Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

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Designing Agile Spaces

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Ryan Martens used his blog to talk about the relationship between collaborative and cooperative work, like that done by Agile teams, and the physical environment in which they work. More specifically, he relates some of the work on designing furnishings and whole spaces being done at the Stanford d.School.

From the very beginning, Agile emphasized the need for a different kind of environment - open space, wall-to-wall whiteboards, big visible charts, and even popcorn machines and refrigerators. This was frequently a hard sell to management committed to cubicles. Martens points out (emphasis is his)

for you and your agile teams, the innovations in team room furniture was really important. Creating a culture of innovation relies on creating the right environment.

and that

As a result of working at the extreme of rapid collaboration, they have come up with some fantastic furniture designs that you should consider copying for your team and meeting rooms. Unfortunately, you can’t buy this stuff – you have to build it locally.


The Stanford d.School is led by David Kelly (long associated with IDEO, and author of several books on design thinking) and some of their results include:

  • stackable foam cubes (sugar cubes) to rapidly create and modify work spaces including walls and seating.
  • rapid wall systems to divide large spaces
  • stackable and portble whiteboards with built in hooks for flip charts, projection screens and other items
  • portable whiteboard systems for mobile collaboration.


Behind the cool factor are serious issues of how space affects human abilities to communicate and work. Some of these issues have been long recognized in the world of architecture, anthropology, knowledge management and philosophy - but they are just now becoming of significant concern in the business and software development worlds.

Martens mentions the importance of the concept of 'Ba' as a foundation for thinking about Agile work spaces and environments. A discussion of Ba in this context is found at

According to the theory of existentialism, Ba is a context, which harbours meaning. Thus, ba can be considered as a shared space that serves as a foundation for knowledge creation. ... According to Nonaka, "Ba" can be thought of as a shared space for emerging relationships. This space can be physical (eg. office, dispersed business space), virtual (e.g., email, teleconference), mental (eg. shared experiences, ideas, ideals) or any combination of them. Ba provides a platform for advancing individual and/or collective knowledge.


Four types of Ba space are recognized: Originating Ba, Interacting Ba, Cyber Ba, and Exercising Ba.

Martens' blog points out that there is value in examining any given agile practice - in this case the design of the agile team work space and furnishings - in order to discover the conceptual foundations behind the practice and to discover how others are exploiting those concepts to introduce innovation.

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