Leveraging Diverse Peer Groups for Tighter Feedback
VP Engineering at Marc LeBrun
I was managing a department with multiple advanced technology teams. They were fairly small teams of senior people, but they sometimes had an unfortunate tendency to go off in their own bubbles and lose connection with their core missions and the key needs of the rest of the company. They were well-intentioned and brilliant but could become isolated, without enough opportunity for external input to trigger course-corrections and insight.
The model was that they would incubate innovative technologies for a while and then meet with the product teams to determine how to deliver that magic as products. That, however, entailed an extended time scale, and the innovators really needed more feedback on a shorter cycle. Alas, dedicated stakeholder bandwidth for long-range projects is scarce.
What I wound up doing was to have those small teams stage review sessions with each other even though they were working in very different areas and there wasn’t any direct producer-consumer relationship between the projects.
I had them do regular presentations on what they built and deployed, as well as problems that they were dealing with—something like a cross between a seminar and a sprint review.
If it’s difficult to apply the model of accessing stakeholders and getting user input for sprint reviews, you can harness another team and have people do it on a collegial basis rather than on a customer/provider basis.
By doing these presentations for their respected professional peers, they were able to communicate with people at their level who had a shared culture of pushing the envelope. Not only did that break the isolation, but it encouraged skill-transfer.
Moreover, to everyone’s pleasant surprise, it created unexpected collaborations. Even though they were very separate teams, and self-sufficient, they would often face common problems (for example testing new technology) and would collaborate creatively on their solutions.
Even extremely diverse groups can enjoy serendipitous synergies and exhibit unexpected network effects.
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