I was recently going through a book called "Crystal Clear Human Powered Methodology Development" by Alistair Cockburn. One particular thing which hit me most in that was that he found no correlation between a successful project and the processes they followed. At the same time there was no correlation between success and team following no processes. He said that with good enough people were able to pull off difficult projects without following any processes and a team which were following heavy processes failed as well. Interesting, let me come back to this in a while.

Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great" has mentioned that the first priority of any company should be to get right people on board. His rationale behind this is that, if you have right people they will take the company to right direction.

I think the most important thing for any project is a good team. Team is a tricky word. Team is not just about putting few people together and declaring them as a team. Team is bunch of individual sharing a common goal and vision and working "together" to achieve that goal. Together is an important aspect of a team. Everyone should work with everyone else; it's about rising above the personal differences and work towards the common goal, with collective efforts.

What Cockburn said above is very relevant, irrespective of processes or no processes project fails and succeeds. I think the most important factor on which the success of a team hinges is how relations are between the team members. A team which shares good relations with each other invariably comes over all the hindrances which can stall the project. I still remember the best team I have worked in is the one where I worked with Ranjan and Amit (in Symbiosis), who are also very good friend of mine. If you are good friends with your teammates, you tend to communicate a lot with each other, communicate not only about project but about everything else as well. Friends are aware of what things are going in your life other than the project. This helps greatly as they understand when you can't put in 100% into the project and they work for you. I remember it was not an easy thing for us as each member of team used to work in different time zone, Ranjan used to work in the evenings, I never had time in the evenings and 11:30 in the night is evening for me. I used to start work around 1 in the morning, there was another guy Amit who liked working in the daytime, no way he could stay awake beyond 12 midnight. Still we pulled the project off and better than most other teams. There were hardly any moments when we doubted each other's commitment towards the team.

That is what team is all about, working for each other, working with each other. I remember how easy it was to work, we never had to communicate with each other regarding the importance of the project and the criticality of the project as there was never a lack of efforts from either side.

This kind of understanding takes time to build, you don't always have the choice of working with your friends and a true professional is supposed to work in all kind of teams. What to do when you don't get a team that has this kind of team bonding. I think you need to take up the responsibility of building up a team where people communicate with each other. You need to take the initiative and build the relationships. You need to iron out the rough edges among teammates. You need to build a team where it's fun to work and people respect each other. It's not an easy task and takes a lot of time but it's worth investing. It’s better to spend time building relations with teammates than spending time cursing the lack of team spirit.

Its people who we work with, and as a human being we tend be subjective. We tend to like some people better than others and since we spend a lot of time working we want to around people who we like. You have two choices either you work with people who you like or start liking the people who you work with, later is a challenge worth taking.

I thought while going through :
1. Alistair Cockburn's book "Crystal-Clear-Human-Powered-Methodology-Development".
2. ideas on how to make a team better.
3. going through some old posters of Techie Kaun on the back of which we designed our whole project.

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Tarun Chandel
Life, Learning and Technology

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Gaurav said...

Alistair Cockburn always state the obvious (and sometime it is like saying Sun rises from East) but you dont have to read him on team dynamics. People are most important factor in any kind of human activity wheather it is project or sport or making a movie. Read "Wings of Fire" by APJ Abdul Kalam. That is by far best book on project management and team work. It shows how one of most complicated projects (building an ICBM) in India was executed and what team dynamics was involved. And here we are talking about a team which comprised of some of brilliant scientists of India who are not known to be "friendly sort". Another interesting book on team dynamics would be "Making of Lagan" (the movie).

Though fundamentals would remains the same but dyamics of a team which has 100 people would be very different than team of 3 people. In team of 100, you can not be friendly with everybody and connect to them at individually and know them socially as well. And in bigger teams you can not expect everybody to communicate with everybody else too, since overheads of this would be too overwhelming for anybody in team. In my experience teams work well when they are bought by the "vision" and are consumed by goal they are working for since then inter-personal dynamics change drastically. The reason is that it is "group behaviour" to live with and tolerate a lesser "annoyance and dislike" for bigger benefit of entire group to survive or succeed. This comes from our days as group hunters.

