Re: Empowered/Self-directed work groups

Subject: Re: Empowered/Self-directed work groups
From: Anne Halseytechwriter <ach -at- TOMICHI -dot- STORTEK -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 11 May 1994 13:58:52 -0600

Regarding Jill Heitpas' post on self-directed teams:

I was the tech comm lead supporting a software dev group which
ran - very effectively - as a self-directed work group. I'll
answer as many of your questions as I can.

To provide some background, the team developed software designed
to manage large volumes of data in an open systems architecture
environment. We implemented self-directed work groups as
a series of mini-teams, each of which had a mini-team lead.

1. The teams did use peer reviews on two levels.
They used informal peer reviews while a design
was in process in the early phases. When the
design reached what the IC (individual contributor)
felt was a 'stable' state, the code was subject to
a design walkthrough. A walkthrough facilitator
ensured that the walkthrough was thorough; a
carefully selected group of peers was gathered to
actually walk through the code. The atmosphere was
invariably one of considerate and constructive
critique, providing quite a learning experience for
all involved.

IMHO, this would be very effective in the doc arena.
At the very least, a flexible set of doc guidelines
should be the basis for this type of peer review. I
would also recommend some training on the role of the
facilitator (which should be a rotating role so
all team members learn how) and on peer review

2. Teams received training regarding the self-directed
work group concept, the role of facilitator, and
design walkthrough etiquette.

3. The teams were entirely responsible for scheduling
their own assignments and planning their own work.
However, this scheduling and planning had to conform
to the product development schedule (in other words,
work had to flow such that the product would move into
development phases according to a published schedule).

This was very effective as it forced the ICs to understand
how their efforts fit into a larger picture, and how
their deliverables became receivables for another group.
(For example, alpha code output from a developer became
alpha test input for the test group.)

4. The teams had input, in the form of submitting requirements,
to the budget process. They also had input to schedules,
as each mini-team lead was responsible for 'sizing' an
effort and providing estimated time of completion information -
including dependencies and potential danger spots - to the
management staff.

5. Need to eject a participant never occurred, so I cannot
provide specific input here. However, I would suggest some
sort of customer/supplier agreement or contractual
agreement spelling out deliverables and receivables.
This agreement should be evaluated at periodic intervals -
say, quarterly, and have the individual or team
rated as to how they met their commitments. This, in
theory, would give you some objective means of measuring
satisfaction as opposed to just saying "you're not doing
what I want so you're outa here!"

6. Typically, mini-team leads are part of the new employee
selection and interviewing process. Leads are given the
opportunity to sort through resumes and recommend individuals
to be interviewed. Leads are also usually participants during
the interviewing process - whether the interviews are one-
on-one or tag-team. Regardless, the lead who is destined to
'receive' the newbie is definitely on the interviewing
team. In fact, his/her opinion typically carries the most
weight, because he/she is most familiar with the work,
the environment, and the attitudes/personalities of other
team members so is most qualified to evaluate a
candidate's potential to 'fit' within the group.

7. I'm not sure I understand this question, so do not
feel comfortable offering an opinion.

8. We never encountered problems. Perhaps that goes back to
the effectiveness of the initial training on the self-
directed work group methodology and ground rules. My
experience was that people like being treated like logical,
reasoning adults. We just did not have the nursery school
mentality to deal with.

Anne Halsey
senior tech writer, storagetek
anne_halsey -at- stortek -dot- com

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