The principles of agile software development prioritize working software over comprehensive documentation and responding to change over following a plan. A war room in software development is essentially an effort to put all key stakeholders together in a room for a set period of time with the goal of producing usable software in a short amount of calendar time. Using a war room strategy at key milestones during an agile software project can be very beneficial because it allows for clear and quick communication between team members, creates an environment where issues can be quickly identified and resolved, removes outside distractions, and promotes collaboration between team members.

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A Cobalt project team recently had great success using a war room approach to push a major phase of a project over the finish line. This very large implementation had been broken into smaller, more manageable phases, however, one of the phases had experienced timeline delays, scope creep, and cost overruns. As user acceptance testing dragged on over the course of months, the project began to lose momentum and for several months the project became stagnant. The team at Cobalt became concerned with the amount of calendar time being spent on the project, and so they came up with a way to use a war room to do rapid fire development and user acceptance testing.

Prior to holding the week-long war room session, the team took some actions to ensure the session would be effective and productive. First, the team work with the customer to agree upon and finalize the remaining scope of work as well as a set deadline for completing that scope. Once the remaining work had been developed and tested, the Cobalt team gave the customer walk-throughs of each major module that had been developed and verified that the system was ready for war room style user acceptance testing. This was critical to the success of the war room because both parties needed to be in agreement that the functionality was far enough along that the war room would be productive. Finally, the Cobalt team put together a detailed agenda for each day that included which pieces of functionality would be tested, when status updates would be provided, guidelines for problem solving and troubleshooting, expectations for communication and collaboration, and a plan for implementing feedback. This plan brought a level of organization and discipline to the war room that helped make it a success by keeping the team focused and on track and clearly setting goals and expectations.

Next, the project team and the client’s subject matter experts tried out the war room approach. The team spent one week doing rapid fire user acceptance testing at Cobalt’s office. Each day a set of cases went through a round of testing, feedback was triaged and implemented as appropriate, problems were discussed and addressed as they arose, and brainstorming and white-boarding sessions were held as needed. At the conclusion of one week, not only was user acceptance testing complete, but all testing feedback had been successfully implemented and the project was closed out, both on time and on budget. We believe this approach was so successful because it got all of the right people in the same room with a common goal and a shared deadline. It kept the lines of communication open, allowed the project team to quickly triage and address testing feedback, provided an excellent environment for collaboration and problem solving, and allowed for the easy flow of information and status updates. When effectively organized and used at appropriate milestones throughout the project, a war room can be an extremely effective software project management tool because it creates an environment where a large volume of work can be completed in a very short calendar time frame.

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