Recipe for Team Excellence


My new role as our team's Test Manager marks the fourth team that I've managed in the past 13 years of leading software teams. The transitions have always been a time when I'm forced to step back to think about what I want to accomplish as a team leader and team member of my new team. This transition is no exception to that process.

I want any team that I am a member of to be an outstanding team. How can I help my new team get recognized as an excellent test team – one of the top test teams in our division and the company? How do we challenge ourselves to be the best that we can be?

With this context, I've been thinking about the recipe for team excellence. Here are the four key ingredients that I've been thinking about:

Great People – Any high performing team starts with a great mix of outstanding individuals. You need a team with a variety of skills, experiences, and core competencies. As the 'plucky' Minnesota Twins have shown us again this year, it's not always the team with the superstars that wins. It's often the team with the best complementary set of team members that can work well together that ultimately wins out (and not those 3rd place White Sox J). You need both talented individuals and the right mix to build a great team.

Clear Mission – A team with a clearly articulated, motivating, mission can do amazing things. JFK's challenge to put a man on the moon was a mission that NASA and the whole country could back. Team members should be able to articulate the team's purpose and why it's important to the company and its customers.

Capable Tools – Tools, including processes, that enable a team to focus on creating a great product for its customers are an important success factor. As I've learned at Microsoft, this is especially true for large scale development.

Feedback – Fundamentally, you need feedback to get better. One of the things that I like best about Scrum is the quick turnaround of Sprints. You plan, execute, review, and reflect all within 30 days. Fast, thorough feedback is especially a key factor for test teams. The more real time that information on the product is communicated, the more efficient the organization will be.

I should note that I could have stopped with the first two ingredients. A team made up of great people with a clear mission will figure out what it needs to do to be successful. But the last two ingredients are certainly worthy additions to the list.

So that's my short list of key ingredients and what I plan to focus on in my new role. Is it the right list? What's missing?

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