Project War Room Design Fundamentals

One of the more popular and unique services we provide here at Think For A Change, LLC are design services for organizational-level project war rooms.  As you may recall from a previous post, war rooms are centralized and purpose-built project meeting spaces that provide a dedicated location for project teams and stakeholders to co-locate and visually communicate the activities associated with the execution of critical projects.  The idea of a war room is to physically gather an entire project team into a ‘single location’ to facilitate communication, problem solving, risk mitigation and status reporting.  The single location can be physical, virtual or some combination of the two based on the specifics of the organization’s business structure and/or resource model.


Over the past fifteen years, Think For A Change, LLC has designed dozens of project war rooms, PMO command centers, critical situation rooms, innovation idea centers and other similar collaboration spaces for public, private and governmental organizations of all sizes and industry types.  During that time, we’ve picked up quite a few “lessons learned” about what makes up a good war room layout, what tools and features are most effective, and leveraging the concept to reach peak project team performance.

There is a blend of art and science that goes into designing and building a war room.  Team dynamics, organizational culture, physical limitations and financial considerations all dictate a certain uniqueness for each and every war room layout, tools, rules and etiquette.

To provide a starting place for discussions your organization may want to have regarding war rooms, we offer the following design, maintenance and best practice considerations:

  1. Physical War Room Facilities
    1. Large main table with comfortable chairs
    2. Small semi-private work spaces
    3. Small collaboration or huddle spaces
    4. Appropriate high-tech tools
      1. PCs/monitors, laptops, tablet devices, flat panel display(s), projection units/screen(s), digital camera(s), networking/wireless connectivity, etc.
    5. Appropriate low-tech tools
      1. Whiteboards, markers, easel pads, pencils/pens (including color), notebooks, sticky notes, stickers, sticky flags, office supplies, etc.
    6. Lots of wall space
      1. Cork bulletin boards, magnet boards, foam boards, mounted white boards, erasable wall paint, tape, tacks, pins, removable adhesive, hanging strips, etc.
    7. Environmental
      1. Kitchen items, coffee machine, a place for food, a small refrigerator for drinks, a snack basket, comfortable chairs, creativity “toys” and games, etc.
  2. Design and Operation Best Practices
    1. Co-locate all project team members into the war room, even if some are virtual or remote
    2. As a team, come up with a set of “Rules for the War Room” and stick to them
    3. If possible, create a separate schedule/calendar for project team members so they are not distracted by other projects or daily operations
    4. Reserve work spaces for visiting or transient key project stakeholders that are not co-located with the rest of the project team
    5. Develop a method to reduce distractions by allowing the team to hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign when focused work or critical meetings are taking place
    6. Create a real estate map of the project war room to define what visual information will be displayed where:
      1. Announcements and Key Communications
      2. Rules of the War Room
      3. Status Reports
      4. Project Schedule
      5. Project Budget
      6. Issue/Risk Board
      7. Design Diagrams, Process Maps, Wireframes, Storyboards, Photos, Drawings, etc.
      8. Parking Lot Area (for out-of-scope or later phase consideration)
      9. Blank Spaces for New Concepts/Discussions
    7. Provide plenty of snacks, healthy alternatives and beverages where possible
    8. Allow the project team to design and decorate the work space to match their personality and to encourage a sense of comfort and ownership
  3. War Room Etiquette
    1. Keep visual displays up to date and meaningful
    2. Maintain a war room that is a “living,” constantly changing space and encourages open discussion, healthy debate and cross-functional problem solving
    3. Do not remove or cover-up someone else’s work in the display area(s) without first consulting with them
    4. Do not attempt to have private or confidential conversations in the war room


Remember that the main purpose of any war room is to facilitate real-time visual communication and collaboration activities.  It must simultaneously centralize focus, increase awareness, aid in decision-making and facilitate project execution actions.  Consider the design of your project war room successful when a person unfamiliar with the project can enter the room and grasp the current status and next steps of the effort within five minutes.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, the design of effective and efficient project war rooms is a very unique niche, and one that we are proud to provide to our clients.  If you would be interested in having a discussion about your plans for a project war room, please CONTACT US and we’ll be happy to schedule a discussion about your specific goals and ideas.  Additionally, this visual collaboration concept, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication tools, is explored in greater detail within “Visual Project Management,” our newest publication and now available via paperback!  

Get a great discount via our book distribution provider Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu., or visit your favorite online book retailer to purchase a hardcover or eBook version!


Comments are closed.