K. Sabbak


A Study in Teams

August 03, 2018

Near the end of one's apprenticeship at 8L, the apprentice spends a few weeks pairing with crafters on clients called the pairing tour. It was a very interesting, informative and exciting three weeks for me, but what I found most intriguing was being able to see how teams worked at different clients. Up until recently I had worked on teams, but teams that worked in isolation, not in the context of a larger project or company. Getting to see how teams worked when they're part of something bigger, and seeing that part of consulting was very interesting and that's what this post is going to focus on.

This post will also give the teams I worked on Cool Code Names™ instead of using the client names because that's just not always an okay thing to do.

Team: The 'Burbs

This was an interesting team to work with because while there are a few people from 8th Light on the team, they mostly work remotely from the client, who has a fairly sizable team of their own. Despite the geographical barriers, I was really impressed by how this team worked largely as cohesive whole, with people on both the client and 8th Light side reaching out to each other with questions, help, code reviews and so on. Video chatting was a huge part of the work flow, and no one was ignored or left out of the loop. It was pretty nifty given that a lot of emphasis can be put on co-location, but this team certainly made it work

Team: The Cave

I found this client especially interesting. It was a fairly large company with multiple dev teams, and several people from 8th Light. Everyone was co-located, but the communication seemed much weaker. The 8th Lighters made a point to work with both client devs and each other and share knowledge and information. What was especially interesting though was how there seemed to be a breakdown in how information was communicated through the management structure, and I got to see the beginning of my pair using his consulting skills to step in and help work on the problem. The solution is in the works, but it was interesting to see the discussion start. It was very useful context for some of the consulting side skills I've been learning during my apprenticeship.

Team: Rainbow

While this team wasn't perfect, it was really interesting to see a much more cohesive co-located team at work. The team had quite a few 8th Light consultants on it, but it felt like one cohesive team with a lot of communication and understanding shared between everyone working in the room. I've wondered if the fact that the team does work from one room helped add to this cohesion. When I was there I knew the people working in that room had something to do with that project and understood the problem-space in a way I couldn't be sure of in the much more open office layout of The Cave, where I wasn't actually sure if the person on the desk adjacent was working on the same part of the codebase or if they were off working on a different part of the product that I knew nothing about. Also, their trello was really cool and had a lot of nifty things as a part of it (like using vertical space and a separator card to indicate level of urgency or part of the app).

Team: Talking Animals

This team had only one consultant from 8th Light working with everyone on the project and she was also located remotely. Maybe because it was a smallish team or maybe because it was remote, this project seemed very cleanly organized. Everyone seemed to have a very good idea of what needed doing, who was working on what and cross chatter seemed to be left only to what was needed. It kind of reminded me of a friend of mine who works in an office that while it is an open office plan, everyone is a quiet introvert - except instead of an office, everyone was remote. It's an interesting vibe to try and articulate, but overall a very nice one.

Team: Maybe Alaska?

Another team that was all remote, but this time with multiple 8th Light offices participating. The communication was great among the dev-team of 8th Lights but once every other part of the project stepped in, it was a lot more hectic and hard to follow. The project was super interesting, but a lot of the communication from the client seemed to be coming from several different directions and headed to several different people. It was interesting to watch my pair and the 8th Lights from other offices field this communication and then share it with one-another to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Team: The Maze

The last team I worked with was a very small group working in a very large company. The communication was again pretty great. While they didn't have their own room like Rainbow, they were all co-located in a single location within an office, so everyone on the team was also surrounded by the team making communication simple. This also had a weirdly isolating effect that I didn't notice from Rainbow, but that may have been because of the size of the company/office since it wasn't too different from The Cave. Though not about the team, it was interesting that I pairing on things that I had almost no experience in, and it was interesting to run into that at this point in my apprenticeship and see how I handled it -- and I'm pretty happy with how much I was able to grasp in only a few days.

Overall, the tour of clients was illuminating. Seeing how everyone used their communication and interpersonal skills in a consultant position was very helpful for modeling my future behavior. It's also interesting to see that the agile practice of co-locating was certainly impactful but isn't the only way to create team cohesion and good communication skills, and it also isn't a guaranty that those qualities will exist in the workplace.

Tags: pairing