Monday, 13 October 2014

"We Haven’t Got Time to Think about This Job, Only to Do It"

Thoughts on team dynamics...

This blog post is a loose assembly of some of my thoughts on communication, thought and culture - and the importance of making room for these processes/phenomena to develop when we are working to solve complex problems in teams.

Two important references

Perhaps you have heard the following commonly repeated quote of Abraham Lincoln: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." - essentially, before diving in and starting a job, it pays to think about how to approach it and prepare.

The following link will take you to a more detailed version of the same thinking with specific reference to software development - "We Haven’t Got Time to Think about This Job, Only to Do It" (Peopleware - Timothy Lister and Tom DeMarco, 1987) - if you're lucky, Google will let you read to the end of chapter 2, which is where this section is.

http://books.google.com/books?isbn=0133440737

I actually highly recommend the book "Peopleware" in general for anyone working with software development teams; at least take a look at the section referenced above (if you can reach it).

http://www.amazon.com/Peopleware-Productive-Projects-Second-Edition/dp/0932633439

Anyway, these references set the stage for the remainder of this post.

Teams, communication and gestalt

Without communication we can end up doing a lot of hard work to produce something that is mostly useless (worst-case-scenario!).

It is better (in my opinion) to at least accept - and ideally expect - that a percentage of a team's time will be spent purely on maintaining/developing cohesion and culture.

A team is an entity in itself - the German word "gestalt" (for which I believe there is no analogy in the English language) essentially means "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts". This is what a team is like.

[gestalt]


Think about it - if you have ever been part of a close-knit team (a football team, family, organisation, etc - most of us have been), you will know that they can be happy, sad, motivated, dysfunctional, hurt, inspired, etc. A team is like a living, intelligent being in it's own right; it is capable of achieving more than the sum of the efforts of the people from whom it is composed. It is born of two or more minds working toward a common cause.

Teams function optimally when they are allowed/enabled to blossom and thrive. One of the reasons people leave teams is when they have no spirit.

Agile meetings - how can we improve?

Meetings are important. It is true that some meetings are unnecessary - and should be called out - but it is important to lean toward giving the benefit of the doubt.

Agile meetings such as stand-up meetings, sprint reviews, sprint retrospectives, sprint planning and backlog grooming give us a framework that we can use to develop a healthy level of team communication.

It's important to have a technical understanding of the purpose of these meetings and use them as intended.

It is far more important though to understand the principle these meetings are founded on; that in order to optimise productivity, teams need to be given the opportunity to figure out for themselves how best to communicate and to manage their work.

[team optimisation]

Agile meetings - a taxonomy

Here are a few articles that I find useful to revisit sometimes as an overview/refresher of the various meetings that Agile prescribes:

In summary

Agile meetings provide a framework that we can use to ignite team communication. They are not the only way of doing this, just a way that has been shown to be effective. This post is not about Agile meetings - it is mostly about team communication.

Effective teams are empowered enough to take advantage of meetings and to use them as a means of internal and external communication. Flavours of Agile like Scrum can give us a guideline for how to use meetings optimally.

By definition, teams are the only means by which organisations get things done (who knew?!). Managers are important - their purpose in the context of the team is to facilitate and to enable team communication.


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