Let’s talk about Teamwork

My first experience in a fresh software team

Take a second and think of the first team you may have been asked to be part of. Maybe it was in a junior sports team that your parents forced you into, maybe you were forced to create a team in kindergarten to achieve some goal, maybe you were asked to just play tug of war. What you may remember is how the final goal was achieve, maybe the way something came down to the last second, or maybe just how fun it all felt. What you probably don’t remember is the organizational skills that you had to create in order to win. That either might be because you just did your best and luck happened, or it could be that at the moment it wasn’t the most important part to remember.

However, team related things are quite incredible. A group of diverse people join together to try and achieve some common goal. The variety can be enthralling, but when that team work has to last more than a few hours then you need something more to bring the team together.

A little over a week ago I participated in a hackathon that was created by Flatiron School. This friendly competition was intended to help us build something with a group of diverse individuals. Right before the competition we started off as a group of 3 friends that met through the full immersive program and who have worked together in some way or another. Once we made our project pitch we became a team of 6 and that’s when our team working skills really were put to the test. Everyone’s schedules were all over the place, many people wanted to work on similar parts of the project and none of us wanted to take a hold of the project. Quickly we figured out the small bits we needed to make this team machine work.

First we needed to communicate better as a team. Right away none of us really made any great efforts on how to we should be communicated how to work. It was a challenge all on its own. We started off using Whimsical to keep track of our project needs and documents. This was semi useful, but there wasn’t a good way to be notified when parts can be ticked away. It also didn’t allow us to really let others know what we worked on. Github was useful to see people’s commits when they committed to their branch but it doesn’t really let you know about what they may have solved.

Second, we had a skew of team members on our FrontEnd vs our BackEnd. This worked out for us since our BackEnd had to have a lot of cohesion, however this created some difficulties in terms of how much work could be done on the FrontEnd by the 4 people who wanted to work on it.

Third, we didn’t go in with any plan on what we wanted our app to look like. It took us 2 days to create wireframes due to everyone’s fear of creating something others didn’t like. This left a lot of confusing progressions through our app. At times we thought our ideas were the same but later we would find out that we weren’t quite thinking the same thing. Creating some creative differences and redoing of our FrontEnd.

So how did we make it through? Well we knew we couldn’t fix our team working skills all in one fail swoop, but we started with how we were talking with one another. Inertially all of our problems were stemming from a lack of communication. Once we established morning stand ups and clear lines of communication on a Slack channel we were able to start seeing clearly what everyone needed. We used Whimsical as more of a document sharing app and established that there should be clear statements on when certain parts of the project are being worked on. Whenever someone stopped and someone was going to pick up we had the team communicate on what the goal was and where to look for next steps. This meant that we didn’t lose site of our goals and the next person didn’t feel totally clueless.

We also gave the FrontEnd team some division of roles. We had split the team of 4 so that half would focus on the aesthetics and the other half focus on the logic of the project. This helped not have too many cooks in the kitchen and make the subjective opinions not clash too much. We also created our wireframes which gave a solid goal on what to create and what we needed to work now versus later.

Team work is hard but sometimes you just have to push through to make that goal happen.