Monday, 7 November 2011

Three software development team archetypes

How can I use Sawyer's analysis to manage systems development?
"The sequential team archetype of software development team social structure draws on the work design tradition in industrial engineering. Work is seen as a set of discrete tasks that can be measured.
The group archetype draws its intellectual roots from theories of social psychology, such as 'work redesign'. Work redesign arose in response to such issues as personnel motivation, retention, and pro- ductivity that typically occur in a work design approach.
The network group archetype draws on concepts of social network theory. In this archetype a group of people is linked by the relative 'strength' of the social ties among them. Work is seen as the use of these links to deliver and receive information; these uses both span and define tasks."
As a diagnostic lens? As a tool to intervene?

Certainly Sawyer's archetypes are just that, archetypes or caricatures. All teams are hybrids but we easily recognise elements of the archetypes at different times and in our own behaviour. Perhaps a key insight is that our individual personalities and temperaments incline us towards one mode or another, perhaps at different times and regardless of the organisational structures in place. And each archetype invokes a specific remedy (communication can overcome the limitations of silos, groups often need direction and control, networks need opportunities to interact and bottle-necks can be a problem).

While it seems trivial and obvious to point out the reliance on social engagement as an underlying dynamic for teams, the 'obvious' is often ignored or worse, thought of in terms of something that can be manipulated. If we turn the last point on its head somewhat, team structure arises as a consequence of social relations, not the other way around. The activity of management (not necessarily the job title) can be seen as somehow fostering the social relations of a team rather than managing them.

Sawyer, S. (2004) Software development teams. Communications of the ACM, 47, 95 - 99.