Software Quality Professional Resource Reviews - March 2000 - ASQ

Software Quality Professional Resource Reviews - March 2000



Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules

Steve C. McConnell. 1996. Seattle, Wash.: Microsoft Press. 647 pages.

Teamwork: What Must Go Right, What Can Go Wrong

Carl E. Larson and Frank M. LaFasto. 1989. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage. 152 pages.

Reviewed by Dan Zrymiak, A.L.I. Technologies Inc.

An important concept in contemporary business management involves the development and coordination of teams. Every organization wants to reap the benefits of cooperation and collaboration in order to expand the capabilities of their employees. Countless studies have shown that the effectiveness of teams is superior to the effectiveness of individual employees.

Steve McConnell’s book, Rapid Development, is intended to help companies complete their projects in a manner that reduces development times, reduces product deficiencies, and expands opportunities for competitiveness and profitability. Not surprisingly, a significant portion of this book is dedicated to developing and coordinating employee teams.

One item in particular is the study adapted from Teamwork by Carl Larson and Frank LaFasto. This study establishes the premise that the nature and behavior of the team should reflect its broad objectives. There are common characteristics to effective teams that must be present in all situations. Larson and LeFasto have identified four factors that contribute to team success:

  1. Clear roles and accountabilities
  2. Monitoring of individual performance and feedback
  3. Effective communication
  4. Fact-based decision making.

This is consistent with the plan-do-check-act cycle of continuous improvement. In the case of team structures, it is vital to clearly define the entry and exit criteria, communicate these criteria, and apply objective information to the direction of the team. This method not only optimizes the capabilities of the team, it removes the personal biases that may distract or undermine superior performance. By keeping the influence of negative human dynamics to a minimum, the team can progress and achieve its objectives according to its abilities.

To summarize, teams are like tools; they serve a function to address a specific situation. Like any tool, the team structure has a limited scope of capability and effectiveness. There are three global objectives outlined for team establishment: 1) problem resolution; 2) creativity; and 3) tactical execution.

The problem-resolution team is assembled with the intention of resolving a complex, poorly defined problem. Often, these teams are expected to work in circumstances of high expectations, limited resources, and frequent distractions. The dominant feature of this team is trust, and the process emphasis is to focus on the prioritized issues. Individuals who would be most effective in this team structure can be characterized as being street smart, people sensitive, and adaptable fixers.

The creativity team is assembled with the intention of exploring new possibilities and alternatives to a situation. The environment can be more conducive to effective performance. The dominant feature of this team is autonomy, and the process emphasis is to pursue knowledge and obtain conclusions. Individuals who would be most effective in this team structure can be characterized as being creative, autonomous, tenacious, and independent thinkers.

The tactical-execution team is assembled with the intention of implementing a well-defined plan. These teams are not expected to break new ground or correct outstanding issues but to execute highly focused tasks within clearly defined roles. The dominant feature of this team is clarity, and the process emphasis is to complete the objectives in a manner that clearly indicates success or failure. Individuals who would be most effective in this team structure can be characterized as being committed, action-oriented, responsive, and urgent executioners.

From these defined team structures, one can estimate the impact of each team on a particular situation. For example, if the team is not aligned with its appropriate objective, the results can be disastrous, even if the individuals are competent and committed to the success of the initiative. In fact, the wrong team might inflict more harm on the situation just by doing what it does best.

In many companies, different teams are required to interact with each other. The nature of these teams must be considered in the integration process, or else there will be problems with communication and productivity. An example of this gap can be demonstrated when a company’s design department must collaborate with the production department to get the new product to market. The mentality of the design team (creativity) is not aligned with that of the production team (tactical execution). As a result, information is misinterpreted, priorities are confused, and effective collaboration is undermined.

It is the responsibility of quality professionals to act as “interpreters” to facilitate communication. This does not imply that the individuals on the respective teams are incompetent or uncooperative. It implies that different teams have different mentalities. These mentalities have to be recognized, addressed, and accommodated in order to harmonize the efforts of all teams involved.

Another implication of this study is to interpret how a professional can function on multiple teams of different personalities. Using a quality manager as an example, it is reasonable to expect this individual to be part of all three teams. As a member of the quality department, the quality manager is part of the problem resolution team and must interact in this capacity. As a “de facto” authority on process control, the quality manager is part of the tactical execution of the company, attempting to continuously improve the company’s activities. Finally, as a member of the company’s management team, the quality manager must address the long-term goals and objectives of the company with creativity and tenacity.

Employees are more effective and productive as team members than as individuals. The nature of team development, coordination, and management allows for flexibility so that the most appropriate team can be used in any situation to achieve any desired objective. With this knowledge, managers can apply their human resources more effectively and interact with other teams more productively. Teams that contain the key success criteria (clear roles and accountabilities, monitoring of individual performance and feedback, effective communication, fact-based decision making) will have the best chance of achieving their intended purpose.

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