Individuals and Team Performance

Recently, Tim Ottinger posed a question on Twitter regarding the change
in teams and the impact of the change in their effectiveness.

This made me reminisce about some things. I’ve rewritten this post a few times, unsure of how much detail to go into, or whether to publish this at all, but I think at least a few remarks bear mentioning.

I have seen people who accelerate every team they join, and people who put the breaks on every team they join (yes, there is an in-between, but the extremes prove a point). I’ve seen teams swapped whole and the results become “permanently” faster, and I’ve also seen them become slower.

I think the direction and magnitude of change comes down to a few different factors: how the individuals interact with the craft of software development, how they interact with other team members, and how the organization interacts with the software projects they own.

People who respect software development as a craft, would feel embarrassed about making avoidable mistakes and like efficiency in general tend to accelerate software development when they’re included in a project.

People who make their teammates feel comfortable, are willing to learn, teach, and grow together, and don’t feel ashamed of having to learn new things tend to accelerate software development when they’re included in a project.

Organizations with sane rules, specially about developing internally transferable skill sets in collaborators, knowledge sharing, and architectural uniformity tend to suffer less with team changes.

The opposites are opposites, and there’s a lot of nuance that doesn’t fit in this margin, and I can’t claim to comprehend everything completely.

Managers tend to have an big impact in their teams, which should be obvious, but feels worth mentioning. A supervisor who doesn’t know their team, doesn’t teach, motivate, cultivate, and prune their team, makes the company (and the projects the team is responsible for) more fragile.

Teams are bound to change. Requirements change, people move on, people move in. Having every change in the team be a possible cause to a “permanent” slow down in development is a mind boggling, yet alarmingly commonly accepted proposition.

Software development should happen in a way that a change in personnel is more like going trough a bumpy section of the road and less like slashing a vehicle’s tires.

I have sometimes felt that some companies try to treat their employees as exchangeable. This is a liability. Everyone is different, and software should be written in such a way that unique people can bring their unique strengths to the table. This implies, as in any kind of team, that taking care of the composition is crucial. And this goes not only for skill level and skill type, but for attitudes and tendencies. Compare with team composition in your favorite team sport.

*Permanent is in quotes because … well, obviously I’m not looking into eternity. I mean over a period of time when the team has settled into their “day to day performance level” plateau.

Mid year stream of thought

It has been a while since I have written anything longer than two tweets. I notice that I have over ten drafts I’ve not looked at in months, which probably means that they’ll never be published.

I’ve distanced myself from the local developer scene in the Dominican Republic. I feel ambivalent about this, but as it’s been about keeping my head down and working, and I’ve been doing just that, I feel content. I look forward to taming my most demanding endeavors in the near future and reacquainting myself with my local peers.

On the other hand, I’ve been interacting more with developers from overseas. It has been fun, being more exposed to developers from a different culture and using different technologies. Usually my work would involve people from either different culture or different technology, not the combo I’m enjoying right now. More data points to learn from.

My dear friend Lois has been posting poems on her site since around August 2017; I think some from 2018 were lost, sadly. I look forward to the 2nd anniversary of getting new poems every Friday.

Now, the hum of the servers quiets down, and I have nothing else to wait for. Back into the fray.

Before stopping I want to record I felt happy with Nintendo’s E3 announcements; that it’s been crazy juggling around a dozen projects (I don’t want to stop and count, really), but it’s been very fulfilling and fun to push the boundaries. Oh, and that it’s very important to have controlled temperature for work. No HVAC means lost efficiency, lost happiness, wasted time, and a general discomfort about existence when you have to work intensely.

A Desperate Effort (follow up)

Sustaining an increased pace of work (related to your usual baseline) over long stretches of time is grueling.

If it is so different from the usual that it’s a desperate effort – well, I’ve not been able to sustain it as well as I’d’ve hoped. I have managed to tweak my work style to better fit my desire for more productivity though:

  • I have lightweight tasks – pleasant to start and carry out – peppered throughout the week which still help me move forward
  • I read stuff written by smart people, which motivates me to work
  • I read stuff written by people with a lot more money than I have, which motivates me to work smart
  • I read stuff written by people with a lot more output than I have, which motivates me to work hard
  • I have a sharper line between work and play

This has allowed me to move in the general direction I want to go. Less waste, more productivity, more happiness.


Starting the blog

In order to write more, and be able to share better, I dropped the development of my static site compiler and moved to wordpress.

Over the years I’ve set many rules and goals to achieve before starting to write; among those:

  • Setting up a multi-language website. I’m a native Spanish speaker in a Spanish speaking country, but the broader audience is English speaking.
  • Setting up a static website, and the appropriate generator, to make the maintenance painless — this one was so misguided it’s actually hilarious.
  • Writing a backlog of content, and work with that content in several different ways, including but not limited to: classifying it, running it through trusted people, embellishing it.
  • Getting some OSS projects up and running so I could talk about them — more hilarity ensued by not thinking this one through and noticing a lack of community around my obscure development.
  • Generally trying to improve who I am, so I could project a better picture of myself while remaining truthful. Part of this is related to a severe impostor-syndrome episode, caused in no small part by working on in-house, backoffice software during all of my career.

So what I’ve decided is this: I’ll throw everything overboard and start. I expect a backlog will eventually form, and everything will be nicer as I work and polish my workflow. I’ll write about many things, including what I’m doing now, what I’m reading about, and insights I develop.

This is a start which almost aligns, with a slightly amusing off-by-one error, with the start of 2016. This is a coincidence, as I’d been working on setting up the php and MySQL installation and making sure they played nicely with Lighttpd for a few days, and festivity-related “chores” intervened. I’ll roll with it, though and try and make a nice run.