Gordon's fingers raced over the keys as he typed. The architecture was finally coming clear in his mind, and the pieces were now fitting together as if they were meant to, like the pieces of a puzzle. He felt satisfied and thrilled. Then the phone rang, interrupting his flow.
Not Gordon's phone — Jeff's, in the cube across the aisle. Jeff picked up, and Gordon listened with interest. Jeff was about to become a dad again, and Gordon was mildly curious. Jeff's end of the conversation was clipped and cryptic — he probably felt people listening. He told the caller he would call back, and then left to finish his call in the conference room that everyone called the "Cone of Silence."
Well, Gordon thought, not much learned here, and he returned to writing. In ten minutes, he was back in the flow. Ten minutes lost.
Cubicles provide cheap office space. They support high densities, and they can be reconfigured much more cheaply than walled spaces. From the perspective of Facilities Management, they make a lot of sense.
But cubicles can increase project execution costs.
With our increasing dependence on the telephone, cubicle occupants now experience higher interruption rates due to the noise of telephone calls of other cubicle occupants. And people who work on teams need to talk to each other too, often in person, and often in "the cubicle next to mine." Cubicles may be one of the driving forces behind telecommuting: "I'm working at home today so I can get something done."
Cubicles are cheap to build
but they depress the
productivity of anyone
who has to thinkWhen people doing brainwork experience elevated interruption rates, they take more time to finish complex thought tasks. They also make more mistakes, which lowers quality, increases the cost of rework, and lengthens time-to-market.
What can we do?
Since the interruption rate experienced by a cubicle occupant is roughly proportional to the number of cubicles in the room, reducing room sizes reduces the interruption rate. We could also return to walled spaces. Both approaches raise Facilities costs.
It's a trade-off. Since facilities planners typically aren't accountable for project schedules, their interests are different from the interests of the company, but most of the time they have a lot of control of the trade-off.
Facilities planners aren't the problem — the typical accounting system is. It fails to allocate accurately the full costs of facilities options, because it doesn't measure the cost of delays and disruptions that are traceable to Facilities. Accounting systems were never designed for that.
If we want facilities planners to have a company perspective, they must be accountable in a budget sense for the impact of their decisions. Unless they are, the trade-off they prefer generally will lower facilities costs and increase interruption rates. While that trade-off makes Facilities sense, it's often business nonsense. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings
or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive
dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
- Poverty of Choice by Choice
- Sometimes our own desire not to have choices prevents us from finding creative solutions. Life
can be simpler (if less rich) when we have no choices to make. Why do we accept the same tired solutions,
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- Films Not About Project Teams: I
- Here's part one of a list of films and videos about project teams that weren't necessarily meant to
be about project teams. Most are available to borrow from the public library, and all are great fun.
- Asking Clarifying Questions
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ahead, or you can ask a clarifying question. What is a clarifying question, and when is it helpful to ask one?
- Patching Up the Cracks
- When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
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- Although most authors of mixed messages don't intend to be confusing, message mixing does happen. One of the most fascinating mixing mechanisms occurs in the mind of the recipient of the message. Available here and by RSS on September 4.
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- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached
the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the
race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical
drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project
sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore
lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look
at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read
more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio
44017: November 7,
Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute.
- Baldwin-Wallace University, 275 Eastland Road, Berea, Ohio 44017: November 7, Kerzner Lecture Series/International Project Management Day, sponsored by Baldwin Wallace University and the Northeast Ohio Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
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