A few weeks ago, various blogs I read started praising “Pragmatic Version Control using Subversion” by Mike Mason. One thing led to another, and I found this with a list of three seminal books, only one of which I had read (the Mythical Man Month). So, I bit the bullet and bought the other two and the Pragmatic Version Control book as well. One of the ones I bought was “Peopleware - Productive Projects and Teams” by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. It’s fascinating …

I especially liked the analysis of the coding performance of individuals in different work environments:

  Environmental Factor    1st Quartile Performance    4th Quartile Performance 
  Dedicated Workspace    7.4 sq m    4.3 sq m  
  Acceptably Quiet    57% yes    29% yes  
  Acceptably Private    62% yes    19 % yes  
  Unncessary Interuptions    38% yes    76% yes  

They finished up with this statement:

The top quartile, those who did the exercise most rapidly and effectively, work in space that is substantially different from the bottom quartile. The top performers' space is quieter, more private, better protected from interruption and there is more of it.

As it happens we’ve currently got reasonable accommodation, but it’s always being squeezed. It’s nice to have ammunition for the next squeeze.

The analysis also included the effect of phone calls as an interrupting factor, but I left that out, because for me the problem is email. In the book they imply email is a force for good (less interrupting), however, I think once one gets enough of it, it becomes either something you have to handle when it arrives (or drown), or something you basically ignore. Neither situation is good …

Another really nice result in the book was the analysis of the impact of music on creativity in a Cornell experiment. It’s a bit complex to summarise here, suffice to say that in an analysis of left-brain right-brain function, the results indicated that while having music on didn’t affect efficient arithmetic and logical activity, it did affect the ability to make creative steps in that activity. Again, their summary is excellent:

The creativity penalty exacted by the environment is insidious. Since creativity is a sometime thing anyway, we don't often notice when there is less of it ... the effect of reduced creativity is cumulative over a long period. The organisation is less effective, people grind out the work without a spark of excitement, and the best people leave.

Two organisations I care about (the Met Office and the British Oceanographic Data Centre) have just moved to open plan offices … I hope they can remain creative …