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Productive Projects and Teams -

Tom DeMarco, Timothy Lister

excerpt by Erik Gostischa-Franta

June 8, 2003

1 Chapter 18: The whole is greater than the sum of all parts 3

2 Chapter 19: The Black Team 4

3 Chapter 20: Teamicide 5

4 Chapter 21: A Spaghetti Dinner 6

5 Chapter 22: Open Kimono 7

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1 Chapter 18: The whole is greater than the sum of all

Concept of the Jelled Team A group of people is not automatically a team, they
might not have a common definition of success or team spirit. Something is missing.
What is missing is a phenomenon we call jell.
A jelled team is almost unstoppable with a common goal and destined for success.
Managers spend most of their time getting obstacles out of the path of a jelled team.
They dont need to be managed in the traditional sense.

Management by Hysterical Optimism For a manager to believe that workers will

automatically accept the organizations goals is a sign of naive managerial optimism.
Whatever the job role of a worker is, wether he is a database-specialist or a gui-designer,
the worker still is a human-being who makes thoughtful value-judgement-calls with his
friends and family. He/She also brings these judgment-calls to work. This causes the
organisations goals to be judged awfully arbitrary by the worker/team.
The situation is different with the manager of the team, he/she has a strong personal
incentive to accept the corporate goals. The managers boss has made the corporate goal
line up exactly with one of the managers goals by giving him/her more authority and
responsibility for the next project, of course upon successful completion of the current
If you work for a religious organization or a foundation or any other organization in
which all employees are bound together by common belief, then you may be able to
count on their natural affinity for the organizations goals. Otherwise forget it.

The Guns of Navarone The goals of corporations are always going to seem arbitrary
to people. The goals in sports are always going to seem utterly arbitrary. The Universe
doesnt care who will win the sports game, but a lot of people get themselves very
involved in the outcome.
People who work in jelled teams have an aligned goal (They all try to accomplish the
same thing). They often get so involved that theyre psyched up enough to storm the
Guns of Navarone, all just to pass some acceptance test for the project-software.
A manager will always be strongly motivated toward goal attainment (goal completion),
so will the individual people in the team. Yet the purpose of the team is not goal
attainment but goal alignment.

Signs of a Jelled Team

low turnover

The team members arent going anywhere till the work is done
money and status matter less or not at all

strong sense of identity

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a name for the group (i.e. Gang of Four, the Black Team, Chaos Group)
team members hang out during lunch or after work

sense of eliteness

team members feel that they are part of somehting unique and are probably
annoying to people who are not part of the group

joint ownership of the product

team members are pleased to have their names grouped together on a product
or a part of one

obvious enjoyment

Jelled teams just feel healthy

Teams and Cliques The difference between a team and a clique is like the difference
between a breeze and a draft. They have identical meanings: cool current of air.
If you find this cool current delightful, you call it a breeze; if you find it annoying, you
call it a draft.
People use team when the tight bonding of the jelled team working group is pleasing
to them. And they use clique when it represents a threat. Fear of cliques is a sign
of managerial insecurity. Managers are often not true members of the team, so the
loyalities that exclude them are stronger than the ones that bind them into the group.
The loyalities within the group are stronger than those tying the group to the company.

2 Chapter 19: The Black Team

Once upon a time, there was a company that made large computers systems and the
software that operated these systems. This software had a lot of bugs and for a while
the company made efforts to train customers to make them more tolerant for bugs.
Eventually they realized that they where going to have to get rid of the bugs, but the
programmers themselves where not very good in finding bugs in their own programs.
They couldnt find the last remaining bugs, so they often declared the software to be
done when there were still lots of bugs.
Some people where better at finding bugs than others, so the company formed a group
of these talented testers and told them to do final testing on critical software before it
was sent to customers. Thus was born the legendary Black Team. The Black Team was
made up of people slightly more motivated to find bugs in software and since they didnt
write the software themselves, they where free of the cognitive dissonance that hampers
developers when testing their own programs. (They where free to break the software
with all means possible)
The team was good in the beginning, but the most suprising thing is how much it im-
proved during the next year and the years to come. The team was forming a personality

