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CultureMar 22, 2017

The Dreaded Group Project

Johna Rutz

In consulting, every project is a group project. As a recent university graduate, the phrase “group project” still evokes a mental montage of three bleary-eyed students hunched over computers at 4 a.m. struggling to meet an 8 a.m. deadline: Memories of texting each other frantically an hour before class trying to debug a rogue SQL statement; sidelong glances as a team member confesses they haven’t done their part and probably aren’t going to; desperately trying to find an hour to meet in a week full of classes, exams, meetings, and 10 hours of homework assignments; executing every project with a hackathon-like pace 24 hours before the due date, locked in a room with each other to maintain accountability.

We learned plenty about algorithms, languages, and linear algebra in class, but no one told us the lack of effective communication was the real reason why group projects were terrible.

Open Communication

Thankfully, I’m not in school anymore and Credera is committed to development methodologies that advocate open communication. Every morning at 9:30, one of my teammates makes an outlandish eagle cry to signify that it’s time to dial into our daily conference call (at some point my team chose eagles as our mascot and team spirit abounds).

In the daily scrum everyone talks about what they’ve already completed, what they’re planning to complete, and anything that’s limiting productivity. Long gone are the days of being in the dark about what everyone is working on. This is the designated time to bare your soul and ask for help if it’s needed, to ask questions, and to get on the same page.

Proximity

Another way communication is improved is through proximity. Our team sits together around a table, which makes asking someone a question as easy as looking over my monitor and catching someone’s eye. We aren’t in cubicles all day sending email after email waiting for a response. Instead, we’re working, talking, getting quick confirmations, and occasionally throwing Nerf darts at each other. My project manager sits at the head of the table where he can see the flow of the work and gauge the room over the course of the day; in a glance he can see when we’re busy and when we need more things to do.

The People

One of the most critical aspects of effective communication that’s often understated is the people who are actually doing the communication. Credera hires the right people (no, no one told me to say that).

Everyone I have encountered follows the servant-leadership model, which means as a first-year consultant, I’ve never been afraid to ask a question of someone who has been here longer than me. Questions are welcomed and learning from peers is encouraged. We don’t do formal pair programming, but a few times a day everyone will be huddled around someone’s computer trying to decode an esoteric error message. Asking three developers to find a solution to a tough problem is as good at building camaraderie as a corporate team-building exercise. Problems are communicated quickly, eliminated swiftly, and the project is more successful because of that.

Making Communication Simple

Communication can be hard, but it can become simple when we consciously establish times to talk, remove barriers, and choose people who sincerely want to grow both intellectually and as leaders. Though we’re a technology company, technology will never replace the value face-to-face interactions bring to our relationships; effective communication makes everything better.

Credera has taught me that I don’t actually hate group projects, I just needed to learn how a good team is supposed to function. Thanks, Credera.