Bringing the Control Room into the Dev team

We’re just back from a trip to see a customer in Holland where they’re deploying Sabisu into their control rooms. It’s an environment where every decision has to be right and so collaboration is essential.

As Peter, our host said, “Every control room is different – even between different plants on the same site. This one is great.”

Perhaps it’s that as a relatively new room there are decades of learning embraced and reflected in its design. There are few sectors where human factors are examined in such detail as petrochemical plant control rooms – aircraft cockpits spring to mind. As my old, ex-RAF flying instructor said to me, “Every lesson is the result of someone dying to learn it.”

So sure, many obvious lessons had been implemented; the room was air conditioned to an appropriate level; there was natural light available; all the important alarms and data are visible outside of the main computer screens. Meeting rooms and offices are arranged around the outside of the room with full-height windows so that everyone can see the main room and anything that might be developing there.

One of the key things that struck a chord with us was the layout; it managed to combine individual focus with collaboration. That’s a paradox that a lot of offices in general can’t resolve – generally they either work well for collaborative endeavours, or they’re biased towards individual effort.

So how can you change your environment? These are the lessons we came up with:

  • Desks should never face each other. Monitors get in the way and it’s harder to see what people are working on. It’s also harder to get around to sit next to each other.
  • Chairs with wheels are mandatory. If there’s an issue that needs discussion, you need to be able to spin on your chair and wheel it into the middle.
  • The layout of your room should reflect that of the processes you’re managing. This means that the next person in the process is next to you, so they can hear & see what you’re working on more easily.
  • Big, multiple monitors. Sure, every dev team probably does this already…we certainly do. Don’t be shy about stacking them vertically – after all, if you’ve got the room laid out well there’s no concern about blocking off lines of sight.
  • If you have space, leave room behind the desks for people to walk around the outside. What this does is to provide somewhere other than the wall for users to rest their eyes on; that change in focus is sometimes all you need to crack a difficult problem. Obviously windows are good for this too.

As with every air crash, every incident on every plant is analysed in detail and human factors are always implicated, along with information flow & quality. Indeed, when we’re pitching Sabisu we do find ourselves talking about information flow & quality being a primary benefit. But when we’re building Sabisu, we can implement some of these lessons.

Here’s the development team’s new layout:

Sabisu office Teesside

As always if you have any questions or suggestions, head over to our LinkedIn group and share your thoughts.


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