello, which is also used for the publicly available GOV.UK roadmap. HMRC, Home Office and MoJ use JIRA.
For more information about finding the right technology for your needs, see: Internet tools for civil servants guidance on GOV.UK.
Visit agile working environments
If you’re setting up an agile working environment for your team, you might find it useful to go and look at how other agile teams are working.
Get in touch with the agile delivery community to arrange a tour.
You may also find the following guides useful:
- Published by:
- Agile delivery community
- Last update:
Added links - made style/tone edits
1. I added links to things like Slack, Basecamp, Yammer, Hipchat, Confluence, Google Drive and more.
2. In the "hacking the environment" h3 I removed the line “The difference a tidy environment makes to the ability of a team to think and work is striking" as it seemed an opinion, I've kept the advice about keeping the desk plan open etc.
3. In the "online communication h3" I explained in more detail what Slack/Hipchat etc are and to do so I changed the order of the paragraphs.
Creating a guide
Service teams need to know about agile ways of working to pass their service assessments.