Thinking in systems

By | May 18, 2015

I’ve recently been involved in delivering a number of new services designed to replace a long serving monolithic web application. Sound familiar?

The move to a service oriented architecture can be described, for many reasons, as a good thing. However, care needs to be taken to ensure that the dependencies between these services are understood, and that failure states are well known and well handled by their clients. Basically, we need to focus on the interaction between the different services that make up the overall system, and not fall into the trap of developing them in isolation. Otherwise, we run the risk of developing locally optimised services that don’t necessarily work well together.

The same can be said of organisations and the teams within them. It can also be said of the people within a team.

The success of an organisation, by its very definition, will be determined by its ability to organise its constituent parts. If those parts operate largely independently of each other, pulling in different directions, it’s possible that the organisation will be less successful than if its parts operate as one, all pulling in the same direction, with a focus on how they deliver products or services as a group. The organisation is essentially a system.

So is a team.

Think about your own delivery team. If you are lucky and you have a cross-functional team, by which I mean one that has everyone in it that needs to be in order to deliver your product, then you will work with people that have different skill sets. Developers, testers, visual designers, and derivations of those roles. If those people act independently of each other, don’t communicate well, and don’t focus on their work as a team, they are less effective than when they work together to deliver software. Things take longer and quality is lower.

Thinking of the team in terms of a system helps to focus us on working together to get that feature, story or work item into production. It encourages us to understand better ways of collaborating to achieve our common goals, and it reminds us that nobody is an island.

Image: Stanford.edu

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