Putting things on walls aids collaboration

I once worked on a project where the key sponsor was particularly keen to get our work in progress up on the office walls. He had more significant wishes, too (such as the outcome of our project), but putting our work on display was a clear wish. His reasons were perhaps best categorised as “cultural”. He said “We have a lovely office, but it looks like so many other offices I visit. I want the space we work in to be clearly our space.”

So we did that. We put up diagrams we’d been working on, a poster we found useful to refer to, copies of our work at various stages of evolution, and so on. And, of course, we changed elements from time to time, to ensure it was still all relevant. Our sponsor approved, and of course it give that bit of the office a bit more personality. But the team was also surprised to find it promoted wider collaboration.

The product owner commented that putting things up on the wall helped involve people in a related team who previously felt excluded. By seeing our work on the wall they were able to better understand what we were doing. Their understanding was no longer limited to attending show and tells. They could see on-going work, and they volunteered ideas and questions where previously they were silent. There were no more conversations about feeling left out.

The architect said that putting up one particular technical diagram prompted several conversations which otherwise would never have happened. People would walk past, look at it, and then go and ask him about it. Putting the diagram on the wall spread our ideas, allowed doubts to be voiced and addressed early, and, ultimately, helped the technical approach to be validated, accepted and approved.

I often find there’s a natural desire to hide things away in applications. We want to create our diagrams in a digital tool and keep them hidden away on some hard drive, to be seen only when one takes time to sit at a PC, drill down through the file system, and double-click the right icon. Maybe we do that because we have too much faith in technology; maybe we like to keep things neat. Either way, getting our work out into a more public space allows conversations and opportunities that would previously be much more difficult to come by.

Photo by 2073

3 thoughts on “Putting things on walls aids collaboration

  1. I found often that people want to put things in a computer, so that it’s less visible.
    Our planning is always on a large whiteboard.For all to see.

  2. Yes. I think it’s because they’re not sure about it, hence want to hide. Or they don’t think planning is useful, and rather just work, rather than thinking what’s the best to work on in which order.
    I love the transparencey of the whiteboard, and help people to use it in such a way that they don’t have to hide anymore. But if I’m gone, entropy easily kicks in again, if there is nobody who helps them to keep the dicipline. That’s ok, if the organization is happy with people just spending time.

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