Leveraging War Rooms, construction project teams can break down silos, improve collaboration, and drive performance improvement opportunities across stakeholder groups. But only if the War Room is properly planned, structured, and deployed. Teams must battle the project collaboratively; if those battles shift inward, the war has little hope of being won, room or not.
What is a War Room?
For most that come across the term, the assumption is that the War Room is as simple as the title implies - a large project planning space adorned with important tactical information. Teams will often designate a boardroom or meeting room as their War Room. They will cover the walls with charts, graphs, and sticky notes and mandate weekly meetings in the space. The team then sits back and expects collaboration to miraculously occur.
To be effective, the above example clearly delineates what a War Room is not; it's not just a room. In reality, the space itself is only a small facet of the War Room methodology. If your goal is simply to designate a planning space, you are just setting up a meeting room. Every project team has meeting rooms; they aren't special.
The War Room is a collaboration hub. While its name implies a physical space, the War Room is process driven. The focus of activities is visual as much as it is tactile. The War Room facilitates collaboration, innovation, and problem solving. Through guided sessions, as well as ad hoc ones, teams interact, plan activity sequences, make decisions, and advance project deliverables. War Rooms that are used effectively empower teams to break down the walls that are common and prevalent between stakeholder groups on construction projects.
The Goal of the War Room
On typical construction projects, planning and execution activities are fragmented across stakeholder groups. Silos are common; even within single teams, planning and coordination can be difficult to achieve. The larger the project, and the more stakeholders involved, the more difficult cross-silo planning becomes.
The primary goal of War Room use is to improve cross-group collaboration to drive project performance improvement. By breaking down walls and facilitating more structured, frequent, and open communication, project activities may be better planned and sequenced, and constraints may be better identified and resolved for the benefit of the project team as a whole. The War Room empowers the team over the individual; the results are proven by teams who have used War Rooms on past projects.
The Process is Key
Some teams invest heavily in getting the space just right, but put little effort into devising a War Room program. Without structure and processes, teams simply revert back to ways of working that are inherently ingrained. They partition themselves off, work in small teams, and fail to break down communication barriers. Teams end up divided rather than united.
To unite participants, War Rooms require rules of engagement. These should be clearly posted on the wall. A War Room should be a space where ideas can be tabled, evaluated, and challenged in a healthy way. Participants must evaluate a myriad of options and make decisions that are in the best interest of the project. To accomplish this, there must be clearly outlined expectations of conduct such as (each person will be give an opportunity to speak for no longer than 2 minutes at a time, or during brainstorming sessions no negative comments are allowed). While we can provide a myriad of examples, rules of engagement are best defined by the project team; they can be refined over time as needed.
Setting up a War Room
The first step in setting up a War Room is selecting a space. Pick a room that team members from many groups can easily access. Ensure that it is established with the correct infrastructure needs (internet, adequate power); if the room doesn't already have this built in, plan to upgrade the space. Further, the room must have the correct footprint. Too small and you can't fit the key stakeholders; too large and footprint is wasted.
Collaboration is the goal; the room must be endowed with tools and technology that empower the team to work together. The room should have a kanban board, plot plans, and whiteboards to foster planning activities and innovation. Sticky notes should adorn the space. Activity tables are necessary to lay out documentation and host small hive groups for breakout discussions. Markers, pens, highlighters and other writing tools should be at the ready.
Many teams forget about the necessary technology when establishing a War Room. A large TV is a great asset to the team; touch screens are even more conducive to navigating 3D models and digital documents. Technology empowers teams to collaborate rapidly, pivot quickly, and maximize their time in the space.
Sessions may be scheduled or ad hoc. Scheduled sessions should be facilitated. Facilitators assist with the flow of the session, ensuring that progress is made within the time allotted. Further, facilitators ensure that each party has a voice; they eliminate the potential for one person to dominate the conversation. Lastly, they mandate commitments from team members for their responsible tasks. Those commitments are essential in building team trust and accountability.
War Rooms aren't only used to define strategies and tactics; they are used to gain insight into what is happening at ground level. Teams often hold daily meetings with key stakeholders to learn what happened yesterday, discuss what is planned for today, and discover potential roadblocks. These daily sessions are brief, but can be invaluable in fostering daily coordination and advancement toward a common goal.
When are They Used?
There is a common misconception that War Rooms are used only during the construction execution phase of a project. This is entirely inaccurate. War Rooms are used throughout the project duration, from concept to completion. As such, the location and structure of the War Room may change over time. Teams should prepare for this shift at the outset.
War Rooms should be established as early in the project as possible. As the War Room facilitates a new way of collaborating, early adoption helps the team ensure that this way of working is sustained throughout the project lifecycle. If teams collaborate in the War Room from the outset, there is no risk of the team reverting back to other strategies that were used earlier in the project. The space becomes 'where work gets done'.
Each project team fights a series of battles on every project they deliver; combined, they fight a war. United, teams can achieve remarkable things. Divided, those battles can turn inward, resulting in confusion, communication breakdowns, and frustration.
A War Room is a foundation; established properly, the team can build amazing things atop it. Building a successful War Room requires team commitment, engagement, and the desire to shift toward an open collaboration model that unites, rather than divides, team members. That shift, if successfully achieved, completely changes the way stakeholders think about project, planning, delivery, and success.