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Our Scrum Room: The Tree House

Why Having a Scrum Room Matters to Us

21 August 2017

Every day we follow the same procedure: Stand-up starts at 9:30 a.m., we chat with User Acceptance Testing at noon about our issues, UX joins us in the afternoons to groom the backlog, and Architecture rummages for snacks at the communal table before we leave for the day. Like posters of rock stars and video games, our velocity charts, proposed epics, and screen flows are strewn about the walls, reminding us of our shared purpose and why we are here together. The back table is filled with homemade cookies, diet sodas, a half-eaten cake from our Program Increment session, and packets of tea for the inevitable illnesses. All of these habitual actions and items are housed in the same room — the Scrum room.

The big move

A little over a year ago, all of us were moved from our familiar cubes across multiple buildings to one glass-enclosed, 12-person room with a TV, phone, and whiteboard. At first, the introverted personalities panicked and would think of various reasons to stay at their desks. On the flip side, the extroverted personalities were worried about getting work done at all, as the urge to socialize could overtake them. It seemed in the beginning that sharing a room with a bunch of acquaintances (with questionable social skills) would bring about the apocalypse and that this whole Scrum thing was a giant mistake.

Fast-forward to today. If you asked any veteran on our team about going back to cubes, the thought of losing our Scrum room would induce a mini panic attack.

Our Scrum room transformed from an empty space where we performed daily stand-ups to a home away from home — a treehouse of sorts. It became a place where the team felt safe to perform their work but also unwind and be themselves. On Tuesday, it was a therapist’s office. Last week, it was a buffet. Today, it was a noisy classroom. It transforms into what we need it to be to succeed, like a child transforms a cardboard box into a rocket ship to achieve his or her astronautics goals.

Our "tree house" as a safe haven

A tree house is laboriously built from the ground up with the blessing and support of a child’s elders. It is a safe place that a child can mold into his or her own vision, but it is still close enough to parents if problems arise. Friends can be called over whenever an objective needs to be conquered, or when they are lonely and need to socialize. The house protects from dangerous weather and outside influences, allowing actions inside to continue unperturbed. Quickly, there is a freedom discovered deep inside the child that could not have been realized while being under constant surveillance.

Being in a shared space with the same people quickly beckoned empathy and awareness within us. I’ve worked amicably with plenty of the same people in my last three years of employment, but it wasn’t until we started sitting in a room together, working toward the same goals, that I started seeing them as complex human beings. I now know that everyone there who has children is also married, owns pets, and enjoys Game of Thrones while drinking a beer. Today we commiserated over a teammate finding out that their father was diagnosed with cancer. Topics have ranged from who can quote Seinfeld the most to how to internalize a family suicide. Suddenly that person who was working on that three-point story has thoughts and feelings, and putting this all into perspective has engrained a deep sense of trust within us toward each other. With this deep trust has come productivity, as our motivations have become entangled and imbued with purpose.

Do not underestimate the power of the Scrum room for a colocated (or mostly colocated) team. It provides a sense of security, family, and entertainment that will, eventually, organically foster trust among the team. It does not have to be a room with all the bells and whistles, sequestered from the rest of the organization. Any environment deemed a “safe space” that the team can physically walk to, and there change their atmosphere, can suffice. It can even include cubicle walls, an open door, or the bar across the street, just as long as the team agrees it is a comfortable space. This is where ScrumMaster creativity or tenacity can apply.

Though at times we may fight or feel antisocial or just plain lazy, we always find our way back to the Scrum room, greeted with smiles, follow-ups to stories, or a new box of chocolates. The bonds we have created in this room have transcended coworker status to the point that we are Facebook friends, will bring each other gifts for family members, and attend each other’s social events. Without our having been forced together into a room by our Scrum coach more than a year ago, we would have never reached such comfort and trust together at the workplace. Like a child who finds solace and amusement in the tree house that they helped to build, our Scrum team has found a safe place that we need and choose to thrive in.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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