- 17 December, 2020
- Article - Teams and Culture
The way we build software is changing. The way we run our processes is changing. The reason is simple: we have to deliver faster. As pressure to compete for customers in the digital world continues to mount, we have been re-arranging our ways of work to embrace the chaos in modern industry, with shortened delivery cycles.
In order to exploit these broader possibilities, we need diverse skills within our teams – skills that go beyond technical competence and domain knowledge. Cross-functional teams housing every discipline (including business), working in smaller units and with a large degree of autonomy, are proving to be the most effective.
Team structures and operating models have to adapt to support these new ways of work. This means that the skills and people in our teams need to adapt towards these needs. Technology teams are not just implementers anymore. Skills previously considered ‘soft’ skills like empathy, critical thinking and curiosity are quickly becoming technical skills core to the craft in all software engineering roles.
The sheer breadth of possibilities in technology means that it’s just not possible anymore to solve a problem competitively in the market without inviting diversity of ideas, insights and engineering to the processes of product design and requirements specification. Technology teams need to be able to make informed decisions no matter the situation they find themselves in. They are closer to business than ever, they have access to customers, and are making more and more decisions themselves internally.
Individuals who can learn faster but without the requisite tech experience may outperform average or weak team members with perfect tech experience, in a short period of time. We need to consider different competencies in the new skills profile for tech teams.
When recruiting, organising and training your technology teams, there needs to be a renewed understanding of which skills really are critical, and which would be a perk. The new face of technology skills prioritises thinking, engagement and problem solving.
1. Individuals need to have the ability to solve problems and show a rational thought process. This is determined by seeing whether they can articulate decisions made on their current or previous projects. Presenting ideas and communicating a vision is imperative, as is listening and understanding concepts in a team.
2. A well-rounded team member needs to understand the fundamentals of their craft (development, analysis, data, UX, etc). For team members this means truly understanding core process, tools and pattern from their own perspective (not the textbook). For analysts, this could be requirements elicitation, communication and documentation, and for software engineers it could be languages, data structures and algorithms or design patterns.
3. Culture-fit is important, many softer skills will make team members much easier to work with. Coachability, approachability and empathy are key ones here. As collaboration extends beyond the traditional IT borers and into business, product, ops and even outside the organisation, these people-oriented skills are now critical to engineering productivity.
Smaller, self-organising teams and high pace delivery models are becoming the norm because it means better products which are in the market sooner. The type of skills required for these teams is dramatically different to what we needed just 5 years ago. We need to deprioritise focusing solely on industry experience and technical expertise. The skills profile for our technology delivery teams has changed, and we need to rethink how we train, recruit and orient our cultures towards these new skillsets.