Don’t Go Changing…

My last post dove into the world of engineering teams / combined engineering / fancy-name-of-the-moment where there are no separate disciplines for development and test. I think there are advantages to one-team engineering, but that doesn’t mean that your team needs to change.

First things First

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again. Don’t change for change’s sake. Make changes because you think the change will solve a problem. And even then, think about what problems a change may cause before making a change.

In my case, one-team engineering solves a huge inefficiency in the developer to tester communication flow. The back-and-forth iteration of They code it – I test it – They fix it – I verify it can be a big inefficiency on teams. I also like the idea of both individual and team commitments to quality that happen on discipline-free engineering teams.

Is it for you?

I see the developer to tester ping pong match take up a lot of time on a lot of teams. But I don’t know your team, and you may have a different problem. Before diving in on what-Alan-says, ask yourself, “What’s the biggest inefficiency on our team”. Now, brainstorm solutions for solving that inefficiency. Maybe combined engineering is one potential solution, maybe it’s not. That’s your call to make. And then remember that the change alone won’t solve the problem (and I outlined some of the challenges in my last post as well).

Taking the Plunge

OK. So your team is going to go for it and have one engineering team. What else will help you be successful?

In the I-should-have-said-this-in-the-last-post category, I think running a successful engineering team requires a different slant on managing (and leading) the team. Some things to consider (and why you should consider them) include:

  • Flatten – It’s really tempting to organize a team around product functionality. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
    Create a graphics team, Create a graphics test team. Create a graphics performance team. Create a graphics analysis team. Create a graphics analysis test team. You get the point.
    Instead, create a graphics team. Or create a larger team that includes graphics and some related areas. Or create an engineering team that owns the whole product (please don’t take this last sentence literally on a team that includes hundreds of people).
  • Get out of the way – A book I can’t recommend enough for any manager or leader who wants to transition from the sausage-making / micro-managing methods of the previous century is The Leaders Guide to Radical Management by Steve Denning (and note that there are several other great books on reinventing broken management; e.g. Birkinshaw, Hamel, or Collins for those looking for even more background). In TLGRM, Denning says (paraphrased), Give your organization a framework they understand, and then get out of their way. Give them some guidelines and expectations, but then let them work. Check in when you need to, but get out of the way. Your job in 21st century management is to coach, mentor, and orchestrate the team for maximum efficiency – not to monitor them continuously or create meaningless work. This is a tough change for a lot of managers – but it’s necessary – both for the success of the workers and for the sanity of managers. Engineering teams need the flexibility (and encouragement) to self-organize when needed, innovate as necessary, and be free from micro-management.
  • Generalize and Specialize – I’ve talked about Generalizing Specialists before (search my last post and my blog). For another take, I suggest reading what Jurgen Appelo has to say about T-shaped people, and what Adam Knight says about square-shaped teams for additional explanation on specialists who generalize and how they make up a good team.

This post started as a follow up and clarification for my previous post – but has transformed into a message to leaders and managers on their role – and in that, I’m reminded how critically important good leadership and great managers are to making transitions like this. In fact, given a choice of working for great leaders and awesome managers on a team making crummy software with horrible methods, I’d probably take it every time…but I know in that team doesn’t exist. Great software starts with great teams, and great teams come from leaders and managers who know what they’re doing and make changes for the right reasons.

If your team can be better – and healthier –  by working as a single engineering team, I think it’s a great direction to go. But make your changes for the right reasons and with a plan for success.

One Comment

  1. Kyle L
    Posted November 11, 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post. It helped fill a gap in understanding the articles you were writing and what the goal of those articles generally is.

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