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How do you create the most innovative software? Start with dynamic teams.

How the best Silicon Valley teams liberate talent, minimize risk and reduce turnover

It’s a little-known fact, but many of the most innovative software products of the last few decades (Linux, MongoDB and SPARC, to name a few) were initially built by dynamic teams working part-time from a wide variety of locations.

Contrast this with the old school way to develop enterprise software: Static teams. All too often, this military-influenced approach brings together a complete squad with every needed skill, and keeps them together until the mission is completed. This brings up a number of issues that get in the way of innovation, including:

  • Inflexibility: Digital innovation is an iterative process, so the skills needed later in the project are not always known at the beginning. In the middle of a project, as developers get new ideas about how to delight end users, different skillsets are called for, and static teams struggle to keep up with these evolving needs.
  • Inefficiency: Staffing people before they are needed leads to a “hurry up and wait” culture where inefficiency and boredom are taken for granted. Morale suffers.
  • Stifling: Excited people create exciting projects. Bored people do the opposite. When talented people are locked into a long-term project and are underused, their opportunities to advance their skills are limited. And locking up top talent on a single project means that their valuable skills are not available to peer review other projects or to mentor talent.

As we know, the best Silicon Valley software teams are dynamic. So what is it about dynamic teams that unlocks innovation? The key attributes of a successful dynamic team are:

  • Distributed: While the talent pool in any given area is finite, the distributed talent pool provides unlimited availability. Crowdsourcing the best global talent opens up entirely new possibilities.
  • Elastic: The number of team members on any given week should be dictated by the work to be done. It’s vastly more efficient to bring in the right resources at the right time, instead of locking in a fixed set of resources for the entire project. Just-in-time staffing also enables expert resources to be brought in as needed to audit project deliverables in real time to optimize quality and minimize risk.
  • Hybrid: High performance teams combine the best qualities of in-house and external talent. In-house people understand the business context and corporate processes, but often top technical skills come from contractor or freelance resources.

Dynamic teams provide great value for companies that want to accelerate innovation, but they require planning and hard work as well, especially at early stages of the project lifecycle. Key considerations include:

  • Invest in connecting: Working remotely shouldn’t mean working impersonally. To build trust and enable effective collaboration, teams need ground rules. This can include turning cameras on for videoconferencing, timely response to messages. Even with distributed teams, occasional face to face meetings with end users and business sponsors is critical, particularly for the product and project managers.
  • On-boarding is everything: Team happiness starts with a clear understanding of team roles, common processes and the consistent use of tools. Don’t make the mistake of having one “big bang” team kickoff. Plan for personnel changes, and provide just-in-time on-boarding to ensure that each new member is ready to go, no matter when they start.
  • Measure results, not hours: The agile process encourages each developer to take ownership for completing the user stories assigned to them. It is vastly more efficient to focus on the output of an activity instead of measuring the hours spent on a task.

The Future of Work is distributed: Collaboration will increasingly happen from home and remote offices, different time zones, or even from teams with members in different buildings. Companies that embrace this trend and harness the power of dynamic teams have a significant head start in achieving digital leadership.

Chris Keene
As CEO, Chris drives Gigster’s vision to de-risk digital innovation. Chris was previously VP Cloud for VMware, where he led the $400 million Pivotal spinout. Chris also founded and took public Persistence Software (NASDAQ:PRSW)

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