Growing Jelled Teams

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Software projects are complex systems whose success heavily depends on the skills of the project teams. Studies beginning from the late 1960s show that there may exist 10-fold differences in productivity between different teams. As these studies
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  Growing Jelled Teams Ömer DOĞAN  Informatics Institute, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey doganomer@gmail.com  Abstract.  Software projects are complex systems whose success heavily de- pends on the skills of the project teams. Studies beginning from the late 1960s show that there may exist 10-fold differences in productivity between different teams. As these studies reveal, what makes the difference in productivity is much more sociological rather than technological. In this paper, the things that managers should do to help forming a jelled development team are discussed. How managers can remove the impediments that prevent a development team from jelling is explained. A questionnaire is prepared based on the managerial issues for the assessment of the productivity of a team. Assessments of individ-ual developers from different project teams are collected to present how mem- bers of different teams encounter managerial problems inhibiting formation of a  productive team. Keywords :   Software Team Productivity, Jelled Teams 1   Introduction   Many researches on the success of the software projects show that most of the soft-ware projects are not successfully completed. The most widely known research on the success of the software projects, the CHAOS report [1], shows that the amount of successfully completed software projects is about one third of the failed and chal-lenged ones.  The success of the software projects are bound to the productivity of the development teams. In order to increase the amount of successful software projects, the productivi-ty of the software teams should be increased. 2   Productivity Variations of Teams Many researches show that there may exist performance differences on the order of magnitude between different development teams with the same level of experience.    According to the study of Weinberg and Shulman (1974) [2], productivity differ-ence between the teams was 5-to-1 in program size and 2.6-to-1 in the time re-quired to complete the same project.    The study of Boehm [3] using 69 projects has shown that the best team was 4 times as productive as the worst team.    In another notable study [4] on seven identical projects, there was 3.4-to-1 differ-ence in productivity of the teams. Although the developers in the study were all experienced programmers who were enrolled in a computer-science graduate pro-gram, the difference in the productivity of the teams was observed. According to Lakhanpal (1993) [5], team cohesiveness is the most effective factor in the productivity of the teams. In the following sections, the factors that affect the formation of jelled teams for successful software projects are explained. With the accompanying questionnaire results, each factor is analyzed with two aspects: the importance of the factor and how often the factor is encountered according to the  participants. 3   Factors preventing formation of jelled teams The most important indication that a group of people forms a jelled team is that the members of the team desire to remain in the team. When a team is jelled, members of the team are more strongly motivated to contribute to the goals of the team. Managers cannot make the team jelled but only remove the impediments preventing formation of jelled teams. In the following sections, factors that prevent formation of  jelled teams are discussed. The factors are based on the study of Demarco and Lister. [6] 3.1   Defensive Management It is not possible for a project manager of a software project to be expert on all the subjects that the team is dealing with. The only thing a project manager could do is forming the right team and trying to make the team productive. A software team will usually consist of many people each having expertise on different areas. Therefore, the team members should suggest their ideas on the subjects that they are good at. The  best thing a project manager could do is to listen to the team and trust the team.  This approach does not guarantee that the team will never make mistakes. Manager should allow the team to make mistakes and also allow them to learn from their expe-riences. When a team is afraid of failure, they will not take risks and the way to crea-tivity and innovation is closed for the team. It is important to continuously evaluate the experiences and lessons learned. An im- portant practice for continuous improvement is holding regular retrospective meet-ings. In these meetings which are held with the participation of all the team members, the team inspects what they did well and what was wrong. They explore better ways to work more effectively. According to the questionnaire results, most of the participants think that their opin-ions are important for the project. The following figure shows the assessments of the  participants. Most of the participants assess that defensive management is an important factor that decreases the productivity of a software development team, as shown in the following figure.    3.2   Bureaucracy and Paperwork As Scott Ambler states [7], the main goal of software development is to produce a high- quality system that meets customer’s expectations in a timely manner. Any work that is not contributing to this goal should be avoided. In the projects that comprehen-sive documentation is produced, it is usual to end up with outdated and unread docu-ments which have no benefit on the product. This type of unnecessary documentation is usually accepted as a waste of time by the developers. Especially when the documentation becomes more important than devel-oping the software, developers begin to have a negative attitude to work. This results in damaging the cohesion of the development team. According to the questionnaire results, most of the participants think that documenta-tion is not done at the level that they think it should be. The following figure shows the assessments of the participants on the amount of documentation.   Most of the participants assess that excessive documentation is an important factor that decreases the productivity of a software development team, as shown in the fol-lowing figure. 3.3   Fragmentation of Worker’s Time   The interaction between the team members is an important factor that helps formation of jelled teams. When a developer is assigned to more than one team, the interactions of the developer are dispersed and interruptions that the developer encounters highly increase. This situation does not only prevent formation of a jelled team but also de-creases the performance of the individual developer.
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