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Reinventing and refreshing the organization

I think reinventing staff organizations such as process and quality assurance groups is a good idea. Engineers assigned to such staff groups get stale once they've put in more than three years of service. Being in an audit and support role, they forget how hard it is to develop and deliver quality products under extreme deadline pressures. They need to relearn what I call the humility of the trenches. That's why I believe staff groups should be populated with rotators and a small, core professional team. The rotators bring enthusiasm and fresh ideas to the table. The core team focuses the energy on the job at hand and maintains the knowledge base.

Revitalizing such staff groups is hard work [Caputo, 1998]. You are lucky. Most of the deadwood in your group has left. You can focus on bringing in the talent you need to reach Level 4. As mentioned earlier, the skills, knowledge, and abilities of these people are quite different from those needed to reach Level 3. At Level 3, you were trying to institutionalize an organizational process for software. To fully understand and be able to tailor the process, your staff had to become intimate with it. Because you were working with projects, collaborative skills were at a premium, as were teamwork abilities. In contrast, Level 4 focuses on using statistical process controls to reduce variability and increase effectiveness. Statistical analysis and metrics skills are now needed to take the data being collected and make sense of it [Wheeler, 1992]. While collaborative skills and teamwork abilities are still desirable, your staff needs to focus on using metrics data to quantify the process and making it work efficiently.

To reinvent the organization, start by crystallizing its mission. If reaching Level 4 within two years is your primary goal, try to avoid putting any of the Level 3 transition tasks in the mission statement. This will cause the organization to lose focus and become schizophrenic. To maintain emphasis, add details to your action plan as they become available. Groups tend to be shaky when their plans are vague. Don't let this happen. Continually refine your plan so that you can use it as a road map to deliver what you promise on schedule and within budget.

Refreshing a process group is fun. To succeed, the consultant recommends that you staff your process group with a core team of three and a manager as planned. The manager of the group is its chief spokesperson. This person handles the delicate interfaces with both middle and senior management. To do this effectively, you believe that this person needs to be a veteran of the organization. You are pleased because you have this qualification. The next two people are called the process arbitrators. They understand the process fully and can be called on to explain its provisions in detail. Besides writing processes, these people maintain the process knowledge base and manage the process asset library. The fourth person is the metrics analyst. This person is in charge of the metrics strategy and maintains the measurement database. You call on this person to address metrics questions and handle statistical process control issues.

To bring in fresh ideas, you plan to bring in specialists to supplement the core group on a rotation basis. The specialists will change to reflect your need for different talent at different times. Looking at the organization chart in Figure 5.4, we see that there would be four such slots in the process group. Two part-time slots are initially allocated to courseware development. The other two full-time slots are allocated to project interfaces. The technique of hiring recent retirees as consultants to work with projects is a good one. Of course, the people you hire must be knowledgeable and respected. If they aren't, their use may backfire.

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