Hallway Chatter


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One day a friend came into my office. She was pretty depressed about her project. She was in a test group, and their group was essentially shut off from the rest of the project. They didn't get timely information about what was happening; they didn't hear the latest project gossip. The only people they could talk to were each other. "I know what your problem is," I said. "You have schismogenesis." Her situation was the most striking example I had ever seen. She went on to other projects, so I didn't find out what ever happened with the organization. I suspect the problem wasn't fixed until the project was reorganized, or until a quality crisis forced them to involve the testers better.


...the organization has been established, and people have settled into their roles. This has led to uneven communication among the team members, and some members do not feel a part of the team.

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If people are left out of the main communication flow, they become dissatisfied, gripe among themselves, and may even leave the project. And by the way, they can't do their jobs as well.

When people become disengaged from communication networks, they can feel
alienated from the community. They sometimes commiserate with others in the same situation, forming alliances with others who are equally distant from the center of the community. This phenomenon has been observed in certain aboriginal tribes, and was named "schmismogenesis." [Reference]

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For any given role, there is a certain amount of information which is formally required for that role to be fulfilled. But this is usually insufficient for optimal efficiency; we tend to do better when we have contextual information as well as essential information.

But the hard thing is knowing what that additional information is. It's elusive: for example, a project might be officially on schedule, but the developers are murmuring among themselves that development isn't going so well. There is nothing concrete to put one's finger on, but something isn't quite right. This is important information if you are the tester waiting for delivery.

Therefore:

Move team members physically as close to each other as possible. Be sure that people with outer roles are located close to the central roles.

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Thomas Allen [BibRef-Allen1977] gives guidelines for physical distance.

Of course, some projects, for various reasons, are split geographically. This can lead to exactly this problem unless OrganizationFollowsLocation and ConwaysLaw are followed.

Note that it is a misapplication of this pattern to apply it to only a subset of an organization responsible for a project. If for example, one clusters all the developers together in a "developer's ghetto", and forgets System Test or Marketing, you violate EngageQualityAssurance and EngageCustomers. And you actually create, rather than alleviate schismogenesis. In addition, communication with individuals outside the project is also important. Allen [BibRef-Allen1977] points out that the high performers had significantly more communication outside the project than low performers.

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The pattern complements DivideAndConquer both by encouraging symmetries within local groups, and establishing pathways between groups.

There are two complementary effects of this action. First, the people in the outer roles feel like they are a part of the project, and their morale improves. They are less likely to gripe about the project with other outsiders, because they are no longer outsiders. The second thing that happens is that they pick up more technical information through informal means, such as the chatter in the hallways, and they can do their jobs better. This secondary effect is the generative nature of this pattern: As communication improves, quality and time-to-market are improved, which tends to reduce the number of people needed for the project, which reduces communication overhead, which helps improve communication, and so on.

An organization consists of both roles and the people who fill those roles. Both must be considered. While most of the patterns in this language address one or the other, this pattern is unusual in that it bridges the two.