Communication and Cooperation When Implementing CM and ALM


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

Effective collaboration-the central goal of any CM or ALM strategy-is dependent upon both strong communication and cooperation. If you have been involved with any technology-related efforts, then you will instantly recognize how often teams struggle with effective collaboration, communication, and cooperation. Successful managers deal with these challenges and help their teams smooth out the conflicts that often threaten to disrupt the team's effectiveness. This article covers several key “people” issues that you should consider when implementing CM and ALM strategies.

CM or ALM–Which Comes First?
Configuration management (CM) is a broad discipline that touches every aspect of the software and systems lifecycle. Application lifecycle management (ALM) takes an even broader view and often requires working between teams or even divisions within an organization. It is hard to say whether you need to focus first on CM or ALM, and, perhaps, for our purposes it doesn't matter. What does matter is that we address the personality-based challenges of implementing CM and ALM strategies. Let's start by considering how we lay out the work.

Laying Out the Work
Robust ALM solutions facilitate communication by automating the process of specifying and assigning work to each member of the team. This is usually done through creating change requests (CRs) or work items including tasks, defects, and requirements. Laying out the work in this way is the first step in any successful CM or ALM strategy. Doing so provides both clarity and transparency, which are fundamental prerequisites to any successful effort. You should consider some of the inherent group dynamics once you have a clear idea of the work required.

Groups Have Personalities, Too
The behavioral norms of any group significantly impact the way in which you can implement CM and ALM strategies. Obviously, understanding the various personalities in your team is essential. However, many managers completely miss the fact that groups have personalities too. The key is to understand your own behavior within the context of the environment in which you are working. Once you understand that you and your team are operating within a context, you can best navigate the challenges that are inherent within the group. Coordination makes the difference between success and failure in whatever context you find yourself in.

Coordinating the work involves ensuring that every member of the team knows precisely what they need to do on any specific day. Most organizations are mired in the chaos of not being able to coordinate their activities. Aside from coordination, collaboration is equally important.

Many teams are challenged when it comes to effectively collaborating. We see this problem in many different organizations. The opposite of effective collaboration can sometimes be described as a competitive game of volleyball, where teams simply try to send the ball over the net to each side (shifting responsibility). In Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World (Addison-Wesley, 2010), I discuss that the only way out of this dilemma is to consistently and conspicuously reward effective collaboration between the two groups [1].

Communication is fundamental and you need to have both formal communication plans for long-term goals, as well as strategies for handling day-to-day communication challenges. Delivering the message is only the first step. You also need to consider the dynamics of competition and cooperation. Various styles of communication can either help your team be more effective or create dysfunctional dynamics within the team. This dysfunction is often related to competition between team members. Most forms of competition are distracting and counter-productive, but some mild- and good-natured rivalry can occasionally inspire creativity and progress.

Competition and Cooperation
As Jurgen Appelo points out, competition and cooperation are found among many species and illustrated by the behavior found in different species that exhibit a type of “selfish cooperation” that is counter-intuitive, although highly pragmatic [2]. This type of behavior is often found in cross-functional teams. Your job is to keep the interactions constructive and the mission of the team on track.

Cross-functional Teams
Agile practitioners are certainly strong proponents of self-managed, cross-functional teams. The truth is that cross-functional teams have been around for a long time. Cross-functional teams have specific requirements for their success. Successful cross-functional teams display coordination across team boundaries regarding practices, standardization, and shared resources [3]. Cross-functional teams also ensure that the various components are working toward a common goal through effective communication and coordination.

Communication and Coordination
“The purpose of communication and coordination is to establish timely communication throughout the organization and to ensure that the workforce has the skills to share information and coordinate activities efficiently.” [4] Communication and coordination are implicit in establishing effective CM- and ALM-related activities and also help to foster cooperative behavior.

Cooperative Behavior
Helping your teams increase collaboration will improve cooperative behavior. Tom Tyler notes this in his book, Cooperation in Groups, “It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of the level and type of cooperative behavior engaged in by group members in shaping the extent to which groups can function efficiently, effectively, and, ultimately, successfully.” [5]

Effective collaboration, communication, and cooperation are essential for the success of any endeavor. Good managers model and encourage the interpersonal skills required to help an IT team be successful. You can effectively implement CM and ALM better by taking into consideration the personality of the group as well as each of its individual members.


[1] Aiello, Robert and Leslie Sachs. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley, 2010, p. 153.
[2] Appelo, Jurgen. Management 3.0. Addison-Wesley, 2011, p. 262.
[3] Appelo, Jurgen. Management 3.0. Addison-Wesley, 2011, p. 292.
[4] Curtis, Bill et al. “The People Capability Maturity Model.” Addison-Wesley, 2002, p. 136
[5] Tyler, Tom and Blader, Steven L. “Cooperation in Groups.” Psychology Press, 2000, p. 23

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