Carlos Leyva

Silicon Stories

Chapter 7: Talent Wars, E-Teams and E-Cultures

The Mission

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Almost everything, non-trivial creatively, that happens in the business world, and in many other walks of life, is the result of a project. Projects have a well-defined beginning, middle and end. They always require a project plan. The plan not only defines the stages of the project but also drives its execution. I prefer the word mission because it implies motion and carries a military connotation.

Signing Up

You usually either sign up for the mission or somehow, through economic pressure, or the threat of bodily harm, are volunteered. However, signing up, whether for a military mission or the creation of a commercial software offering, is, for me, a much deeper commitment than is apparent on the surface. It means that you will do almost anything within your power to achieve the end game.

In reference to a software project, signing up does not necessarily imply consistently working 60 hours a week for the duration of the mission. However, it does imply that you will go above and beyond the call of duty, which often entails some overtime, and/or other personal sacrifices at critical junctures. Signing up is a binary proposition, you’re either on board or you’re not. There is no acceptable middle ground. It is a contract that is signed with the rest of the team members. It is mutually binding and cannot be broken without putting the mission at risk.

Getting all team members signed up is the responsibility of the mission’s Natural Leader (see Director Pattern in Chapter 3). On projects where I have assumed this role, I always look for opportunities to shoot on sight any team members caught sitting on the fence. They usually die a very slow and painful death, often from multiple wounds. I would rather reduce headcount than risk the mission by having to carry wounded combatants iteration through iteration.

No One Gets Left Behind (the WIIFM)

While Signing Up ensures that everyone on the project commits to everyone else by signing the same mutually binding contract, the Natural Leader also signs a personalized contract with each individual. This contract is a promise that individual, and specific, benefits will accrue to each (and every) team member in return for his or her effort during the mission. It answers the question “What’s in it for me?” This contract is implicit between the Natural Leader and an individual team member and is not shared with other mission comrades.

Would you persuade, speak of interest not of reason.

—Benjamin Franklin

I recently had the pleasure of seeing one of the best war movies of all time, Black Hawk Down. Based on the true story of a week in the life of America’s finest on a mission in Somalia. The movie’s powerful punch is delivered not by outstanding performances from Hollywood’s elite, but by the graphic representation of the brutality of war, and the poignant relationships that are manifested in the middle of life and death situations. The motto of Delta Force is, “No One Gets Left Behind,” and I guarantee you, if the film is to be taken at face value, this is no gung ho marketing campaign. It is a mutually binding contract that is honored at all costs.

Notice that all this contract talk does not involve an organizational abstraction outside of the project team. It is widely known that soldiers in the heat of battle fight harder, and often until no one is left standing, not for God or country, but because of the personal relationships they have with those in nearby fox holes. It is the shared experience of the mission that brings out the best in us.

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