Holding Onto the Family Jewels
by Pat Craig 

From the Winter 1997 issue of the Complexity Management Chronicles

In the summer issue of Complexity Management Chronicles, an overview issue, we described three causes of staff turnover that can lead to delayed software releases. The reasons for staff losses listed in that newsletter were:

- Snowballing employee resignations caused by managers who push too hard.

- Shoddy work being shoved from stage to stage in the system development life cycle, and

- Balance of power wars between Development and Test.

The fall issue of this newsletter, the second in the four part series, detailed how a client of ours, a software vendor, successfully resolved their balance of power wars. Our summer newsletter touched upon some solutions to stem resignations. The solutions were: more careful estimating of project size, more rigorous project planning and control, and a small dedicated release team. Careful estimating prevents undue pressure on staff to deliver the impossible. Better control prevents the project from falling months behind without anyone noticing, then having management demand that staff catch up. A release team keeps everyone focused on getting releases out the door. This newsletter, the third in the series, will provide additional solutions to stem resignations. We will detail how another client, a financial service provider, turned the corner on their vicious spiral of employee resignations.

A Leader's Biggest Fear: A vice president at this firm said that what she feared most was losing staff because the company's investment in the employee's learning curve and related productivity walks out the door.

A Client's Solutions: The solutions our client implemented are as follows:

1. To increase communications between the top and bottom rungs of the organization, senior managers instituted ten-on-one meetings where a senior level manager would meet with ten workers. The manager guaranteed amnesty and the staff responded by bringing up issues such as difficulties working with certain groups, unwieldy technical tools, unclear processes, etc. These meetings made it possible for workers to freely express themselves. Their honesty enabled top management to discover what was impeding progress and causing staff irritation.

2. To reduce staff frustration and improve project efficiency, senior managers implemented a computerized open issue system. Issues often revolved around department interdependencies such as not having a working test environment or good test data.

3. Senior managers distributed their weekly project meeting packages so that all team members could understand the big picture.

4. Senior management initiated quarterly team meetings. At these meetings, senior managers conveyed project information and recognized the previous quarter's top performers. The top performers, nominated by their peers, were awarded cash bonuses.

5. To shield staff from unrelenting pressure, senior managers initiated a release strategy. They planned for four releases a year, a release every three months. About half the staff worked on the release due in three months, the rest of the staff worked on the release due in six months. The three-month group worked long hours, the six-month group was under less deadline pressure. Once the three month release was delivered, the groups switched off.

6. Senior management increased the integration team's budget. (This team made sure that everyone had fully functional workstations.) With a larger budget, this team could rapidly respond to workstation problems which allowed developers to concentrate on development! We trust these tips for retaining your staff (the family jewels) will prove useful.

©Complexity Management 1997 
Somerville, Massachusetts
Located in Metropolitan Boston

Complexity Management Chronicles, a newsletter for software quality assurance professionals, is published in print form four times a year. Send your name and snail-mail address to the e-mail address below if you would like to be on the mailing list - at no cost to USA mailing addresses. 


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Contact Pat Craig at patcraig@alum.mit.edu