Excellent teams need more than technical capabilities

Alfred is a powerful operating system for your home that makes sure you have the energy and time to do the things you enjoy and Come Home Happy. To evolve the way we execute that goal, we are building next generation tools to make sure our experience is enhanced at every touchpoint. It takes a lot of excellent work and diverse viewpoints to achieve something so ambitious and we look to partner with the best to work and learn from. We have team members in different geographies and with different specialities as well as external partners. One of our partners is GBH who specializes in Software, UX, Information Technology, and Digital Marketing.

At Alfred, we value working with a #oneteam mentality. The objective of this mentality is to ensure everyone — including partners — embraces the vision and values as much as the co-founders and all collaborators that work at our homequarters. As part of that #oneteam concept, we strongly encourage our partners to share their thoughts, processes, and experiences with us. This piece is the result of one of those interactions from a partner team member, Jose Bonetti.

Though written with engineering examples, this piece tries to promote the importance of correctly identifying and measuring soft skills when assembling teams. The concepts in this framework were put together through reflections on unsuccessful projects and teams as well as deep conversations with mentors. As a company, GBH has been leveraging these concepts for at least a year and half for recruiting as well as member placement and it has improved our collaborator experience, project delivery, customer satisfaction, and project success rate.

The DACV (Do, Adapt, Change, Vision) framework, as we call it, came while trying understand why certain teams and individuals outperformed others; when “on paper” and based on experience, they were identical. We found that the problems teams had were related to missing at least one or more of the DACV abilities. After our analysis, we found that not having all of these soft abilities available in the execution of a project was a root cause of major delays, lack in productivity, as well as missed objectives. No one had ever thought in terms of these skills before as clearly as with the technical abilities when enabling a team for the execution of projects.

As a result of this exploration, we didn’t just encounter ways to correct our project and team execution capability — but also a mechanism in which we could systematically identify soft individual capabilities. Surprisingly, out of this exercise we identified people’s passions or core strengths and consequently used them to map a proper career path for that collaborator within the organization; identify who should grow to become an Evangelist or who shouldn’t become a manager because it would make them miserable and eventually fail. This would be a topic for another article.

For now, ask yourself, how many times have you taken the time to evaluate, in a measurable way, what capacity an individual has of overcoming roadblocks or what type of reactions you would get from them when some issues start severely affecting the project timeline or cost?

Defining “soft” abilities

DO

The ability to produce is the capacity that every member of the team has to be able to perform the task that is assigned.

ADAPT

The ability to adapt refers to being able to look for alternatives in a situation where progress is being blocked or when the problem can’t be solved in a straightforward way. Someone with the ability to adapt switches to other problems and continues advancing while they give some thought in another time to the previous problem. Moreover, adapters, will look for alternatives for team members that are blocked by providing a different perspective to resolve problems or taking the problem themselves at some point if it is more convenient for the project.

CHANGE

The ability to change relates to having the capacity to change the objectives that are followed; in order for the team to advance. Most of the times these individuals negotiate and find out the “why” of certain requirements or needs. Changers who find a problem that has taken too long to solve by the team escalate it to the appropriate stakeholders in order to find how important the behavior is and to propose working alternatives to resolve the issue and make progress.

VISION

Vision is the ability to foresee how things work and looking at things from all potential organizational directions. Visionaries see and worry about the bigger picture, talk in abstracts and interface between individuals that speak in those same terms. The members of the team that provide vision can cancel a project to avoid losses or form alternate directions that would end in a new set of activities.

Practical reflections about DACV skills

Every project must have individuals who are able to produce. The doers are the members who put the majority of the effort required in a project; they are the heart and soul of the projects and without them there won’t be any execution possible.

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Skills usage in a project

Doers are extremely important; however, from time to time, they find hard problems that tend to make difficult their capacity to achieve progress; they get blocked or find something that with their regular techniques can’t be solved. Most of the time, these blockers can only be removed by someone with an ability to adapt. Therefore, if your team doesn’t have someone that can provide that capability you’ll continuously find members blocked and progress handicapped.

A practical result of an adapter’s capability at work is to make sure that the blocked member is unblocked quickly; either with an idea to solve the problem immediately or in other cases direct him/her to other tasks while the adapter thinks of a way to solve that problem. Adapters are the drivers of progress and they will do whatever is necessary, given the goal that they have, to achieve it.

Adaptation as well has its limits. People who adapt are good at accepting goals and driven to achieve them. So driven that they sometimes don’t understand/care about factors like cost, effort and time taken to achieve them. Adapters will work, unblock, and innovate to find a solution no matter what it takes them to do it. However, in the majority of projects, cost and time are factors and having them slip is something we can’t live with. Therefore, given that adapters can’t usually think in those terms (cost and time) rather than objectives, the ability to change in projects is required.

Change-enabled individuals can identify when an objective has become something that can’t be achieved at all or that it would take too many resources — more than what they know is available — to complete. These individuals stop the bleeding — consuming resources — and raise a voice of alert and approach senior management or executive stakeholders for validation of the objective and to look for opportunities to negotiate. Do we really have to do this? Is this particular goal something that could be changed in this way? These are statements common to changers when their team is blocked in a very hard problem.

Finally, vision is the ability to think strategically, to see a problem from a very broad perspective and as an abstraction of what is going on. Vision-enabled individuals combine all sort of different contexts to solve a problem; among them culture, finance, architecture, operations, product, markets and organizational structure. During project execution, they’re really not so much involved in the day-to-day but when they do, it is to serve as reinforcement of why we are doing what we are doing.

Technical capacity is important; but is not everything

I’ve talked about the DACV abilities as very important but not done much in praising technical proficiency. Technical capacities are most certainly important to execute tasks. We shouldn’t have someone on our team that doesn’t have the technical proficiency to perform the job in the domain it is required. However, our experience has shown that those capacities tend to fall short or be misused without the correct DACV environment.

Understanding and adding all the required soft capabilities is key to project success. This means making sure that the responsible members for each soft skill are correctly identified as well as clear of their responsibilities. Moreover, all team members should know where to go based on these skills and their own; making a team aware of these capabilities can eliminate productivity problems as well as eliminate unnecessary stress.

Think about the aforementioned abilities, can you find yourself in one of those? Reflect about a project you’ve worked on and think about how the project was executed, where did the delays come from? Did some members of your team got blocked for while without telling anyone? Did the objectives change on time to continue progress? Did some team members not understand why they were working on that project? If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, you were missing some soft abilities.

Finally, in order to evaluate if you have everything in place use is the following heuristic: getting X amount of productive engineering hours (do) requires X * (1 / C) adapt hours, X * (1 / (C * 5)) hours of change and most probably, X * (1 / (C * 10)) amount of vision. Do you have all the team members with the appropriate skills in place?

Jose Bonetti is a passionate entrepreneur and software engineering enthusiast, co-founder and Managing Director at GBH, with a Software Engineering Masters from Carnegie Mellon. Besides analyzing and evaluating how to build effective and service-oriented teams, he loves to teach and for almost 10 years has been a part-time professor of software engineering at Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM), where he shapes courses related to requirements engineering, software architecture, software engineering, and machine learning. GBH is a company headquartered in the Dominican Republic, with working divisions in Software, UX, Information Technology, and Digital Marketing. GBH believes in producing value through products and services shaped in a responsible and sustainable way. For GBH, competitive advantage are people and culture; which means individuals immersed in a family-oriented environment, governed by sustainability principles and consciously trained — with a career path — with programs from the top schools in their respective fields. Jose is from the sunny Dominican Republic, where he lives with his wife and son.

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