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of its own. This personality was beeing shaped by an adversary philosophy of testing
that evolved among group members, a philosophy that they had to want and expect to
find defects in the software.
At first it was simply a joke that the tests they ran were mean and nasty, and that the
team members actually loved to make your code fail. Then it wasnt a joke at all. They
began to cultivate an image of destroyers. To enhance the growing image of nastiness,
team members began to dress in black - hence the name Black Team.

3 Chapter 20: Teamicide

Whats called for here is a concise chapter entitled Making Teams Jell at Your Com-
pany - to give the reader practical tools to aid the process of making teams jell. Well,
you cant make teams jell. You can hope they will jell; you can cross youre fingers; you
can act to improve the odds of jelling; but you cant make it happen.
It is very hard to think of specific things you can do to make team formation possible, so
we will use a trick called inversion. We will list different ways to make team formation
impossible and this strategy we will call teamicide.

Defensive Management: In many areas of risk it makes sense for a manager

to take a defensive posture - while dealing with a difficult client or working with
error prone gear. But you cant protect yourself against your own peoples incom-
petence. Once a manager has decided to go with a certain group, the best tactic
is to trust them. If the manager does not trust his own people and is worried that
the errors made by the team will reflect badly on him then the group members will
soon come to believe that they are not allowed to make mistakes. The message
that the managers doesnt trust them comes through loud and clear in this case.
There is no message you can send that will better inhibit team formation.
Most Managers operate on the basic premise that their people may operate com-
pletely autonomously, as long as they operate correctly. This amounts to no au-
tonomy at all. The only freedom that has any meaning is the freedom to proceed
differently from the way your manager would have proceeded. Its only the right
to be wrong that makes you free. People who feel untrusted have little inclination
to bond together into a cooperative team.

Bureaucracy: Bureaucracy = Paperwork.

Studies have shown that paperwork accounts for more than thirty percent of the
cost of producing a given product. And as a manager, just telling your people that
the goal matters wont be enough if you also have to tell them they should spend
a third of their time pushing paper.

Physical Seperation: When a group is scattered over multiple floors or even

in different buildings the specific work interactions (i.e. over the telephone) may
not suffer terribly, but there is no casual interaction. Group members may grow
stronger bonds to nongroup neighbors, just because they see more of them. Also,
neighboring workers are a source of noise and disruption. When theyre all on the

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same team, they tend to go into quiet mode at the same time, so there is less
interruption of flow.

Fragmentation of Peoples Time: Fragmentation is not only bad for team

formation but also bad for efficiency. When someone tries to be part of 4 different
working groups, he/she has 4 times as many interactions to track. They spend all
their time changing gears. No one can be part of multiple jelled teams. The tight
interaction of jelled teams are exclusive.

The Quality-Reduced Product: Nobody really talks about quality reduced

products, what they talk about is a cost-reduced product, but it basically boils
down to the same thing. By assigning a working group a cost reduced project, their
self-esteem and enjoyment are undermined by the necessity of building a product
of clearly lower quality than what they are capable of. There is no joint sense of
accomplishment in store for them.

Phony Deadlines: There certainly are cases where a tight but not impossible
deadline can constitute an enjoyable challenge to the team. Whats never going to
help, however, is a phony deadline. The work has been defined in such a way that
success is impossible and the message to the workers is clear: The boss is a robot
with no respect or concern for them. The boss believes that they wont get any
work done except under pressure.

Clique Control: Sometimes the management of a company takes specific steps

to break up teams in order to prevent cliques. There may be an explicit policy that
teams cant be allowed to stay together from one job to another. Or, there may
be a policy to slowly de-staff a team and steer seperate people into new projects.
Still other organizations take no specific steps to disband teams.

