The benefits of a war room

It’s time to bunker down, we have a product to deliver

By Christopher Ellis (Digital Product Designer)

All great leaders in war had a location for strategising, a command center colloquially know as a War room. Napoleon, Churchill even Robb Stark gathered the appropriate people, had all the maps and information there on the table for all to see.

In these war rooms, communications were heard by everyone in the room, the battle plan was laid out for all to see, any potential issues were addressed and issues that arose during the battle could be responded to in real time.

Make sure all the pieces are on the table

Why wouldn’t you treat product design the same?

In the context of product design a war room is a place where you and the client can call home for the the duration of a project. You can work on the product together and all the stakeholders are present if a roadblock arises that needs to be solved. There is a shared understanding of what needs to be delivered to be successful.

Open communication

One of the key benefits of working in close proximity is that you can react to any problems in real time.

Picking up on small details throughout the project is the difference between a good product and a great product. Getting an answer over an issue becomes a 5 minute conversation rather than an 15 deep email chain over the course of 4 hours.

Focused energy & momentum

With the war room in place, one of the first things you will feel is a sense of focused energy. With everyone on the same project and aiming towards the same goal, there are next to zero out of context interruptions.

The team builds momentum over time and as elements are being built and released the sense of accomplishment.

Split out sprints

One thing to keep in mind is mental fatigue. If possible it is beneficial to split out the sprints and pad them out so the more complicated work is tackled first. You then have the opportunity to give the team some mental breathing room in-between to recoup.

The rules of war (rooms)

It can either be at the client’s office, or on your turf but there are few rules to make sure it works well.

These are the nice to haves and shouldn’t get in the way of getting anything done.

  1. Make it comfortable
    This is a space where you and the client will be spending a lot of time, so don’t forget the niceties such as plants, music and snacks beyond supplying a power outlet for a laptop charger.
  2. Have the right equipment
    If the client is coming to your office, ask what there current set up is and try and replicate it as best to your ability. If a developer uses two monitors and you have a spare one lying around — set it up for them, it will make all the difference.
  3. Have a whiteboard
    You want everyone to be involved in the process right? Put your working on show for everyone. Even if someone has their headphones in and sees a few people working away on the whiteboard it may spark their interest to go over and contribute.
  4. Put everything on the wall 
    Transparancy is key — Ensure that everything is visible. Think that scribble you jotted down in a meeting is irrelevant? Think again. The worst thing that can happen when trying to release a product under a deadline is a “oh by the way” coming up at the last minute.
  5. Ban emails for comms
    Email may as well be carrier pigeons, they are slow and disruptive. Make sure everyone is using the same communication method and it is as transparent as possible. Use tools such a slack for comms and some form of file sharing such as dropbox or google drive to make sure everyone knows where everything is.
  6. Treat your team well
    Delivering under pressure takes a toll on all involved so make sure to have regular breaks and the occasional pub lunch to keep everything in perspective.

Times change but success looks the same

The great war rooms of the past were all run differently. The context was vastly different for all of them, as it will be for your project. Technology evolves and with it new communication methods but what always remains is having the key stakeholders in a room and able to work together as a team towards the same goal.

If you take these steps as advice, you will find out what works best for your team to ensure the success of your project.

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