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Team management key to development success

Trusting your development team to do their jobs, speaking the same language as your team and backing up your team are key attributes for managing software development efforts. And for critical development projects with tight time constraints, smaller local teams work better than large, distributed teams.

That was the consensus of a lively panel discussion Wednesday night at the XML and Web Services One Conference held last week in Boston. Panel members Toufic Boubez, CTO of Layer 7 Technologies; John Williams, CEO and president of Blue Mountain Commerce; and Dave McCall, development consultant at Groove Networks, agreed that developers work better when trusted to do their jobs, without somebody looking over their shoulder.

''Micromanagers should be thrown out on their butts or retrained,'' joked Boubez. Knowing when to leave team members alone, however, must be accompanied by knowing when to step in and back them up, and following through on things--in other words, a manager must have integrity, said McCall. And a manager who is well versed technically, he suggested, makes speaking the same language easier.

The ability to assemble a skilled team that works together well and meets project goals is also the mark of a good manager, the panel members agreed. And while there are a variety of project management and collaboration tools for keeping a team on track, the participants agreed that good instincts are just as important, if not more so.

To manage a project, ''there are technologies you can apply, or you can rely on a go-to person and your gut feeling. I like tools, but you still have to use your gut feeling,'' said Williams. Boubez agreed, saying a good team manager relies on ''stop and think'' or ''stop and sync'' points to see where you are in a project. He added that sometimes project management tools and rigorous methodologies create too much overhead for certain types of projects.

Panel members disagreed with one observer's suggestion that the notion of fixed development cycles with localized teams and hard dates for deliverable is ''1995 thinking,'' and that an open-source, distributed style of development is more in keeping with today's move toward Web services and iterative software development. Rather, they suggested, the nature of the project should determine the style of development and the size of the team. ''With any software project, you have time deadlines and goals. The harder these constraints are, the less a distributed, open-source type of development is successful,'' said Boubez.

And while collaborative tools make it easier to communicate than before, ''you still have to make a concerted effort,'' said Williams, and occasionally gather the team for a ''face-to-face, pizza and beer'' session. And even though the nature of Web services means the developers have to be more agile in responding to the customer, ''we still have to look at delivering a product. Someone has to be the person who makes the dates,'' said McCall.

About the Author

Colleen Frye is a freelance writer based in Bridgewater, Mass.

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