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Three Big New Ideas for Managing Software Teams

The “team” topic is core to Agile software development principles. Over the last few decades much has been written about effective teams in more general settings, e.g.

  • The Wisdom of Teams by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith, in1999.
  • The forming–storming–norming–performing model of group development first proposed by Bruce Tuckman in 1965.

More recently, while practicing Agile software development with many of our clients and reading more discussions on this topic of teams, specifically in the context of Agile software development, these three big new ideas stand out to me.

  1. Strive to hire teams, rather than individuals. When they hire existing teams, managers have hard evidence that the group has the right mix of personalities and skills to succeed. See this Oct 30, 2017 article by Sydney Finkelstein in The Wall Street Journal – https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-companies-should-hire-teams-not-individuals-1509329580.
  2. Embrace, rather than resist, distributed teams whole-heartedly. Well-organized and geographically distributed teams will likely result in modular software design. Organize distributed teams in a deliberate manner, reflecting on Conway’s Law (From Wikipedia: Conway’s law is an adage named after computer programmer Melvin Conway, who introduced the idea in 1967. It states that “organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations”).
  3. Focus on real value delivered. Resist the urge to maximize efficiency and utilization of individual team members. Think of your team running a relay race, where the objective is get the baton past the finish line. In business, the relay race runners are your workforce, and the baton is the unique value you offer to your customers. Business flow describes how well the work — i.e., the baton — is moving through your business system. It’s not about effective resource utilization (how busy people are); it’s about how much value is actually being produced (and delivered to your customer), and how often. As an executive, watching the baton is your top priority. This helps you stay focused on keeping the work moving, not on keeping the workers busy. See this, May 8, 2015 blog post Business Flow: Watch the Baton, Not the Runner by Chris Hefley.

I believe these are robust ideas, but most management people seem to often miss these in their practice of managing software teams. When taken together, these ideas offer a powerful new way to build more effective software teams and deliver greater business value.

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About the Writer

  • Hemant Elhence
    Founder and CEO, Synerzip

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