Essentials for Small Team Dynamics in CM Practices


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

Personality matters a great deal when you need to be able to help a small team implement essential software configuration management practices. Small teams have dynamics just like any other team and you need to know what it takes to help your team achieve success. SCRUMs may have a maximum size of nine members, but you will likely find yourself in organizations where successful teams grow and you have to deal with the dynamics implicit in a successful team that now has new requirements for communicating and working together successfully. In this column, we will take a look at some of the essentials required for small teams.

The 9 person scrum
A typical scrum team consists of five to nine people. Compared to large scale enterprise development teams – SCRUMs are small teams. Yet they are extremely effective at delivering working software. One reason for this is the Agile Manifesto’s focus on Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools. Processes and tools are very important, but Individuals and Interactions are even more important.

Self Managed Team
SCRUMs are successful for a number of good reasons, but top on the list is certainly the focus on the SCRUM being a self managed team. SCRUMs are welcome to organize as they choose and make assignments as needed to achieve their objectives. Self managed teams have been around a long time, although it could be argued that Agile has made them much more popular and accepted in mainstream application development.

Removing Barriers
One of the key roles of the SCRUM is to remove barriers to achieving the goals. Barriers may be physical needs for more resources such as test servers or psychological in terms of personality issues that need to be addressed. Regardless of what time of barrier, the self managed SCRUM needs to address whatever is needed even if that means making some adjustments in terms of roles & responsibilities.

Shifting Roles
There may be times when developers need to focus on testing or testers have to partner very closely with developers. This requires a lot of flexibility and isn’t for everyone. Small teams have a classic need for doing whatever job is required and may not always be the best choice for people who like a more defined role within their comfort zone. Shifting roles may even bring out anxiety and adjustment issues that highlight the need for dealing with personality issues on the team.

Back to Toyota
The Poppendiecks have made the Toyota productivity studies very popular. Self managed teams were very effective during the assembly process especially when they stopped the line to address any potential issue.

What did Deming say?
Deming’s Fourteen Points included the essential point of “drive out fear”. Providing an environment where technology professionals can honestly address key issues with a view towards achieving maximum productivity is a critical success factor.

Teams Grow
Teams do grow and that does not mean that they have to stop being effective. But it does mean that you need to manage the communications, coordination and personality issues that may surface in larger teams.

Implementing Configuration requires that you consider and address the people issues that are implicit in any small team. But whether you are using Agile practices or iterative Waterfall as described by Winston Royce long ago, self managed teams, removing barriers (technical or interpersonal), shifting roles and driving out fear will always help your team achieve success!

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