Practice: Get the Right People

Practice Get the Right People


The objective of team staffing, and the subsequent organization of teams , can be summed up in four words: Get the Right People.


Author Andrew Hill (2001) once asked basketball coach John Wooden who he thought were the best coaches he faced. Without hesitation Wooden replied, "The ones with the best players." Hill continued , "So many top-level managers feel they can make do with mediocre employees . What I learned from Coach is that you must have top- notch talent to succeed."

In product development, as in most endeavors, getting the right people involved is the critical success factor. "Right" consists of both having the appropriate technical ability (or domain expertise) and exhibiting the right self-disciplined behavior. Getting the right people doesn't necessarily mean getting the most talented and experienced people, just the appropriate people for the job.

That said, there are reasons for getting overqualified people, especially in product development projects in which effectiveness and speed are so important. In his classic book Software Engineering Economics , Barry Boehm (1981) offers his Principle of Top Talent: "Use better and fewer people." As Boehm summarizes, "The top 20% of people produce about 50% of the output." If you plan to take on difficult, demanding projects, you need the best talent. If you take on less-demanding projects, you'll still do better with better-than-average talent. People sometimes counter this argument by saying, "But, you have to understand that half the people are below average." My response is twofold: "One, that might be true, but it doesn't have to be true for my company or my project. Second, nearly everyone has the potential to be above average at something. It's a manager's job to help them find that something."

Author Jim Collins (2001) is adamant not only about getting the right people "on the bus," but also that getting those people is even more important than figuring out where the bus should go. He declares, "The 'who' question comes before 'what' questionsbefore vision, before strategy, before tactics, before organizational structure, before technology." Everyone understands the notion that casting is critical in theatre or the movies. As authors Rob Austin and Lee Devin (2003) observe, "It is also clear that no matter how good you get at repeating a play, you can't replace Dustin Hoffman or Sigourney Weaver with a less-experienced beginner and expect to maintain quality."

As I said earlier, two factors determine whether or not a team has the "right" peoplecapability and self-discipline. There was much ado during the last decade about how having the right process could make up for having the wrong people (after all, the reasoning went, we can plug just about anyone into a well-defined process). In reality, having a reasonable process can help the right people work together effectively, but it can't make up for having the wrong people. [7]

[7] Larson and LaFasto (1989) articulated these ideas before Collins. Their research indicated that "it was imperative to select the right people." Secondly, they defined the right people as those with the necessary technical skills and personal characteristics (working well within a team).

Jim Collins (2001) aptly expresses this point with his analogy of getting the right people on the bus: "Most companies build their bureaucratic rules to manage the small percentage of wrong people on the bus, which in turn drives away the right people on the bus, which then increases the need for more bureaucracy to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline, which then further drives the right people away, and so forth." This observation fits right into the delivery-compliance dichotomythe right people focus on delivery, while the wrong people generate extra compliance work.

Collins's ideas are intended for organizations as a whole, but many of his ideas apply at the project level. Part of getting the right people involved, from a capability perspective, is having some idea of the project and the required skill set to carry it off. A group 's capability should influence what products or projects are appropriate to pursue . More people are coming to the understanding that process isn't a substitute for skill . Process may be an enabler , it may prevent reinventing the wheel, but it is not a substitute for skill. Process may assist a group of skilled people in working together more effectively, but the fundamental capabilities, the fundamental skills, must be present in the team.

Several years ago I participated in a project retrospective with a software development team. The project was an outsourced Web project, and the customer ended the project unhappy with the technical architecture because the application was difficult to change. The team admittedly did not have sufficient capability in the new Web technology; however, to mitigate the risk, it had established an architectural review process. Unfortunately, none of the reviewers had any experience in the technology eitherthey had instituted a process without a sufficient capability.

The second aspect of getting the right people involves finding (and developing) those with the self-disciplined behavior described in Chapter 3. Rigorous self-discipline differs from ruthless imposed discipline. One is generated from internal motivations, the other from authoritarian admonitions, usually playing on fear.

Getting the right people extends to the product management or customer team as well. I often get asked questions like, "What if we don't get the right customer involvement on our project?" The answer is easydon't do the projectalthough implementing it in most organizations is not. Not doing a project when the fundamental reality is that the team doesn't have the right customers or the right staff is part of the rigorous discipline required to succeed. Undisciplined organizations go ahead; they ignore reality or convince themselves through bravado that they can succeed in the face of information that indicates otherwise .

There is a difference between getting the right person and getting the perfect person. Your team may need an expert geophysicist but may not be able to obtain one with the exact skills and experience desired. If you find one with the right self-disciplined attitude and sufficient technical skills, she will figure out how to obtain the right information. If, on the other hand, you find a pharmacologist and expect him to make the jump, that would be wishful thinking. The right person is the one who has the required capability or enough capability to growwith coaching by the project manager and the team's technical specialistsinto what is needed for the project. Similarly, the right person from a self-discipline perspective will have enough motivation to learn the behaviors that create a well-functioning team.

The Agile Revolution

Guiding Principles: Customers and Products

Guiding Principles: Leadership-Collaboration Management

An Agile Project Management Model

The Envision Phase

The Speculate Phase

The Explore Phase

The Adapt and Close Phases

Building Large Adaptive Teams

Reliable Innovation

Agile Project Management. Creating Innovative Products
Agile Project Management: Creating Innovative Products (2nd Edition)
ISBN: 0321658396
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 96
Authors: Jim Highsmith © 2008-2020.
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