Book Review: Peopleware by DeMarco and Lister – Part 4 and 5

This is the fourth in a series of articles providing a chapter-by-chapter in-depth “book club” reading of Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister’s book “Peopleware”, 2nd edition.

Part 4: jelled teams

A jelled team is a group of people so strongly knit that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, built around a goal.
Signs for a jelled team are the low turnover, the strong sense of identity, a sense of eliteness, the joint ownership of the built product and obvious enjoyment.

Unfortunately there is no formulas to make a team jelling, you can just hope and avoid few techniques that will kill for sure the teams :

  • Defensive management
    Once you have decided to go with a given group (i.e. the staff is up to the job) the best tactic is to trust them. Worse things to do are prescriptive methodologies and technical interference by the manager. People need to feel trusted.
  • Dangerous for knowledge workers is also visual supervision. Visual supervision is for prisoners.
  • bureaucracy
    The team needs to believe in the goal it forms around. It can be an arbitrary goal but it has to exist and the management believes in it.
  • Physical separation
  • Fragmentation of time
    People should be assigned only one project at a time.
  • Quality reduction of the product
    More often it is talked about cost reduced products but at the end they are the same: build a product in less time results in lower quality and this undermines the self-esteem and enjoyment of the developers.
  • Phony deadlines arbitrary
    The message is that the boss believes the team will not do a stroke of work except under duress.
  • Clique control
    Like breaking teams up after a project. Even if the team did not jell.

Good practices to grow people is to provide frequent easy opportunities for the team to succeed together, like pilot sub projects or demonstrations or simulations.
Particularly when the team is coming together frequent stop is important (occasional confirmations along the way that everything is on target, like milestones achieved or partial deliveries completed).
The best success is the one in which there is no evident management. Opposite to defensive management is for a boss to trust the team and put the own reputation into the subordinates’ hands: it brings out the best in everyone.
Finally, the best bosses have a natural authority, they know how to do their work, as setting general directions, negotiating and hiring and are trusted to do those things. On the beat teams different individuals provide occasional leadership, taking charge in areas where they have particular strengths; the structure of a jelled team is a network not a hierarchy.

Part 5: chaos

The trend in a company is to progress towards a more orderly and controllable methods, away from chaos. An interesting policy is to reintroduce small amounts of disorder that has breathed so much energy into the work.
Using simple ways as pilot projects, war games  (as the hack days at yahoo), brainstormings, training, conferences, celebrations.

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