< September 2006 >
      1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Mon, 04 Sep 2006:

One of the rarest of the rare species that inhabit cubicles is that creature of myth and legend - the Team Player. Often naturalists hiding behind indoor plants near the watering holes of employees claim to have encountered the creature in the wild. But they are probably mistaken or lying, because it is widely accepted that no fossil evidence has been found past the piled carcasses of the Y2K mass extinction event. Ever since the job atmosphere has lost its ozone layer of job security, most of these magnificient creatures have succumbed to cancerous career growths or perished in hibernation between jobs.

Jokes aside, I'm here to debunk the myth of the team player. To study and expose the nature, being, migration patterns and if time permits, the mating habits of the common team player which is endemic to air conditioned cubicles of software companies.

For a borrowed concept from professional sports, the team player label has undergone a sea change before it has been used to describe a software engineer. Rather than deride the noble concept, which embiggens the smallest man, the target is the namesake euphemism which has replaced it in corporate vocabulary.

Managing a software project is no walk in the park and if Mythical Man Month is any indication, is often contrary to conventional wisdom. Essentially, most of the problems stem from one single assumption - that software is an industrial product. Building software is unlike any other industrial process and is more of a research & development activity than an assembly line of coders assembling components. Allowances have to be made for dead end attempts, work done to maintain status quo (aka Backward Compat), regressions and other anomalies.

Programmers, by definition, are only human. And humans have good days, off days and then those days when it doesn't pay to get out of bed. The productivity of a programmer is bursty and unpredictable. But predicting that is exactly what all the money in management is all about - creating schedules, timelines, plans and bullet points. And they'd rather have their task made easier.

So it is obvious that a steady, yet low, throughput would be considered more suitable to the management principles adopted from the industrial revolution, rather than the odd week of lucidity separated by a fortnight of stupor. The brilliant programmer who works in bursts falls out of favour, while the predictable programmer is pushed forward. The moral of the Tortoise and the Hare is vindicated in this modern race, where the hare is caught napping, though the jury is still out on whether 'twas the management's inaction which let the hare sleep.

The team player has come to be a euphemism for such a slow and steady worker - predictable and absolutely devoid of hidden reserves & surprises. Someone who would rather move with the team rather than run ahead and look back at others. To make no exceptions and just keep on working, despite lack of motivation or support from above is the clinching quality of the newly defined team player.

To put it more bluntly, being a team player (in context) is not for the benefit of the team of peers, but functions primarily as yet another variable removed from the game of uncertainity that is management. The ease of control is why this group is encouraged to form and survive, even re-evolve in new circumstances. By whom ? Take a guess. And where the species is missing, others are dressed up in the robes of team play-dom, under the flag with the device SCRUM.

The moment the system favours such team-players over strong contributors, the team will quickly lose its edge and motivation. The balance has to be maintained to ensure that the average output of the whole group exceeds the sum of the parts.

Finally, all the above discussions treat team players from the cynical point of view. But just because you are not a team player in the eyes of your management does not make you not-a-team-player in the eyes of your peers. As long as you can have fun, while working with them, help those who struggle and in general, not let your ego rule your decisions, you'll be one of the team - truly.

Otherwise, you're just a team player.

Captain, a starship also runs on loyalty to one man.
And nothing can replace it or him.
                         -- Spock, "The Ultimate Computer"

posted at: 01:46 | path: /observations | permalink | Tags: , ,