September 22, 2009 by
Filed under: Leadership, People, Quality, Teamwork 

Particularly in these challenging times, over and above the uncertainty that is usually associated with technology projects, there is one attribute that should guide us in building our teams, and support us in weathering the current storm: resilience.

In order to survive the ups and downs, the surprises and the pitfalls of many projects, the team needs to be able to withstand and bounce back from these adversities. This goes beyond embracing and adapting in the face of change, it means having the strength to recover.

As with many attributes, resilience can be applied to individuals on the team, the team itself, the project, and the product that is being built.

For the participants of the team, we all personally need to be able to work through difficult times: a challenging setback, working with difficult peers, a nasty technical challenge that refuses to yield. We need a store of reserves to sustain us through these situations, faith in our ability to achieve our goals, and a knowledge that the adversity will not last forever.

For the team itself, challenging times come in the relationships among one another, and the resulting conflict that can occur when people with different perspectives and objectives clash. While both are interested in overall project success, it is often the case that viewpoints are at odds with one another. Be sure to resolve these perspectives, rationalize the discussion to a shared cause based on overall project goals, and recognize that both you and your teammate can be susceptible to the pressures of making decisions without all the information.

The project needs to have built in resilience in several ways. There needs to be a foundation of shared awareness of what the project is and where it is headed, to avoid disruptive misunderstandings, thereby reducing the need for team-based resiliency. There also needs to be a structure in place to defend against adversity: clear configuration management, reasonable change management, and appropriate contingency that accommodates the magnitude of uncertainty inherent in future activities.

Resiliency is also a consideration for the product being built as well. While building the product to ensure that it works in expected conditions, we also need to be sure that it doesn’t fall apart at the nearest hint of adversity. Invalid data or insufficient resources should not cause catastrophic failure, just as anticipated environmental conditions shouldn’t stop the physical product from falling apart.

In all of these cases, we need to be sensitive to the environment in which we reside. No particular approach will work for every situation, and we certainly can’t assume that the environment is as friendly as a sanitary lab or a series of test confirming that expected capabilities work. With that appreciation, we can begin to design in resilience at all levels. This is an ongoing effort and takes reasonable consideration to become and remain resilient, but is critical for sustained success.

At the personal or team level, an external contractor cannot bestow resilience upon the team with a quick intervention, and it won’t come from reading a book and announcing that “we’re resilient”. For the project and product, it needs to be built into the fabric itself, and rarely is sufficient if added in as an afterthought.

At what level do you need to start improving resilience today, and how are you going to do so? – JB


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