Time pressure, tasked divided up into sequential processes and handed off from one role to another, teams scattered around the globe (or even “just” in different buildings), abstract artifacts sent back and forth by email… a combination of many or all of these factors is often the reality in software development projects in large organizations. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is another, better way − I call it a closed loop team.

In a closed loop team, we strive for an inclusive working environment that encourages the best possible communication quality among the team members and stakeholders. Here are the three things I focus on to close the loop:

  1. Set up a mixed project team that includes engineers and designers
  2. Make sure that the team is challenged in a constructive way that builds trust
  3. Be creative and flexible when the set-up is not ideal

 

Set up a mixed project team that includes engineers and designers

By bringing engineers and designers together into one team, at least for the duration of the project, teams can be much faster and achieve better results. In my experience, by doing away with sequential processes that result in each part focusing only on their job and not bothering much for the rest of the process, each part understands the reasons why the others are doing what they are doing. Also, when designers understand a bit about code and developers are sensitive to design qualities and both have been validating their work together with customers, there is less need to convince the other side when the inevitable need to make changes comes around. The greater the communication between the two “opposing” sides, the better the results will be and the faster they will get there.

 

Make sure the team is challenged in a constructive way that builds trust

Creating an environment of trust, respect, and mutual understanding among team members (and also between the team and management) is essential in a closed loop team. When a mixed team openly communicates with each other, you don’t have this phase of each part going off onto tangents because you don’t know what is possible or what is feasible. This makes the team much faster and more agile.

Let’s say you have a typical disruption technology like SAP HANA. For engineers, technically it is a matter of speed and that’s what they will focus on. Bring designers into that mix and some scenarios into play, and together they can quickly develop a first prototype to see what’s possible and feasible. That is a very powerful creative process generated out of a challenge that requires two very different mindsets to approach the problem, learn from each other and work together. And together they are tangible right away. There is no fence over which they are throwing artifacts that each side worked out in their own silo of expertise over the course of weeks or months.

 

Be creative and flexible when the set-up is not ideal

Ideally, developers and designers in a closed loop team will sit together in the same room, optimizing and iterating together each step of the way, looking over at each other’s’ screens and talking in a fluid conversation as the project evolves. Sometimes that can happen, but reality often gets in the way. The most important thing is to approach obstacles to the closed loop set-up as a problem to be solved creatively. For example, if designers and developers are not collocated, perhaps a video would better convey what the designers imagine rather than a static Photoshop file. Setting up a virtual meeting for 10 minutes a day is often better than a weekly one-hour meeting. We try to use media to the biggest possible communication advantage we can and try out new things. It can sometimes be hard for people to change the way they have always done things, but it can have a tremendous, positive impact.

 

The good news is that once you have brought people into a closed loop team, they will never want to work any other way again!

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