Somya said...

wonderful post...I agree with your pov Tarun but generally its not really possible for a complete team to be friendly and to maintain a relnship at a personal level as gaurav suggested its completely dependent on the size of the team. What really works is the everyone in the team understands his/her contribution to the task and how that contributes to the overall success of the project. Also the the team composition keeps changing.We work on a number of projects where ppl from consulting to Delivery are involved, size of the team is large and obviously lots of differences also creep in but we have to stay together as a team and deliver the results. I think this happens a lot because processes are predetermined and everybody understands his/her contribution and its importance because failure on part of one person can put the whole project in danger.

Ranjan said...

The good old days at Symbi...
The whole project design on the back of a poster!
Those mind blowing brain storming sessions in the discussion room...
and How can you forget Manjari rai's brilliant idea: of providing everyone with a username and a login ID!
Verma dozing of exactly at 12!

Yes the team matters a lot... we worked in an ideal scenario Tarun.
After leaving the campus I have worked with diffrent people...many seniors resources and many freshers(They say I am not a fresher as I am an MBA!) the secret of gelling together is not being rigid, first learn, be inquizitive, then start sharing...dont flaunt. Communication is imortant perticularly when you are working with senior people. They want to heard.. so just listen.

But cockburn CRYSTAL never took off!! The process is good for team of size 7-8, certainly not feasable in India scenario where process are above people... which is contrary to the agile concept!

And what collins says is that having right people is not enough but
you need to have right people sitting on the right seat!

Tarun Chandel said...

Team size. Let’s talk about span of management briefly. Span of management is how many people one can manage? Generally a good number is 7 –10, it used to be around 24 –25 in government organizations, but everyone knows how they are doing now. So in no case one will work in a bigger than a team of 10

What is the biggest time size one can work in (especially in today's industry)?? I don't think more than 10. If you are talking about big teams of 100s of people, well they are further divided into smaller bunches. When I talk about team I am talking about the people you work with. And no one works with 100s of people, we work with 8 – 10 people and it’s worth building relations with them.

I know these days the team member changes regularly, but it’s up to every individual to make the culture of a team. Let me ask you what is stopping you from taking lead and set up a culture in your team? If you say that you work hard and that is your contribution to the team, well that’s half the battle won, remember it’s a team goal. If even a single guy under performs and project fails, you also become part of the failure. Choice is yours; you want to be part of the problem or solution. I remember, once a very wise guy and a mentor to me, said something very important and it holds true to most of the people, that everyone here is a manager, no one is a leader. Leadership is not about leading the company or leading anyone else, it’s first and foremost about leading yourself.

We all try to be a manager by managing the time we have, by putting just enough in the project or team and try to cash it. We try to manage the resources and try to economize every effort to increase the profits. Why can’t we lead ourselves to excellence and inspire people around us. Each one of us has that passion, bring that to the work, bring that to the team and it will soon start reflecting. Leadership is about leaving other people better than what you met them as. I have been lucky enough to work with such a leader at the start of my career. It’s amazing how much passion he brings to work and it’s contagious, and that’s the way one should everyone behave in a team.

Crystal is a really good, put 7 – 8 people in a room and they don’t need any processes, they will deliver. We talk about working with professionals and us working professionally, if we are that professional then why can’t we make our team a world-class team, our organization a world-class organization? Why most of us are ready to give anything to work with people they worked with in university projects?? Why Google is keeping it's culture like that of a university and why it's the best place to work at? Why do people hop jobs in lots?? There can be many factors but one important factor is that every human being love to work in a friendly environment, love to work with friends.

Sometimes it’s not that obvious to see the obvious and Cockburn talks about keeping things simple and doing simple things. Greatness is in doing simple things and keep doing them again and again.

Gaurav said...

