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Using Agile, scaling back helps software projects in recession

“You are about to embark on a dynamic quality endeavor. It is time to throttle down on your already oversized and over-budget test and development teams.” That was the opening salvo of Michael Mah’s (QSM Associates) SQE Agile Development Practices Conference session, Rightsizing your project in a down economy.

Project teams are just too large, Mah said. Sure, the poor economy has prompted downsizing in this industry; but that could be a blessing in disguise. After all, there have been many years of impractical spending, mismatched teams and dysfunctional workplace goals in software projects.

For too long, Mah said, executives and managers have emphasized speed over quality, judging success by whether teams turn out code lines on time, rather than on delivering in a reasonable time frame quality code that’s free of obvious functional flaws. He’s seen promotions being given to project leaders who met deadlines without ensuring quality. The results? We are paying the ultimate price in lost jobs and market share, he said.

“Now that I have pointed out where the trouble began, let me now explain where the trouble continues,” said Mah. Today, he sees many companies using the recession as an excuse for adopting seriously questionable practices, like trying to cut steps to recovery by cutting down on employees. In the short term, this does free up some cash; but once a company has rebounded or is recovering, new team members will have to be hired. Of course, it takes precious time and money to train new employees and pay for newbie mistakes.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the overly-cocky executives who have spent more wisely over the years, they see this time where other companies are cutting back and pinching pennies as time to throw money and software at problems. This rarely works, and usually sends these companies into the downward spiral.

In a time of recession, throwing enormous manpower and software at problems will rarely resolve issues. It is more appropriate and intelligent to scale back, says Mah.

To scale back, project leaders should build strong relationships with a small core group of commited employees. Research your service and tool providers more thoroughly, gather references and check them.

“How many of you have some fear about loosing your job?” Mah asked the audience, and nearly all of them held up their hands. “And how does that make you feel? Bad, right?” Company and project leaders are responsible for alleviating fear, not creating it. Fearful teams don’t work productively. Often fear is responded upon with aggression.

The most effective way in managing concerned workers in a recession is by showing “concerned optimism,” Mah said. Explain the situation, but encourage the team. Leaders’ optimism and relationship helps team members feel confident in their abilities and have more belief that they are capable of working on innovative projects. A motivated and innovation-welcoming team is critical to success and growth. Optimism makes for more tolerable working environments and more creative problem solving.

“I remember a good many times I would work through 70+ overtime work weeks; partly because work needed to be done, but also because there was always a chance that the company president would see me there,” said Mah. “On the occasions when he did, he would always compliment me with a thumbs up and a ‘good job.’ That was all the praise I needed.”

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