Here are some strategies to keep work moving forward:

Hone Your Hiring Skills
In good times and bad, you want to hire the very best people you can afford.

Look for value. The fact that a candidate lists a lower salary requirement doesn't mean that he isn't competent. It may mean that he has less experience or is willing to take a lower salary to move into an area where his experience and skills are not a perfect fit. These may be just the people you want to find.

When you interview, focus on functional skills and ability to learn. Look for how well the candidate's work style and personality fits with the group. (For more on hiring, read Johanna Rothman's forthcoming article, "Ready, Aim… Hire," which will appear in STQE magazine, March/April 2003.)

Prioritize Relentlessly
Development managers and test managers are always juggling more work than the staff can handle. If you can't adequately staff all the projects on your agenda, staff the highest priority projects appropriately. Put the lowest priority projects on hold. You can always pick up low-priority projects again when the more important work is complete. (But check before you start them up again. Sometimes those projects slip from "low priority" to "no priority.")

Avoid Spreading People Too Thin
Some people believe that if you move forward a little bit on every project, somehow all the projects will be accomplished. This may work when there is no time frame and no quality criteria specified. For most people, 10 percent time here, 15 percent there, in bits and pieces adds up to much less than 100 percent productivity. To get the most work done most effectively, assign people to only one or two projects.

Manage Coaching Proactively
Mentoring and coaching are part of the job description for many tech leads, test leads, and team leads. There are limits to how much coaching one person can do and still accomplish their own work. Don't expect forty hours' worth of deliverables each week from someone who is coaching other team members. If you have an inexperienced staff of five or six, and one team lead, count on one to two days of coaching time a week for your lead.

Schedule "coaching time" in blocks so that the lead isn't subject to constant interruptions. An open coaching session can provide a good learning opportunity where all less-experienced team members attend. Each person will learn from the answers to others' questions as well as their own.

Use Reviews and Walkthroughs
Reviews are almost always a good practice to consider and they are essential when you're working with new or inexperienced staff. Technical reviews aren't just for developers. Any software product can be reviewed: requirements, use cases, designs, test plan, test cases, test scripts, install scripts, and of course, code.

In addition to finding errors, reviews provide passive learning. As with open coaching sessions, each reviewer will learn from the issues they find and from the issues that others bring up in the review.

Walkthroughs focus more on education than on finding defects. Walkthroughs can be an effective way for new people to increase their product knowledge.

The pendulum may have swung the other way for a time, but no matter what the economic conditions, hiring the best people you can afford and managing proactively won't go out of style.

About the author

Esther Derby's picture Esther Derby

A regular and Better Software magazine contributor, Esther Derby is one of the rare breed of consultants who blends the technical issues and managerial issues with the people-side issues. She is well known for helping teams grow to new levels of productivity. Project retrospectives and project assessments are two of Esther's key practices that serve as effective tools to start a team's transformation. Recognized as one of the world's leaders in retrospective facilitation, she often receives requests asking her to work with struggling teams. Esther is one of the founders of the AYE Conference. She co-author of Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great. She has presented at STAREAST, STARWEST and the Better Software Conference & EXPO. You can read more of Esther's musings on the wonderful world of software at and on her weblog at Her email is

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