Jul 272011

A while back, I gave trainings for the “Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering”. As part of the course material there were exercises based on the story of an Amazon-like webshop where participants had to develop a vision, identify and specify some use cases, model the objects and dependencies and so forth.
A typical question raised during the modelling exercise was the following: The shopping basket and the order – are these two separate entities or are they one entity with different states?
My answer always was that you can choose either of the options – whatever you and the team prefer and what fits best into the rest of your model.
Sometimes this question followed: “Yes, but what is the correct way?”.
I always wondered what people had made of one answer or the other.

To me these episodes indicate a more fundamental problem:
A team member is there to contribute to the work of the whole team. The more the rest of the team can make of an individual’s contribution, the more valuable is this input. However, some don’t seem to worry about the usefulness of their results. They occupy themselves trying to fulfil a specified function – they want to do something “right”, but they don’t consider if this is also effective.

Reasons for such a behavior may be among the following:

  • it’s the character of the person, possibly formed by education
  • the person could be overwhelmed by her task and looking for a simple “recipe” she could follow
  • the environment makes people to keep their backs covered

Whatever the reason is, it hinders productivity of the whole team and requires action.

Smart contributions
The contributions a problem solving team requires are variable and depend on current needs. They can hardly be defined upfront with templates and checklists. Instead, each team member needs to listen, feel the vibes and be able to adjust.
Management needs to facilitate this by creating an atmosphere where people feel that their individual contributions matter and are valued. The team as a whole needs to be focussed on the outcome and allowed some room for finding a good solution. This includes making mistakes and learning from them.

The more you have people capable and motivated of delivering smart inputs, the more productive the project will be – especially when it has to deal with many unknowns and frequent changes. Individual reason and experience are the most valuable contributions a team and a project can get.