Emails published with permission.

Introduction | Max's Thoughts on the Issue
Joe Marasco | Bob Steinberger | Philippe Kruchten | Gary Pollice
 Keerin Saeed Forwards Advice from Steve Cotterell

Bob Steinberger Comments by Email 8/8/05

Hi Max,

You provoked me to reply and in so doing, I am sure to provoke others to come forward as well. Hopefully, you will accomplish your desires.

Here goes. On the issue of optimal number of people on a project: Since you brought in some fine examples of progress curves from the construction industry, let's go one step beyond.

Suppose you were to build a pilot plant to manufacture diesel oil from coal. Since a project of this type involves different types of project teams, would 7 of any team type be optimal? I guess you could decompose tasks down into working teams and use 7 as optimal. But that is pushing the idea of 7 a bit hard since there would be many groups of 7 that make up the work force.

One the other hand, Moses was a team of one, though some might say he was not operating in an optimal mode.

I think the word optimal depends upon what it is you wish to optimize. For design projects, it is customary for an engineering office to perform design work in Location A using shift A workers and work a second shift at location B across the world using shift B workers, accomplishing 2x amount of work per day and shortening the design calendar time. The optimal team size might be one or two designers and/or a working manager.

For Middle East construction projects, a 60-hour, 3-shift week is quite common. Getting down to individual crew sizes, while seven might be neat in the US, other locations that use low cost labor tend to staff crews with more people because of the politics of acquiring a workforce or because of local mandates on crew sizes.

If you have a chance to watch a new building under construction, I think you will be amazed at the small number of workers at the site. For a given task, you might find one equipment operator and perhaps one or two others in the operator's team. People pushing a wheelbarrow in the US have given way to automated equipment, including such gear as concrete pumps. Elsewhere, heavy equipment may be considered elephants and light equipment being thousands of day laborers using their hands.

But then one might argue that none of this has anything to do with software development. But you can piece all of this together if you consider the workforce, their tools, and what they would otherwise do if not employed.

From my point of view, I do develop software and am optimal as a team of one.


Max's Comments

That last is an interesting comment. Some personalities just love the idea of teamwork, they thrive on it. Others just can't stand it. It all depends on whether you are a "process oriented person" (let's keep it going) or a "product oriented person" (let's get it done.) Both possibilities must be factored into the particular project team environment you are working with. Anyway, "Bob" is Dr. Robert L. Steinberger, Technology Fellow Integrated Engineering at Aspen Technology, Inc. at the Icarus Office in Gaithersburg, MD.

Joe Marasco Comments by Email 8/8/05  Joe Marasco Comments by Email 8/8/05

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