A Collaborative Coexistence: Co-development Projects and Navigating Different Corporate Cultures

Amanda Farris, Software Project Manager, The Nerdery
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Amanda Farris, Software Project Manager, The Nerdery

Co-development is a model of collaborative product development that’s gaining momentum in the technology industry –especially within the enterprise sector. This type of engagement involves every project participant in sharing work in all facets of the product. Encouraging a deeper level of individual influence not only cultivates autonomy, but also empowers the entire team to hold one-another accountable. The opportunity to level the playing field between the customer and development team changes the dynamic to be less order givers and takers, to more like teammates and long-term partners.

Over the last few years, my work as a Software Project Manager has focused primarily on large enterprise and agile co-development engagements. The most recent co-development project I’ve been involved with is unique. It requires a development team of forty-plus people to be located onsite at the customer’s office. Not only is this quite a shift in how projects are normally structured within my company, The Nerdery, but it also varies greatly in the way our customer has traditionally engaged with development projects. From a high-level view, the project consists of disparate teams comprised of Software Engineers, UX Designers, Big Data Architects, Product Owners, Scrum Masters and Program Managers collectively placed in an open space and tasked to solve some very complex problems.

At first it may not seem that unordinary for a development team and a client to work together in a collaborative environment on an agile engagement, but the level of complexity increases when the two parties’ corporate cultures vastly differ from one another. This is an opportunity for a project manager to capitalize on his or her people skills to help facilitate and foster an environment that encourages the teams to adapt and integrate together while navigating the unfamiliar terrain.

  Giving team members recognition is an important factor in keeping performance and motivation high 

Project managers play a crucial role with easing some of the transitional growing pains by paying close attention to potential issues and keeping clear communication with the customer and development team. Change is hard, and there will be individuals who experience some difficulties adjusting to a corporate culture they may not be comfortable with initially.

Drawing from past experiences and knowing the team’s dynamics, accommodations were made. A casual dress code, open-concept collaborative spaces with whiteboard walls, snacks and drinks, parking passes, lunch vouchers, and flexible working hours were just some of the small offerings implemented to help bring in a more relaxed feel to the office. These changes made a significant impact and were warmly welcomed and appreciated, even by the client.   

Technological integration never ceases to confound nor does it go as quickly or seamlessly as one would hope or plan. The same applies to large teams and corporate culture.

Negative connotations are frequently associated with “corporate culture” and some may shudder at the thought of ever having to endure such a working environment. Corporate spaces are often looked upon as stale and uninspiring places in which to work, but that doesn’t have to be the case necessarily. Co-development engagements can appeal to both sides of the track—it just takes a little creativity.

Giving team members recognition is an important factor in keeping performance and motivation high. Who doesn’t like to personally be told he or she did a great job? Or go a step further and let the entire team know an individual did something impressive. How about even passing the same recognition on to his or her manager?

A team “Shout Out” board is utilized to do just that: give credit to a job well done. It’s an easy and effective way to provide positive feedback and boost team morale. I’ve witnessed the energy and excitement spread when a difficult task is completed and then widely celebrated. Everyone joins in and virtually (and often times, physically) high-fives. Sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to make the biggest difference, and having that level of awareness and empathy is one of the most challenging but essential skills a project manager can possess.

Other team-building activities I’ve had positive experiences with are mostly common things like lunches and happy hours. However, trying out volunteer opportunities such as Habitat for Humanity Projects or Feed My Starving Children are also a welcome change of environment.

One would think it safe to assume a collaborative co-development space would make it simple and practically impossible to not have in-person conversations, but alas an idealistic world is not one in which software development exists. I cannot stress the importance of concise and frequent cross-team communication. Closing gaps, anticipating and interpreting the reactions of the team and stakeholders, general encouragement, and overall ensuring everyone is on the same page at any given time, is no small feat—yet it is imperative to the health of the team, client relationship, and project overall.

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