Blog

30 August, 2017

Collaboration not Competition

The greatest try ever scored

In a previous blog I introduced the concept of the ‘Keeping Things Simple’ approach (May 2017), an element of which was that of Collaboration. In this blog, I will look at how collaboration can aid projects to run more smoothly is expanded upon.

To illustrate the concepts, we need to return to a cold and damp day at Cardiff Arms Park back in 1973. In the world of international rugby, the moment has frequently been referred to as “The greatest try ever scored” as the Barbarians swept aside the mighty All Blacks on their way to a 23 – 11 points victory.

To understand the significance of the try in question (and there are any number of YouTube versions you can view to see the try itself) is that the try was scored by the Barbarians, a team that has no home ground, no training ground and is ‘play by invitation only’.

The Barbarians as a team are made up of players from the rugby playing nations and come together to play selected matches throughout the year. What makes this team more remarkable is that because the side is made up of players from different countries, there is little time to train together and that any ‘international’ rivalries have to be set aside and that the team members need to work together, to collaborate together to form a strong cohesive side. It matters not that the week before two Barbarian team mates were opposing each other on the same field but that now they must work together to face their opposition.

To illustrate this further, we can extract the text of the commentator at the match, one Cliff Morgan, to show how the individuals who played that day worked together and collaborated to produce ‘the greatest try ever scored” from deep in their own half. Morgan picks up the story after Phil Bennett retrieved a kicked ball from behind his own try line and after side stepping three All Blacks, passed the ball on:

“….Kirkpatrick to Williams. This is great stuff. Phil Bennett covering. Chased by Alistair Scown. Brilliant. Oh, that’s brilliant. John Williams, Bryan Williams. Pullin. John Dawes, great dummy. To David, Tom David, the half way line. Brilliant by Quinnell! This is Gareth Edwards! A dramatic start. What a score! Oh that fellow Edwards!”

Even this short extract shows that 9 of the 15 players in the side were involved, passing ball from hand to hand, working together, trusting each other, often passing the ball instinctively knowing that their team mate was there, collaborating as if they played together week in week out. More remarkable was that the try was scored in the first 4 minutes of the game, early on before the team has truly gelled for that match.

So how do the Barbarians relate to the everyday project work we face on a client site. Well I suppose, you could argue that as consultants, contractors and permanent members of staff, we are all to some degree ‘invited’. We don’t have time to ‘train’ together and we don’t have a ‘home ground’ except, perhaps, those employed by the client. Yet as a team of diverse individuals from different backgrounds, different consultancies, different providers, we need to come together to play our opposition (the project) and to work together so that we beat the project before the project beats us!

The key to this approach is openness, honesty and trust, not only within the project team itself, but also with the external providers and suppliers that provide or are recipients of data, information and files. Of course, that is not to say company secrets should be divulged but by being open with your project objectives, so that everyone understands the goals, an enormous amount of misunderstanding can be avoided.

 

Rugby 

Agile vs Waterfall

It could be argued that an Agile approach goes a long way towards instilling a collaborative approach to projects. Other methodologies rely on a rigid team structure with those further down the chain waiting on their turn to run with the ball. Instead, in an Agile world, Analysts, Developers and Testers work alongside each other, passing ideas, concepts and small packets of work between them with the common goal of reaching the try line. Each try contributes to the overall objectives, each is delivered in a ‘sprint’ and is something that the customer sees as a unique package of work.

However, even with more traditional development methodologies, the teams can still work together. The Testers can work with the Analysts and Developers, ‘static’ testing the requirements, identifying early on the potential issues that may trip up the project later. When we move into test, the Developers and Analysts can support the Testers by providing a fast turnaround to defects found. Collaboration is universal and can be applied to your own choice of methodology.

Faster Payments (an example of cross industry collaboration)

When the Faster Payments service was launched a few years back, 13 different banks were involved in that initial launch. Not only did each bank have to deliver within their respective teams, all 13 banks had to come together, to collaborate and work together to launch a single service. At first, as one would expect, each bank was reluctant to divulge or share project information. However, over time, barriers were broken down, information exchanged and partnerships formed. It soon became obvious that many of the banks were using the same technology from the same provider. As a result, the concept of strength in numbers took over and smaller groups of banks were able to collaborate and bring shared issues to their chosen provider.

Conclusions

At the most basic of levels, collaboration makes sense. The team that learns quickly to trust each other and work together produces results, faster and to a better quality. This is achieved through:

Strong communication – Speak to each other, don’t hide behind emails or IM services. Share a coffee or have the water cooler conversation.
Trust – Collaboration requires trust. Trust that your team mates will deliver what they said they would in the same way that they trust you to deliver too.
Sharing of information – Share what you know, exchange ideas. What may seem obvious to you may not be to someone else. Equally, someone else may have a good idea that you can use and can help you.
Openness and Honesty – If you have a problem, or can’t make a deadline, call it out early. Don’t be afraid to call out a deadline you may miss.
Delivery – Follow up on what you said you would deliver. Don’t play the blame game.

In the collaborative world, it is a team effort, both internally and externally. As Cliff Morgan commentated shortly after the try was scored:

“If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no one would have believed it. That was really something!”

 

By Duncan Small, Test Manager at Edge Testing

Back to Blog