I would say a typical mid size software project has around 20-30 team members. In my last project there were 40 members across 2 geographies (India and UK). Project before that had 60 members across 3 locations (NJ, NY MUM). Look at some of realities of our industry (software services). Teams are increasingly getting distributed across locations (offshored, virtual teams). In country like ours, where industry is in constant flux, still maturing and growing at a phenomenal pace,attrition is a fact of business. In my previous bigger project which lasted for 2 years, only 30% original team was present when project ended, others had left midway. Many developers are hardly passionate about software and lack some of basic developer skills (forget training, that can only do as much and not more). In a team of 20 you would usually find 4-5 good resources who more or less drive the whole thing.In short, this is one of the reasons that a robust process is needed in such an enviornment. Process is a framework which takes into account the realities of enviornment to mitigate risks in delivering on time. Processes are also useful to use learning from past by institutionlising tasks/activities/roles and interactions among roles. In a project there are various factors, both internal and external which needs to be controlled, measured and managed, team dynamics is only one of them.

I have worked with some of our oversea ADC's and I was amazed by how professional those guys are. They hardly interact socially and about them being overty friendly within the team. But they are driven by the work they do and everybody knows what is expected out of him/her. Most of them have great productivity and deliver quality. They reflect maturity in their society and also in industry there. So I think we need to learn few things about being true professionals here in India. Also being professional does not imply that there is no team spirit or bonding.

Companies like Google fall in differet bracket. They are into inovation, into product engineering. There you need to be creative, And creativity can not be unleashed when you are constrained by rigid processes. In software service companies , there is very less scope and need for creativity or innovation. Here Project is about solving a problem in limited time and resources.Ask anybody who has ever worked in a product company and then came to a service company, he would explain what I mean.

I like Cockburn, whatever limited I have read of him, he is good theorist. I have met some people , the practitioners, who could write as good as him. The reality is that a software project can be a complex thing. If somebody tells me that just by having few "good people" in a room, a project can be delivered, I would say YES but how many times would it work?. How would we define good people? Who would guarntee that I get these people when I need them? Who would make sure that they will get along and be friendly and work together and how often would it happen? How repeatable would it be? How predictable would it be? Process based project management intends to control "human factor" and make delivery more predicatble, controllable and manageble. This is what industrialisation did for manufacturing.So conception of product fell in creative realm but its production was just an assembly line.

I know keeping things simple works but as Einstein once said, Things can be as simple as possible but not simpler. The point is that there is never a "fit all size" solution. Alsitair Cockburn is just one of many industry gurus and whatever he says does not become a universal truth by default.

Tarun Chandel said...

There were failures in process oriented framework and that's why people ventured out to look for other ways of working. That's how Agile came into picture.

About how predictable the result will be, even in process oriented framework you have projects failing even after having 100s of metrics, and adherence to all the processes. In a same way projects fail in other environment... and that's where I started this post. I was talking about how important a team can be in such an environment.

So we are back from where we started... and it's not the first time that we have discussed this and quite sure not the last time either... may be next time we will discuss it at Jimmy Towers.

Anonymous said...

Good arguments. I am intrigued and will be reading about Agile it sure sounds good.
But I think you guys are fighting over a different issues while Tarun was talking purely about team building, Gaurav is talking about various PM issues. Both of you are right at your ends, but why are arguing and over what???
Anyways it was really good post to read and enjoyed the argument. BTW "everyone here is a manager, no one is a leader" who came up with this??


Tarun Chandel said...

Hi Reena

Agile is a fantastic way to do things not only in IT but in other fields as well. It's also a great philosophy to live you life by. Do read about agile, you may want to read thoughts of Martin Fowler, Alistair Cockburn, Kent Beck etc. some of the spearheads of Agile methodology.

Arguments are always healthy and they do bring out the best in some people. But, with Gaurav it was more of a discussion and that's the way we discuss.

"everyone here is a manager, no one is a leader" ... a GREAT management and leadership guru came up with it.

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