So, what is a Team?

1. side in sports competition: a group of people forming one side in a sports competition
2. cooperatively functioning group: a number of people organized to function cooperatively as a group
3. animals worked together: two or more animals worked together, especially to pull a vehicle or agricultural equipment
4. team of animals with vehicle: a team of animals and the vehicle harnessed to them
5. animals performing together: a group of animals that perform or are shown together
6. grouping of animals: a grouping of animals, e.g. a flock, brood, or herd

It’s a bit unnerving that 4 of the 6 entries concern animals, butthat’s the English language for you. I like the following a bit better…

Verb 1 (team up) come together as a team to achieve a common goal

… because it refers to ‘a common goal’.

Why do we form teams? Because some goals cannot be accomplished byindividuals; usually an individual does not have all the needed skillsrequired to accomplish the goal, so other individuals that do have theskills are brought onto the team.

This has been true of human activity and culture for millennia;specialists have always existed that work together on teams, especiallywhen specialty skills require great effort and experience to master. Sowhen it was decided about 50 years ago that creating software requiredmultiple skills, it was a natural progression that the team structurewould be used.

However, is a team of specialists the best way to develop software?Because software development is so new, we tend to use analogies ofother development/construction to help us understand what we are tryingto accomplish; building a house is an-often used analogy.

The problem is that software is very different than building a house, an idea well described as follows:

“The software-controlled electronic information system isfundamentally different from physical labor-saving devices such as thecotton gin, the locomotive, or the telephone. Rather than extend theability of hand motion, leg motion, or the ability to hear and speakacross distances, IT systems extend the capabilities of the mind—tothink, to organize and disseminate information, to create.”
David R. Brousell
Managing Automation Magazine
New York, October 2001

Because developing software is so different, is a team ofspecialists the best structure for software projects? This is trulywhat Agile is trying to figure out. I just don’t know if they have gotit right yet, as the nature of the software development process isstill difficult to capture, CMMI and other approaches not-withstanding.

In the mean-time, your IT department is chock-full of specialists.Winston Churchill is famously quoted as saying that “democracy is theworst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”For right now, I will have to say this is also true of teams ofspecialists for IT Projects.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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