Another Deadline, Another Miracle
by Pat Craig 

from the Spring 2001 issue
      of the Complexity Management Chronicles

"...this makes a total of four enhancement and patch releases in eight weeks, a remarkable accomplishment for the Technology Department." These comments came from a Chief Technology Officer's monthly report to management.

A remarkable accomplishment? Yes, having worked alongside this team, we can verify that the scope and pace of those releases was quite remarkable. Development, QA, and Project Management had become a "Hot Group". As such, the group worked very hard to get release 1.0 into a semi-usable state. They followed up with four minor releases, discussed above, to make their web search product more useable.

W. Bennis and P. Biederman in their book, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration, wrote, "Successful collaborations are dreams with deadlines." Apparently, the deadline itself rallies people to perform great work.

Our last newsletter discussed high achieving groups and provided some ideas for creating them:
1) Articulate a clear vision that captivates the group;
2) Select talented, committed people for the group; 
3) Keep focused by minimizing bureaucracy and not pulling the group at cross purposes.

In this newsletter, we will detail how we would apply the concepts of hot teams. Let's start by assuming that you need to develop software of strategic importance. The first step is to scope out the size of the project in order to determine the team size. 

High achieving teams usually happen with smaller groups of people. The hot teams we worked with contained about 25 members. Given the ideal team size, project size should be in the small to medium range. Consider dividing up large projects into phases so that effectively you have a group of medium size projects.

Next, identify the skills needed to staff the project: Java, Oracle, C++, etc. At a minimum, you will need an analyst, a developer, and a tester. However, if possible, try to hire at least two senior level staff members for each critical skill set so that they can function as a tag teams. For example, this could mean two analysts, two senior Java developers, two Oracle experts, two quality assurance professionals etc.

Assigning two people for each skill set gives you a redundancy and helps minimize the risk of project failure should someone quite unexpectedly. Most importantly, by utilizing tag teams,  your project should continue to make forward progress under most circumstances. Less senior level staff could make up the balance of the team.

How will you find the people to staff your project? Ideally, you will be able to seek out the best and brightest from existing software teams at your company. If this is not possible, then you will staff with new hires, contractors and/or consultants. 

Everyone who joins the team should voluntarily sign on as opposed to being drafted. Only by having people who want to be on the team, and who have freely enrolled, will you find the necessary passion and commitment. You will want to fill open positions with skilled, experienced personnel. Inexperienced personnel and their related learning curves typically lead to delays and cost overruns. See page 65 of Software Project Dynamics by T. Abdel-Hamid and S. Madnick for a discussion about learning curve costs.

Locate the team together at adjacent work stations. Locating them together aids communications and enhances trust. Formal team meetings should take place weekly. Additionally, keep the team close to the business sponsors and meet with the sponsors often.

We trust that this newsletter and the previous one on Hot Groups provide you with some useful ideas. Pleas also refer to our Spring 1996 newsletter called, Rapid Application Development and our summer 1997 newsletter called Can we Talk? for other suggestions on creating highly productive teams.

©2001 by Complexity Management
Somerville, Massachusetts, 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. 


Return to Complexity Management Home
Go to Summer 2001 Newsletter
Contact Pat Craig at