Collaboration Explained

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Today, all kinds of teams, including Agile software development, depend heavily on team and collaborative working. Collaboration Explained by Jean Tabaka aims to present practical ways to encourage a collaborative culture within development teams.

Section 1 of the book defines what Tabaka means by collaboration and what the benefits of a collaborative culture look like, taking the Agile Manifesto as its base.

Tabaka uses anecdotes to illustrate key points, and here she uses examples of what collaboration is not, to highlight good working practices. She also draws on examples of effective collaborative leadership styles from the US Navy and the NBA. This section also includes a useful discussion of how teams function, providing overviews of team role models like DISC.

Section 2 considers how collaboration can be applied in practice. The author looks at the ways teams work together by discussing the different types of meetings, what should be prepared in advance, effective skills for agenda management and tools to use during the meeting to improve collaborative working and allow the team to feel they ‘own’ the process.

Any experienced facilitator will already have a grasp of many of the facilitation techniques explained here. However, the difference proposed by Tabaka is that these techniques should be used by project leaders every day and not just by independent facilitators for those one-off brainstorming sessions.

Not all of her suggestions translate well to multi-cultural teams, and the reader will have to make judgements on what will work in his or her individual circumstances. For example, giving your team members nicknames from the film Finding Nemo may not enhance team collaboration!

Section 3 is called ‘Extending Collaboration’ and looks at how the principles discussed earlier in the book can be taken one step further. Tabaka explains how to apply collaboration practices to distributed teams and across whole organizations.

The final section provides step-by-step agendas and facilitation guides for standard meetings across three different software development methodologies: Crystal Clear, Scrum and XP/Industrial XP. Tabaka also includes some general project management meeting templates, which could be adapted to suit other methodologies.

The book ranges from providing information designed to improve the smallest of meetings to techniques for facilitating very large groups. In some places the information is very basic: how to work out who should be attending, for example.

In other chapters, the author offers detailed information about how to get teams to estimate, presenting various models such as the Wideband Delphi approach, velocity-based estimating and triangulation.

Overall, if you excuse the most basic of information which is required for completeness and to set the more complex techniques in context, this book is a useful guide for software project managers.

It will help readers run more efficient meetings, although applying all the techniques would seem heavy-handed in an organization not used to this approach. In fact, many of the methods explained in the text would benefit project managers working outside the Agile framework, and in non-software projects.

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