Rebooting the Team: Lessons Learned in an Introspective Year

Fran Fabrizio (Minnesota Population Center, U of Minnesota), Peter Clark (Minnesota Population Center, U of Mn)
Community
Location: E144
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Slides:   1-PDF 

A year ago, our software development team ended up in a funk. The team had been buffeted by a lot of change, team members were feeling a bit lost, morale was flagging, and our work was beginning to suffer. Simply put, we had some bugs in our processes, relationships and environment which were preventing us from being the best team we could be. So we did what any good dev team does when it encounters bugs: we deconstructed the problems, determined the root causes, and implemented some fixes. Only this time, the bugs were in the wetware, not the software.

Over the past year, we’ve spent many hours together exploring a wide range of “soft” topics, including:

  • the psychology of motivation and what really works for motivating developers
  • cultivating and enforcing team-wide values and culture
  • rethinking the way we recruit, hire and organize staff
  • why being agile is more important than being Agile
  • keeping the team focused on our core purpose and competencies
  • being what you are – embracing the values and strengths of the organization
  • engaging our customers in ways which are most meaningful to them
  • adapting to and overcoming a challenging physical work environment

We even managed to get developers to talk openly about squishy things like feelings and emotions! Throughout it all, we gained a deeper understanding of ourselves as individuals, a team, and part of a larger organization. We’ve used these insights to enact changes which have resulted in a renewed sense of enthusiasm and purpose.

In this talk, we’ll share our story, tell you how we did it, take a look ahead as the effort continues, and discuss the lessons we learned along the way. We’ll explain how we secured management buy-in for the process, and how we did it without disrupting our daily project work. You’ll take away ideas and tools that can help you explore these critical but often tricky topics in order to give your own team a boost.

Photo of Fran Fabrizio

Fran Fabrizio

Minnesota Population Center, U of Minnesota

Fran Fabrizio is the IT Director for the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota, where he hacks out Ruby, Python and Perl as part of a team which builds the world’s largest demographic and census research databases. A 16-year veteran of the industry, the one constant of his career has been to use open source software to build reliable, adaptable systems that solve hard problems. In his spare time, Fran can be found making a terrible mess of the kitchen, poring over maps and anything else “geo”, and enjoying life (and beer) in the Twin Cities.

Photo of Peter Clark

Peter Clark

Minnesota Population Center, U of Mn

Peter Clark is the Director of Software Development for the Terra Populus project at the Minnesota Population Center, an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Minnesota. Peter leads the software development group for Terra Populus, facilitating easy access to vast amounts of data and documentation for the quantitative social sciences research community. Prior to joining the MPC, Peter worked at Net Perceptions, a vendor of collaborative filtering software, at Sun Microsystems, and as an independent consultant. In his spare time, Peter is working on a project to reconstruct the lost 1890 census.

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Picture of Fran Fabrizio
07/22/2013 3:19pm PDT

Pete and I are looking forward to giving this talk on Thursday! If you’re considering attending and have a specific aspect you’d like us to cover or there’s something specific about the abstract that resonates with you or relates to something you’re working on back home, leave a comment here and we’ll do our best to include it. Hope to see many of you there!

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