Shall I compare thee (team) to….
Sports team, military unit or small business, what’s the best metaphor for a software team?
Analogies have been going strong, long before William Shakespeare wrote this famous sonnet. Our minds are naturally geared towards using things we understand to try to get our minds around concepts that are more abstract. So Shakespeare uses here the image of a beautiful summer’s day to describe the beauty and vigour of youth. In more modern-day language we may say that finding some information is like finding a needle in a haystack; the idea of rummaging through straw for a sharp object is an analogy that helps us understand and describe the sometimes painful experience of locating the right information.
I’ve been thinking lately about what analogies have power when it comes to coaching teams. Some obvious ones come to mind — a software squad is like a sports team; working together and with an able coach, the team must combine as a unit to win. The military is another rich source of metaphor for a high performing team, the ‘enemy’ in this case being anything that gets between the team and their mission (e.g. confusion)
Some analogies are less common. Cooking and the idea of a team coming together to prepare a tasty result for the customer is not often explored by coaches of software teams. Another paradigm I don’t see a lot is theatre and the creative arts. In fact when you stop to think about it a lot of the words we use in software come from the world of the arts. We deploy our work to a staging server, before putting it to production. In the world of business analysis we talk about persona and even actors. From there we may do a big room planning and write some stories. We all have a role to play in this.
The metaphor that is resonating with me the most at the moment is ‘team as small, entrepreneurial business’. This is not a new analogy, for example principles in Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup are being applied to teams within large corporations.
Following this analogy, powerful questions to put to your team are:
- Who are your customers (including internal teams)?
- What products or services does your team offer?
- Do you offer any Service Level Expectations around your services?
- How valuable are your services? How would your customers describe the value?
- What ‘suppliers’ (including internal teams and processes) do you rely on?
- If you do rely on suppliers, are you happy with their service to your team? Do these suppliers offer any service level expectations?