Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Team development

Yesterday, we had a team development day.

We looked at where we were in relation to the business plan and talked about the projections for the year ahead.

We talked about process. As with all teams, we find that we sometimes have communication and expectation issues. The challenge is how to deal with these. As a designer, I need to make commitments to my clients. When I do so, I make commitments on behalf of the production team. The thing is, I'm not really in a position to know what their commitments are and how they're set for work. This can result in my making promises that they can't keep. I guess it boils down to project management, which has been identified as a skill we lack.

We discussed the challenges facing us as the world moves forward and we have to keep rethinking the tools we use to meet client requirements. The existing tools are closed boxes and are not able to move forward to keep up with the changing requirements of the client. Our recent projects have required a move away from familiar tools. We're looking at eXe, which is an open source design tool. We've been using Etomite to build websites. This is a content management system - once again open source. I know not everyone supports the concept of open source, but for now these tools are doing the trick. An advantage is that the tools themselves are moving forward, as they are constantly being adapted and improved upon. I know some of my colleagues feel a little insecure about using something that's not complete. I guess it could be akin to standing on a bridge that doesn't quite reach the other side. Plus, of course, the user has the opportunity to contribute to the building of that bridge as they walk on it. I quite like the idea, although I can't see myself ever making a worthwhile contribution.

On the agenda for the team day was an item that piqued my interest: "Enjoy the freefall experience" it said. Hmm. My home town recently acquired one of these silo type things with the huge fans at the bottom, where you can experience a form of skydiving. Nah. Not enough time available. Could it be one of those dreadful teambuilding exercises where you have to fall straight backwards into the waiting arms of your colleagues trusting them to catch you? Gulp. All the insecurities well up - what if they conspire to let me fall? I can see that happening - my big mouth has ensured that I'm not universally popular. As it happened what had to freefall was not us, but eggs. We were given a list of equipment from which we were able to "purchase" what we wanted to use up to a certain number of points. Using these items, we had to construct something that would carry an egg safely to the ground when dropped from an upstairs window. Out of three teams, two eggs survived intact, while one cracked a little.

The object had obviously been team building, and we were grouped together with people outside of our usual teams. We also had to adopt unfamiliar roles in the process. In our team, the project leader more or less appointed himself, and fulfilled that role to start with. However, we all contributed to the design phase and it was all hands to the pumps when it came to the build, because of time constraints. So the division of roles was dropped pretty quickly in the interests of getting the product out. I don't think I need to spell out the implications...

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