4 Chapter 21: A Spaghetti Dinner

Manager invites all group member overs to her house for a get-together so ev-
eryone gets to know eachother

Everyone has a good time and they tell eachother stories

Everyone gets hungry as the evening approaches

Since there is a supermarket near by, they decide to go shopping and make dinner

Team-effects are beginning to happen as they roam through the supermarket (to-
tally un-organised, everyone throws things into the cart which they think are
needed) and the manager seems to have anything on her mind except dinner as
she keeps on telling stories

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Back at the house there is still no general direction of who will do what but
the manager immediately starts chopping onions after someone suggests that this
would be needed

Gradually a dinner comes together which is then eaten with delight by everyone

Whats been going on here? So far, no work has gone into the project but the people
have just had their first success as a group: making dinner. Success breeds success, and
productive harmony breeds more productive harmony.
And the moral of the story: You have to look twice to see the managers hand in any of
this, it just seems to be happening. The best boss is the one who can manage this over
and over again without the team members knowing they have been managed.

5 Chapter 22: Open Kimono

Some managers are pretty good at helping teams to jell. In this chapter, we examine
one characteristic of these team-oriented managers.
The Open Kimono attitude is the exact opposite of defensive management. You take no
steps to defend yourself from the people youve put into positions of trust. And all the
people under you are in positions of trust. A person you cant trust with any autonomy
is of no use to you. To know that the boss has put part of his or her reputation into
the team-members hands brings out the best in everyone. The team has something
meaningful to form arround. Theyre not just getting the job done. Theyre making
sure that the trust thats been placed in them is rewarded. It is this kind of Open
Kimono management that gives teams their best chance to form.

The Getaway Ploy The most common means by which bosses defend themselves from
their own people is direct physical oversight. They wander through the work areas,
looking for people who are goofing off. The though of not doing this from time to
time is inconceivable to many managers. If youve got decent people under you, there is
probably nothing you can do to improve their chances of success more dramatically than
to get yourself out of their hair occasionally. Any seperable task is a perfect opportunity
to send the team away. Find a remote office, hire a conference room, borrow somebodys
summer house, put them up in a hotel or take advantage of off-season rates at ski areas
and beaches.
Have the team go to a conference and let them work together in peace for a few days.
Visual supervision is for prisoners.
In addition to making them more efficient, the getaway and the periods of total autonomy
give them an improved chance to jell into a high-momentum team.

There Are Rules and We Do Break Them; The Skunkworks Project: Skunkworks
implies that the project is hidden away someplace where it can be done without the up-
per managements knowing whats going on. This happens when people at the lowest
levels believe so strongly in the rightness of a product that they refuse to accept the

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managements decision to kill it. Digitals (d i g i t a l corp.) PDP-11, one of DECs

most successful products, came to the market in this manner. (doesnt Alan Cox use
one of those?)

Chickens with Lips Note from frosty: I have no idea why they picked this title, it has
nothing to do with the following text.
The idea is to allow people at the lowest level some voice in team selection. The company
would post projects on a central kiosk and people would form themselves into candi-
date teams and then bid on jobs. This scheme gives people two unusual degrees of
freedom: They get to choose the projects they work on and the people they work with.
The suprising finding is that the first of these factors doesnt matter very much. The
management would, in this case, probably fear that only the glamorous project would
be bid for, but it doesnt happen that way. What seems to matter is the chance for
people to work with those they want to work with.

Whos in Charge Here? The best bosses take some chances. They take chances on
their people. None of this says that they dont give direction and make judgements of
their own. They have to do this all the time. The suggestion here is that they do this
only by exercising their natural authority. In the best organizations, there is natural
authority working in all directions. The manager is known to be better at some things,
perhaps setting general directions, negotiating, and hiring, and is trusted to do those
things. Each of the workers is known to have some special area of expertise, and is
trusted by all as a natural authority in that area. In this atmosphere of Open Kimono,
the team has its optimal chance to jell.

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