Development versus Operations

Is your team Guardians of the Galaxy or Super Friends?

I’m the guy on the left (Rocket didn’t fit in the frame).

Today is the day. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is mass released in the U.S. and I am super excited. Not just because I got a kick out of the first movie, but because it’s finally the appropriate time to post this awesome correlation between the Marvel / DC world and my day job.

Running a digital team is an ever-morphing endeavor. As digital advocates, we strategize for the business, align our initiatives with the goals we set then build the best team and plan that can be mustered. Eventually, we launch! Then move into operational support and then, we go back into the next sprint. Through all this, inevitably, as all teams should, we grow, pivot and change. This leads me back to the whiteboard, remapping the workflow, responsibilities and jobs of my team; juggling the demands of dev and ops.

With the evolution of e-commerce and the true standardization of agile, I think many digital teams face these challenges. They too, are constantly morphing, pivoting and reassessing as they bounce between what they envision as the future and what the business needs to keep running. As executives, we work at keeping the big picture objectives on track and utilizing each team member to their best and fullest capacity. For my team, that means being the Guardians of the Galaxy, and we’re cool with that.

So what am I getting at exactly? Hang onto your supersuits, I’m getting there.

Prior to the agile process seeping into nomenclature, teams were defined as either development focused or operations focused. Black or white. No grey, no additional dimensions. Roles, and the skills required, were neatly defined and stuck to. Agile has disrupted that. Now, to function, to explore and innovate, the skills necessary to meet these expectations require an increased level of technical expertise for each team member.

I see it like this:

The Super Friends (and I’m not bashing here) are 2D, impervious and above the daily mundane issues, with the omniscient narrator swooping in to tie up loose ends and make it all coalesce. The old idea of team organization. Each member has their strength — singular strength for argument sake — and they join the fight at the choreographed time. They plan at their Hall of Justice, contribute their part to defeat the looming deadline (a.k.a. villain) and arrive victorious at the end of a build; fighting only the part fitting their specific skills.

Each Super Friend knows their role and how it fits into the team from their sole perspective, not from the team’s perspective — only Aquaman gets to direct the dolphins and there’s no way he gets to use Wonder Woman’s jet. Effective, efficient and precise, each Friend uses the skills they’re known for to complete their portion of the job. This worked for businesses because demands were cleaner, deliverables were clearer and there were teams focused on development or operations… solely. The roles were 2D with the narrator filling in the plot points allowing the team to deliver the package down the waterfall until the episode ends.

Then you have the Guardians. Rag-tag, scrappy, unpolished and jammed together, kinda under protest and all with diverse reasons for sticking around. They live in and deal with the messy world. Yes, Rocket is the build stuff guy and you could make an argument that each member has their designated traits and strengths. I counter your argument with the way each GG member pivots, using common skills and adapting, overlapping each other to all play similar roles in the fight. Okay, I’ll concede Groot has a few talents the rest of them don’t, but that doesn’t negate my point — he’s a Tree.

Teams today function in much the same way, always making plans and simultaneously taking care of the business at hand. Your job description probably lists a myriad of skills, several of which overlap your colleagues, allowing communication and filling the gaps more fluidity. Yes, the roles are defined and there are varying levels of expertise for the skills required, but everyone has foundational knowledge in all the areas of their job and their team members’ jobs. This 4D approach does tend to jam incongruent skill sets together but it increases innovation and diversity, driving communication.

I’m finally getting to the point where we all join hands and harness the power of the Infinity Stone. On my team, this is done by surrounding our internal people with the Super Friends. They are the expert firms and freelancers that know how to use their very specific skills, in the necessary way, at precisely the right time. See? I do have Super Friends love.

It’s invaluable to understand the need to meld and segregate skill sets on digital teams. Finding the right mix for your company takes continuous assessment; an understanding of the drives, desires and knowledge bank of your internal team and backing them up, through all the iterations they go through, with highly specialized invisible jets and gills.

Enjoy the movie.

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