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Marcell Lipp
Marcell Lipp

Posted on • Originally published at on

From individual work to team work

Since the projects are constantly growing and the time pressure is getting higher and higher in the software business to walk alone on a project is not an option in most of the cases anymore. On most of the projects big teams are working from some people up to multi-thousand. But how are these big projects organised? Are the people working in a team or just individually . Are they really work in a team? Is it good if they are really work in a team?

The classical way of working

At most of the projects a projects is splitted between the different subteams based on some well-specified area: components, knowledge area, activity (architecture, testing etc.) or functionality. So each subteam has its clear job with well-specified inputs and outputs and they need to sync up sometimes with each other, but they are basically working independently.

How is the work organised inside a subteam? At all my previous projects the situation was the same: the wok was splitted up to smaller tasks and each task was assigned to a team member. That means each team member had its own task, own responsibility. Everyone was just working on his own tasks. The only interaction happened between the team members at the daily status meetings, at code reviews and if someone asked from help. But normally the team members were not technically deep in what the others are doing. It resulted the following situation: one hand you could working concentrated on your tasks, which was effective as far as you had all the necessary knowledge. If you stuck it took a long time to get help, because the others were also busy with their tasks and they needed time to understand what you are doing. Another difficult situation was when some became sick. Quite often no one else could finish his job without a really huge overhead. So it was always almost causing problems. It was also challenging when someone left the project. Most of the cases he had project-specific knowledge which the others didn’t have, so a knowledge transfer needed to be done. It was always difficult to work with junior colleagues, because they often stucked and lost days with trying to figure out their own solution.

On the other hand it was really comfortable that after getting familiar with the project you were able to work really independently, it was easy to work for example from home office due to the lack of interactions.

To escalate the problems the management was tracking our performance on a personal basis. That means if you wanted to reach a better number next to your name in the performance report you really needed to concentrate on your tasks and avoid wasting time with other issues. It was totally not productive.

The way of real team work

Now I changed to a new company and I’m working on another project. Here the way of working is much different. It is real teamwork here. The tasks are assigned to the team and the to a specific team member. Usually we are working on less task than the number of team members. The is no dedicated person the work on the specific tasks. It is really typical the 2-3 team members are working on the same task by doing pair or mob programming. So we are all sitting in front of one computer and working. It reminds me on my childhood as we were working with computer games with my friends, but we had only one computer. We are also changing tasks between team members frequently. It can be that one day you are working with one guy on one task and on the next day with other guys on another task. This structure is basically solving all the problems I mentioned before: the whole team is aware of the technical content of each topic and there is always multiple people who are deep in a specific topic. So that a sickness, a holiday or a change in the team does not mean a big problem. The junior colleagues can also work together with more experienced team members and they are learning really fast in this way.

On the other hand we often have the feeling that it is not effective at all what we are doing: three of us just sitting in front of one computer and talking about one easy class….hmm.

It is also mentally challenging: instead of listening to music and concentrate on the task, you need the follow and participate discussions all the time, listen to others opinion and formulate yours. This kind of close cooperation is also causing several conflicts between the team members. All things considered it is not so easy to work in such a structure, but I can see also several advantages.

In such a working structure you need to be able to communicate properly, describe your ideas and issues properly and to be very patient and flexible.

I have not the feeling that the best working model would be a hybrid model between strong teamwork and individual work. If you have experience with working in such a working model it would be nice if you could share them.

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