What direction do you need?

8 07 2013

Some friends with a little summer house in the beatiful island of Utö, Stockholm archipelago, always invite friends to visit, to stay in one of the two small rooms or in tents. Now they plan to fix their shed down the water to make it liveable.

So they have the idea to bring all friends for a weekend to restore & fix it together with them. Great idea. But ”oh my” my first thought was. A lousy carpenter I am (maybe I don’t know haven’t tried much), anyway with no experience, I can see this crowd of friends standing there with no plan and some tools and starting to discuss where to start, who will do what.  It makes me sick thinking of it. ”I’m more than happy to help out, but please please make sure there is someone gaffer from the start who tells me exactly what to do, and get us going.

This made me think about projects in general, and software projects. A group of people coming together to fix something will for sure gonna be a drain, it there is no direction at all. They’re gonna talk for days. About what and how.

This can work I believe, if you’re really really explicit about that it’s up to the group to decide – everything – and they have easy access to the money – with a sharp deadline and with very direct, personal and visible reward and outcome from the project.

But if it’s not and you just want the shed liveable in the way you want it, and the outcome for the crowd is just ”a pizza and some beers, and maybe access a night or two in the shed during the summer”,  this is not the way to do it.

When knowing nothing about how to build a roof, to do up the windows, fix the floors, install a small kitchen, we for sure need a lot of detailed direction. ”Paint this border of the window, first clean them, with this tool” etc. This will make me productive.

If there are some people in the crowd who knows some  more, they will only need to know ”you take care of the windows, here’s the material, and some guidelines, ok!” to get anything going. Anything more detailed will get them irritated and much less productive.

Someone might be a builder, or have a lot experience from hobby projects, and all she/he will need to know is some constraints ”fix the house” – it can’t be bigger than x m/2, and have to be red, and must include some sort of kitchen area. And this guy will make it. If you give her too much constraints she will just give up ”what’d’you need me for if you know everything yourself!?”

Depending on experience, different sort of direction is needed. Please don’t expect your friends, being there over the weekend, to ”sort it out themselves”. They won’t. They will spend hours talking, discussing, who does what, what should be done, how it should look. Ending up by the rocks having a swim pretty soon..  or at the porch having a beer ”to think”.

Please assign us some roles. ”You’re in charge of the windows” is very helpful even with no experience. Knowing I’d be in charge for window, I’d make sure to gather some people around to figure out what to do. But HOW to do it? With no experience, please give me someone who can give us directions. ”You should start with..”

In software teams, compared with a bunch of friends fixing a shed, we have most often at least some experience or education. No-one is totally rookie. Therefore we start a bit ahead. Still we can’t put together a new group of mixed people expecting a great result without any sort of direction.

Is the product owner’s direction on WHAT to do, enough for software teams?

And the way many project managers, especially less experienced ones, ”direct” a software team, is that really effective? To tell more or less senior developers & team members exactly what to do and how to do it, is that really working?? Or to say ”we’re agile” and with that leave all direction?

Is the HOW so unique and changing so there is no need for any sort of technical instructions? ”You should start with…” Ever?

What level of direction do YOU want and need for yourself? To be able to fix your software shed with pride?

And have you told anyone that?
For example your project manager, CTO, team members or other managers?

Please tell us at least with a comment on this blog, if not anywhere else. 🙂




3 responses

9 07 2013

I guess what level of direction you need matters on how complex the project is and how mature and skilled your team members are.

15 07 2013
Joakim Holm

If you let it, a software project will be an ongoing process of discovery and learning, both of needs and design solutions to those needs, in collaboration between different experts, including business, domain, and technology. Building is essentially free in software.

This is not applicable to building projects. Physical construction is not free and hard to reverse. This makes conclusions from the field of construction transferred to the software field suspicious, even ideas on how to lead and organize work.

I think most of the time, software teams don’t need ”direction” or ”roles”. They need to feel safe enough to collaborate, experiment, fail and succeed together.

16 07 2013
Ulrika Park (@ulrikapark)

If I change the metaphor to a bunch of friends fixing a garden for the summer house? Or arranging a small music-festival? What kind of direction would you need then? 🙂


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