Team players and MVPs

Team players (yes, these two are mine...)

What are the qualities you look for in a “team player”? Respect? Experience? Competence? Levelheadedness? A great personality?

When I hear people use the phrase, I confess I don’t know what they really mean. That is, I know it is a common phrase, but I wonder if people give the jargon any thought.

Sometimes it seems people use the words when they really just wants someone else to change… as in “he/she is not a very good team player”. Yet they offer no (or little) direction on precisely how to become one.

Have you ever met a “team player” you didn’t like to work with? Have you ever seen the term “team player” used in quotes, besides in this post? Ever?

Putting the jargon aside, who do you want on your teams?

Standardization, commonality and best practices

Every project includes some fundamental tasks. Sometimes they are repeatable, even mechanical, and you can train people to do them. You can often anticipate contingencies, and you can teach people to recognize them and act appropriately when they arise.

To that extent, you can train people and substitute them into teams as backups or replacements. So we cross-train on each others’ jobs to provide backup for people to go on vacations. We define standard practices and “best practices” and teach them to people to drop our costs of repeating the same tasks over and again.

Now, the last thing we need is somebody on the team who messes up our routines every day. The person who habitually “breaks the build” or who fails to write unit tests forces his teammates to bear added costs to keep everything running smoothly, until eventually we start to wonder how we can get those people off our team.

So the factors that help us work together in standard practices are one thing that makes us good “team players”.

But that is not the end of the story…

Marginal utility in the team

Not everybody takes the tiller

This post is the fourth in the principles of economics in software development series. We are pausing for a time on the third of Greg Mankiw’s principles, which says “rational people think at the margin“.

Last week I wrote about the implications of this principle on the value of our work (and our salaries). As an illustration, I suggested the difference between the professional basketball player’s income and the amateur’s income might come down to four extra baskets per game.

They’re paid all the extra money because of the incremental points they score.

Now, nobody asked them to score those points in high school or college. Nobody forced them to practice. Nobody read their job description to them.

They did the work. They built their abilities. They found ways to produce value for their teams… and they earned their rewards.

For that, they were not easily replaced. For that, they could compel a little VIP status. For that, they sometimes got out of hand, acted like prima donnas and started producing high costs for their employers (and themselves).

Thinking at the margin doesn’t discriminate

So while there are marginal utilities, which produce marginal value… there are also marginal costs.

“Rational people think at the margin” means nobody worries about what is the same. All “team players” who follow standard practices and never step out of line, but never produce incremental value over their coworkers may feel “safe”… whatever that means to them. But they can never be valued any more than what is commonplace (…and there is nothing wrong with that).

Hire this guy? The most interesting guy in the world...

On the other hand, rational people evaluate the costs associated with picking up those few extra points in a basketball game… with adding that expert to their team, along with any eccentricities they bring. The person who has that unique knowledge of a technology or who can make the database “sing”, but who may not perfectly fit in some other way, might be just what is missing.

They evaluate whether it’s “worth it” – worth the costs in terms of time, energy, money and lost opportunities. And then they willingly make investments to get access to all the difference in the world, if it will help them achieve their tactical, strategic or ultimate objectives.

So let me ask again… who do you want on your teams?

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The rise of the IT “super genius”

The future of the IT organization?

The successful IT professional of 2020 will interact with users more like the Apple Genius Bar consultant does today…

What a quote from Joe Jorczak of Oracle Corporation (posted by Andy Jankowski earlier this Spring)!

One theme of his comments was that user-generated applications would arise from the mishmash of technologies available today, combined with the plethora of distribution channels for distributed, single-purpose apps.

In that scenario, users exploit the “salad bar” metaphor I like to use so much. They take what they want from available enterprise services and leave the rest behind.

Only beyond simply leveraging a Service-Oriented Architecture, Andy is proposing they increasingly build their own apps on those services… and the experienced CIO will now be asking “How should we support these apps?”

From salad bar to genius bar

Now, enterprise architects have envisioned the great IT salad bar (or more likely their own analogy) for ages…

    • before web services
    • before Java
    • before CORBA
    • before DCE

I figure the notion of mix-and-match, integrated systems ought to go back to the dawn of the network itself, if not earlier…

Similarly, we have endured many phases of “user-generated” applications. There were a few vendors of “plain English” programming languages who predicted them when I was in high school back in 1984!

What does it take to be a genius?

So whether it happens this time around or not, my question is what would it take to make IT into the “genius bar” for supporting user-generated applications?

Let me post a few ideas, and then you can add your own so we can chat about them (not in any particular order):

Super Genius

  1. What services we can get from the outside world, especially (but not always) for free, we need to catalog, stay abreast of changes and make available to these “apps”
  2. The services that are special to our organizations MUST become service-oriented… to make use of a given feature, apps don’t want to have the whole ERP system tag along
  3. We must take on a customer service (even a “retail service”) perspective if we are not already working on it, and we have to put in place ways to measure “true” customer satisfaction
  4. We have to think very carefully about how much “control” we really need, while we also build in flexibility and fluidity to support enabling these apps to flourish
  5. We must reset our notions of security and confidentiality to lock down and protect what we must secure, while intentionally and strategically exposing what is really not that proprietary anyway
  6. We have to uproot the idea that we can “manage demand” from our management philosophy – the industry changes, customer expectations change, and demand simply “is”

To be clear, these are not suggestions I think every IT organization must follow… they are ones that I see as necessary if the genius bar is in our future. What else do you think will change if we increasingly see user-generated applications in the future? Can you envision new roles and even new management structures?