Forming and Maintaining Knowledge Workers

A piece in Newsweek by Google’s Schmidt and Varian discusses ten guidelines to hiring and maintaining good knowledge workers. Several guidelines, such as catering to the every need of knowledge workers, are feasible only in thriving companies, but there are a couple of points in the article that are applicable to all companies and have been continually iterated in project management literature. Some of these points are reiterated here.

One of the guidelines discusses the acceptance of a potential knowledge worker into a development team. It seems that Schmidt and Varian promote a series of interviews between a candidate and different members of a team. Interviewers that represent the company should include management, project managers, and potential team members. I have had excellent interview experiences with both Heavy Iron Studios and I met with project managers and the people with whom I would be working closely. At Amazon, I was able to meet software developers with varying levels of tenure at the company. Allowing a candidate to meet with several people of a company provides more information that a candidate can use to evaluate the company, and it gives the company more opportunities to market itself to the candidate. It is important to remember that job interviews are intended not only for the company to evaluate a candidate, but for a candidate to evaluate the potential employer. More interviews between a candidate and company provide more information that can be useful for both parties in reaching an employment decision.

Another point worthy of mention is the advice to “pack them in.” Effective use of office space is the underlying principle that this guideline promotes. Many people of the traditional mindset are well aware that assigning an office to an individual is a way to grant elevated status to the individual. It makes the company’s appreciation for a worker more visible, and due to its effect on the worker’s morale, it has the potential of increasing the worker’s productivity.

In opposition to traditional office arrangements, Schmidt and Varian suggest that a team work closely together instead of separating team members with office walls. This increases productivity for the entire team by minimizing the cost of communication. This worked pretty well for the quality assurance teams at THQ. QA teams worked in a small area and were able to communicate effectively with each other. This reduced the amount of duplicated work, and it fostered team identity. Office spaces and partitions are most effective when they are used to group people with a common objective and separate groups of people who are working on different projects.

I strongly believe that development team leaders should share the same office space as the rest of the team. There are some gains to such an arrangement as long as it does not degenerate into command style management, where the team leaders are constantly monitoring the activity of each team member. The team will recognize the team leaders more as a member of the team and less of a disconnected authoritative figure. It encourages team members to communicate with their team leads. It also allows team leads to passively monitor their team’s progress. Physical placement of exceptional team leaders within the team will bolster respect from the team members for the leads, and under the direction of respected team leaders as “aggregator of viewpoints,” the team will excel.

As software projects scale to meet growing business needs, the unit of production changes from individual software developers to software development teams. Consideration in forming and utilizing development teams is important to companies, particularly to those that develop applications that are used by people outside of these companies.

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