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Highly Effective Software Teams

A few weeks ago our Board of Directors asked me to present my assessment of the state of software.
 I was hired to organize and grow the software team and the directors wanted to know what kind of a team we needed to build.  I was hoping that I can just reference an article somewhere that would give me the answer, unfortunately I didn’t find anything suitable. During my research I did find some great material that will be helpful if your job is to put together a highly effective software team.

A highly effective software team has the following key characteristics: dependable, committed to shared goals, passionate about technology, respectful and compassionate.  These are not limited to technology industry, it can easily apply to finance, medicine, or sports as well.  Below is the summary and references that I found.

Dependable

If you are creating a software product, you need to deliver your software to your users.  Your users need to know that you are able to solve their problems on time and with quality to depend on your product. If the team can’t meet deadlines your customers don't know how to make their plans and will probably make plans that exclude you.  Highly effective software teams have the technical knowledge, dependency management and self awareness to come up with a good project plan.  Bright Hub Project Management has a great article on Top 10 Characteristics of an Effective Project Team:
The members of an effective project team are reliable, responsible and accountable to one another as well as to themselves. They create a plausible schedule that incorporates timeliness with accuracy and detail, leaving some room for unexpected snags. They adhere to that schedule because they don't want to let down their teammates - or themselves.
http://www.brighthubpm.com/resource-management/72619-top-ten-characteristics-of-an-effective-project-team/
Highly effective software teams communicate and solve issues proactively.  When you working with them you are rarely blindsided.  A great piece on proactive communication is written by Alina Vrabie on LifeHacker:
Communication is obviously important, but what really matters is proactive communication. Proactive communication can be materialized in four ways:
  1. Team members provide information before being asked.
  2. They provide support and assistance before being asked.
  3. They take team initiative by providing guidance and making suggestions to other team members.
  4. They provide updates, creating situational awareness for other team members.
http://lifehacker.com/six-characteristics-that-make-a-highly-effective-team-1643031197

Committed to Shared Goals

I am yet to see a successful technology company that is comprised of part time people.  While you can create an early prototype and test the market slicing your attention between various projects, you will never have a highly effective team whose passion and attention is split between various companies and projects.  There are some rare exceptions such as Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey, but I doubt you can find enough of those types of people to create a full team.  In my 20 years of experience in software: a person who works for you 50% of the time gives you 40% of the output, a person who is working for you 100% of the time gives you 120% of the output.  Here Bright Hub Project Management again hit the nail on the head: 
Team members who are committed to the company or organization as well as the project in general are highly effective, as they are much more likely to give 100 percent at every step of the project and go above and beyond when necessary. Committed team members believe in what they are doing and therefore take great satisfaction in a job well done.
http://www.brighthubpm.com/resource-management/72619-top-ten-characteristics-of-an-effective-project-team/

Passionate about Technology

The best software teams are comprised of technology enthusiasts that love learning new things and improving themselves.  There is no way to fake it: people who are in tech just for the paycheck rarely drive you to adopt new frameworks, tools and techniques.  The world of technology evolves too fast and changes too much for someone who wants a regular office job.  Highly effective software teams continuously look to grow.  Amit Kaura has a great article on Agile Delivery Teams: 
"Whether it is using development and deployment checklists, automated testing, test or behaviour driven development, pair programming, extreme programming or continuous integration; teams that succeed are on the constant pursuit of excellence. Being "Good Enough" does not cut it for them."
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/11-habits-highly-effective-agile-delivery-teams-amit-kaura
Highly effective teams will strive to do lunch and learn sessions, do root cause analysis, adopt and try new tools.  In the world of technology if you are standing still, you are falling behind.

Respectful and Compassionate

The best idea can’t win if people do not feel safe expressing their opinions or being themselves.  One of the most powerful articles on this subject is about Google’s project Aristotle:
What Project Aristotle has taught people within Google is that no one wants to put on a ‘‘work face’’ when they get to the office. No one wants to leave part of their personality and inner life at home. But to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=0
Highly effective software teams create a safe space where their team mates, colleagues and customers can be themselves.  Safe space also means that team members can voice their criticism and dissatisfaction.  Fostering a diverse and respectful environment is a responsibility of the leadership and every team member and highly effective teams nail it.

Conclusion

There are many characteristics of highly effective software teams and it might not be possible to attribute it to just a few factors, but in my research these four things came up over and over.  I haven’t found a successful company whose software teams were not: dependable, committed, passionate and compassionate.  

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