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Part-time agile raises importance of team coordination

Use more collaboration to achieve better outcomes in part-time teams.

Students on degree A have only one course during their team project, so can devote all of their time and effort to this work. Students on degree B take this course alongside three other courses. Both courses are eleven weeks long. The degree A course is worth four-times as much in credits as the degree B one. Otherwise the courses are the same.

The degree A students can do their work differently. Their scheduling constraints are part-time work, sports and caring activities of its team members. The key point is, these are their only constraints, and they can meet potentially for hours everyday. This means they have more time together more frequently. This is a huge boost.

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Part-time agile requires more coordination

Degree B students have those too, plus the other three courses they are each taking too. On degrees with fewer compulsory courses, and more options, this will be harder to achieve. They can potentially meet for a short time everyday, but that is unlikely in practice. This infrequency of meetings is a challenge.

Infrequency means the feedback loops with degree B students will be longer by default, unless they take measures to make them short. The default approach of most students is to have individuals do the work, and then collate and integrate work later. This is slow. It is even slower if someone does not complete something by the agreed time, and therefore slows the team down.

Degree B team students should opt instead for pairing or mobbing to do the work. This will speed up the feedback loops. No one is working on their own, which means they have someone to ask for help. This makes it more likely that tasks will be complete by team deadlines. Shorter feedback loops speed up learning and progress.

In addition, degree B students should also create regular standing meetings to (a) make decisions, (b) do the work, (c) meet with client, or mentor/guide. This adds more predictability to the team. To support this, all team members should know how to ask for help in the team, and have standard communication channels set up for threaded conversations, as well as urgent messages.

Degree B students should also set up some ‘non-work’ time together. This helps them build shared understanding and empathy for team members. As they are probably meeting less frequently, it is important for them to make time to enhance this aspect, which otherwise only builds slowly.

Learning how to collaborate is more important than finishing the project

I set open-ended team projects. Students are often slow to realise this, no matter how many times I tell them: ‘You will not finish this project. It will never be completed, even if you had years’. They are used to assignments that can be ‘finished’, but open-ended ones are more interesting, given they often have extra depth.

After the students realise they will never finish, their focus changes. Now they realise they are in charge of the work, and not the client. They can negotiate when and where to stop with the client so they have time to do well with their report. Now they can focus on ‘the story of how we collaborated’ instead of ‘how much we did’.

Help your students realise this shift in focus, and guide them in how to collaborate, and you should see interesting results.

This post is part of a project pulling together my materials and ideas about Teaching Team Collaboration: the Human-Side of Software Development for software development to students.

If you’d like to be notified of future posts, then please sign up for more using the adjacent form. When you sign up, then I’ll send you a free copy of the collaboration rules as a PDF from the book. You can also follow me on LinkedIn

The ideas above are from my book 101+ Ideas to Improve Team Collaboration, which covers all of these little things that students can do to improve their collaboration.

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