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September - 2007 - issue > Cover Feature
Keeping the bar high recipes for building and sustaining high performance teams
Krishna Ubrani
Monday, September 3, 2007
One of the challenges in creating and sustaining high performance teams is the ability of teams to continue at peak excellence levels.

In many ways, it is easier to follow than to lead; getting to the top is only half the battle won. The real battle is how to stay on top.

Achieving excellence in processes be it people related or technology related, comes at a price called the cost of quality. Automating some of these processes helps in increasing predictability as well as reducing the cost of quality. To make these processes work beyond the initial phase, some choices have to be made early on. There could be many dilemmas while making strategic choices in people or team development, as well as product and technology choices. A few examples illustrate measures to achieving sustained performance in teams.

New trends such as Agile development are examples that force changes in behavior and take time to get used to. A “framework” that defines all the best practices and models needs to be created. As part of developing this framework, I have found it very valuable to educate team members about the pros and cons of adopting new approaches in an open and honest dialogue to get easier buy in to new processes.

With this understanding, teams usually do a better job of implementing and reaping the benefits of the proposed new approach, as compared to following them for the sake of being compliant. According to an ancient saying, repeating a good practice for 21 days works wonders in ingraining these best practices as permanent habits. Lesson: create a framework, rather than leave compliance to chance and individual whims.

Trends and new technologies such as Ajax also pose disruptive challenges to systems and teams, both in re-architecting existing systems and being able to learn and implement new technology without causing product regressions. While moving to Ajax enablement, or Web 2.0 as popularly known, product teams need to take an incremental approach, and automation of best practices helps in applying new principles effectively. Here again, technology and process frameworks contribute to continued application of best practices and their internalization.

Pressures of time to market often cause slips in product quality. Test-driven development, no more just a buzzword, pays rich dividends. An example is a unit testing system developed in tandem to the actual system under test. This might require open source tools to address diverse environments such as web, mobile, and proprietary networks and protocols that allow devices, servers, databases, and back end systems to work together to form seamless transacting entities, such as in mobile applications platforms. A well-planned test framework that grows with the product rather than as an after thought dramatically improves the quality and predictability of product releases.

In summary, when seemingly disruptive yet innovative practices are employed, they should be done within a framework that assures continued success. When newer and better processes are applied, there are short-term setbacks, but the benefits start becoming apparent over a longer period. These frameworks of concepts, new technology, and guidelines or work procedures have to be automated so that they become habit forming.Finally, it is very important that the reasons for adopting the new approaches are communicated to all tiers of the organization.

He can be reached at kubrani@xora.com

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