Thursday, July 22, 2010

Resources versus Teams


Suppose you find yourself at a software company that has 80 or more developers. The developers are assigned to teams which in turn are aligned to specific products, features, and business needs. Over the past ten years so so the company has hired and fired and people have moved around and found a team or product area that they like.

The company is at a stage where it wants to deliver several initiatives that it feels will excite customers and frustrate competition. Some of the new products are defined to pull together data and functionality across teams because it is obvious to unify product functionality and leverage established value.

The release schedule and product descriptions are presented to development. Teams will be required to integrate their systems. Development raises concerns because of the cost of integrating systems, team communication, scheduling, dependencies, and work that must be done on the existing systems in order to implement specific enhancements.


Product Management is alarmed by the concerns of Development.

Why is it that the software doesn't readily integrate? "We" have been working together for ten years. Are the Architects doing there job?

Why is communication going to be costly? Where is the professionalism that is needed at this time? Why are we silo'ed?

Possible Reaction by Product Personnel

Product Management looks at the developers and recognizes them as highly skilled employees that are concerned with the big picture and with company wide goals.

We must break down these walls and tear down these silos. "What if we move developers around as needed, you know, if product 'X' needs integration with product 'Y' we move the people we need to get the job done and align the reporting chain accordingly." That is being agile.

My Remarks

Be very careful when viewing developers, which are people, as resources. Be very careful when discounting the usefulness of teams, which are groups of people. Be very careful thinking that all you have to do is get the right skill sets/resources together and that will almost guarantee the likelihood of success.

If you have development which seems silo'ed did you ever stop to think that maybe that is just a negative adjective "silo'ed" and what you really have is development divided along products that run efficiently and almost autonomously?

I argue that every team has some aspects of self organization. Through the hiring, the firing, and the team transfers, teams settle into a state that is acceptable both to the team members and well as to management. Even if your team is ran by a dictator you can still quit so anyone that remains on the team does so by choice.

I argue that any outward examination of a development organization may describe the organization as silo'ed. A well defined organization will always have well defined attributes that may be described as walls. Any skilled debater knows to use adjectives that are commonly viewed as a negativity to advocate their agenda. Possibly this silo'ed and walled development organization is really a self organized team aligned specifically to product needs and technological needs.

Possible Solution

Listen to development's concerns and then give them a week to propose solutions. If development's concerns are not about implementation and delivery but are about the products and features themselves then management may need to take the time to explain why these are the "right" products and features. This can be done with information from real customers. If you are thinking, "Developers don't need to know why we want these products and features they just need to do the job they were hired to do which is write software and implement the things we demand", then you should reconsider what a developer really is. A developer is more than a coder. Developers use software all day, every day, and have valuable experience in recognizing good software.

Developers understand that when deciding a product schedule that costs are to be considered and some ideas will not make it to the table because of some unacceptable attribute. They know that some ideas for a product can be described easily and with few words but just because everyone can understand an idea because of common experience which gives way for simple descriptions doesn't mean the software will be simple, short, or easy to develop.

Listen to the concerns of the developers and then give them a week to come up with solutions. Developers are problem solvers. Let them solve the problem. If development comes back and says the product cannot be developed then you have to ask why? It can't be developed because it will take longer than acceptable? It can't be developed because the existing list of things to do are higher priority or have been overlooked to often and these things have to be done before anyone can even guess what additional functionality might cost in time and effort. It can't be done because the technologies you want to integrate will not integrate because of data mapping issues.

There are many reasons why things cannot be done now. An interesting question is, "If it can't be done now what does it take to get things so that we can do it in the future and when will that be?"

Listen and ask for solutions and give time to come up with solutions.

Pet Peeve

I really cannot stand it when product people think up "cool" features and products and sell them up before selling them down.

As a developer I have said, "Wouldn't it be a sweet job for me to dream up really cool stuff that someone else has to develop." Work together.

Don't sell your boss on something and then find development saying it can't be done. Do you really want to go to your boss now and say that your team can't deliver what you sold him? Do you really want to press your developers just to save your face with the boss? Don't get yourself into that situation.

Maybe the silo and the wall is with the product people and the development teams. Maybe "Product" has silo'ed all of the activities of product and feature definition. Ah, I am glad you noticed that I used the term silo'ed with all of its negative connotations. Maybe I am becoming a skilled debater.

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