From Hawthorne to Gamasutra: 90 Years of Thinking About Teams, Work and Getting Things Done

In November 1924, in Cicero, Illinois, at the behest of Thomas Edison, the Western Electric company kicked off a set of workplace studies that would become a foundation for modern management thinking. A group of people that included a young William Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Walter Shewhart and our very own academic from Adelaide, Elton Mayo, took a foundation in engineering practices, combined them with a curiosity about social sciences, and started a revolution in thinking that impacts almost every workplace today.

Almost exactly 90 years later, another graduate of Elton Mayo’s Wharton School, Paul Tozour, published the results of a 21st century equivalent of the Hawthorne studies – The Games Outcome Project. Real empirical data on what makes software teams perform – and it has little to do with how agile you are.

These two studies, and the 90 years of theorising and research that lie between them, impact software engineers more than they might care to acknowledge. Productivity and the health of workplaces have become hot issues as Facebook moves into its 10 acre open plan office, Joel Spolsky (still) swears by an office for every engineer, and Basecamp work religiously on a remote basis. The aim of this talk is to join some dots and identify what from all this research has stood the test of time as better ways to work, with particular reflections on life at where the author works in IT.


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