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.
Many configuration management experts focus on implementing and establishing tools to support version control, defect tracking, and workflow automation. Tools are essential, but even the best tools won’t lead to measureable results without robust and repeatable processes. Of course, it can be daunting to tackle the technical nuances of an open source tool chain or commercial application lifecycle management (ALM) solution. However, it’s even more difficult to establish process and more process. Automating process really shines when the entire team works together effectively and uses the tools in a consistent and reliable way. It takes considerable effort to establish repeatable processes that are relevant and help improve productivity and quality, but IT professionals are sometimes surprised to discover that it’s a bigger challenge to handle the people side of establishing process. This article gives you a head start on handling the implicit personality issues that are found in establishing process and more process.
The Dysfunctional Team
Configuration management consultants are often called in to deal with a team that is having trouble establishing effective processes. These teams are often highly effective until they add a few new members, then they suddenly develop all the symptoms of being a completely dysfunctional team. There can be a sudden and dramatic decline from being a high performance team to the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” Evaluating the possible root causes for dysfunction within a particular team requires some strong skills at evaluating personality issues. You should consider the dynamics between team members and communication styles. It is also important to consider intergender relations, which are frequently overlooked, because men and women often communicate differently. Additionally, it is essential to be familiar with the nuances specific to various cultures in order to promote positive group dynamics given the diversity of backgrounds present in most work environments today . Ineffective communication is often the first and most readily apparent disconnect between team members that are having trouble working together effectively. Improving communication helps achieve the collaborative behavior that is essential for overcoming resistance to change.
Recognizing Resistance to Change
Some people dig in their heels and fight any type of change to the way that the team functions. This is often due to fear of change, which is frequently linked to the sense of losing control. You need to recognize resistance to change for what it is and design effective strategies that address these obstacles. This is not an easy task and you may not easily ascertain the right approach without considerable effort. Establishing the right goals is the first step.
Establishing the Goal
You need to establish process in order to achieve a goal. Ensuring that you know the right measurable goals is an important step, and you need to collaborate with all of the relevant stakeholders to establish your goals. In practice, this requires that you size up the situation and ensure that your goals are relevant.
Sizing Up the Situation
To understand personality, you need to carefully observe and evaluate the situation that you find yourself in. This includes listening carefully to each of the team members and observing the environment as a whole. Some people find this easy to achieve, whereas others find this difficult to accomplish. Sometimes, the only feasible approach is to be a good scientist and test out your hypothesis.
Forming a Hypothesis
There are times when process engineers need to be good scientists and form a hypothesis as to what controls are necessary to automate. For example, fixing a recurring release management problem may require additional change control review and signoff. In this typical process issue, you may find some team members resisting this change because the process is slowed down lots of extra work is required. You may need to form a hypothesis as to how much process is necessary in terms of ensuring additional review and signoffs. You may find that involving subject matter experts (SMEs) is the best approach as this will improve communication with the essential experts who know the downstream impact of a change.
Testing Your Hypothesis
To increase success in implementing process change, you should obtain buy-in from the team in order to give the new controls a try for a specific period of time, and then follow up with a retrospective that evaluates the effectiveness of the change. Essentially, you are testing your hypothesis and iteratively moving toward the optimal process to achieve your results.
Focus on Communication
Establishing effective communication is the most important personality factor in process engineering, but is not always easy to achieve. It is crucial that you encourage team members to view collaboration as a shared, and highly valued, responsibility. Just remember that when focusing on communication, it is essential to understand personality styles.
You need to respect the individual team members' personality styles and achieve collaborative team behavior. Successful process improvement begins with clearly identifying your goals followed by some practical hypothesis formation and evaluation. Make certain that you consider the team members’ personalities, especially in terms of communication styles, and use this awareness to improve team dynamics and achieve results.
 Aiello, Robert and Leslie Sachs. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley, 2010, p. 153.