Lunch with Colleagues


Laurent’s post, The team building lunch prompted a bunch of (hopefully now organized) thoughts about the role of food in high tech projects.

One of the things I notice when I perform assessments is whether there is some sort of cafeteria or other food-eating place. Projects that have a physical place large enough for a project team (or two or three) to eat lunch together have multiple opportunities for learning and problem-solving.

  • We know that defects cluster within modules. I also believe that defects cluster across a project. If the interfaces aren’t well-defined, and if the lifecycle or practices don’t help people determine how to resolve the interface issues, more defects arise at the (logical) interface. Informal conversations over lunch help people detect those problems and fix them.
  • Testers can talk to developers, writers can talk to developers and testers, support staff can talk to everyone. Even though many people recognize that the org chart isn’t supposed to prevent them from talking to one another, sometimes it does. Or the geographical separation of people (on different floors, in different areas) prevents them from easily speaking with each other. Lunch (temporarily) removes the separation, whether by organization or geography.
  • Discussion over lunch can become an informal peer review, not necessarily just by the other people in a single product area. When I was a tester at Symbolics, I regularly ate lunch with the developers. I learned about the product internals, and asked lots of questions, especially when I didn’t understand the design or the progress the developers claimed they’d made.
  • As a project or program manager, I used lunch as a technique to hear the project status in a different way. People will discuss what they’re having trouble with over lunch, or if they’ve succeeded at solving a particularly thorny problem.

Now, when I work with a project team where the testers don’t know a lot about the product, I usually suggest the testers and developers have lunch together. Or, when I teach workshops or consult with an organization, I eat lunch with the people I’m working with.

I don’t know of a good substitution for a lunch place, where people can sit and eat and discuss their work informally. (The little kitchen areas many companies have are good for brief informal conversations, but there’s no place to sit.) The quality of the conversation over lunch tends to be richer, especially when people take a full hour for lunch. The introverts finally have their chance to talk (one of Laurent’s points). If you’re a manager and you think you can’t afford the space for lunch, think again. Lunch is free peer consulting across the organization and offers the possibility for technical problem-solving at its finest.

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