Organize the most talented IT people in small teams and set them free


At the heart of modern IT departments are specialized teams that combine different competencies which solve the company’s projects. But how do you organize the most effective teams?

Over the years, there have been many suggestions for the perfect model, but there are indications that the IT departments over the past many years have been focusing on too large teams and too little on composition.

With the Nucleon formula we have tried to find the recipe for performance in the IT department and in the process, we have processed relevant data, that identifies four universal areas that have major impact on performance among the teams in an IT department and how a good team is put together.

First of all, the size of the team is crucial. Studies of more than 4,000 projects show that larger teams have a significantly lower productivity per individual compared to smaller teams. Data simply shows that the optimal size for an IT team is three to seven members.

Next, bureaucracy is an important focus area – or rather, the elimination of bureaucracy is. Micromanagement, endless reporting and petty power struggles are toxic to a team of IT specialists. A team should function relatively autonomously and be able to control which sub-tasks are performed when.

At the same time, it is important that the team encompasses knowledge of the entire process for the project in question so that the team is able to run autonomously. The communication between the teams is important – ideally, the team sits in a room together without any communication barriers, and furthermore it is important that the team works exclusively with the project in question and is not regularly tasked with other projects.

Another focus area is having the decision makers close to the team. If decisions have to go through multiple layers of management, performance is lost in confusion, waste of time and slow communication. Such cycles of time wasting and waiting, we call “black holes” because they suck out the energy of teams. Ideally, a member of the team has decisive decision-making power, and if this is not possible, there should at least be direct contact between the team and the final decision-maker.

Last but not least, the composition is crucial. For many years, the tendency has been to place the most talented individuals in groups with the mediocre ones in order for them to lead and raise the overall performance level. This is a mistake. Our analyzes show that a team of the two most talented developers can collectively deliver more and better than 20 mediocre ones. If teams have to be mixed, data shows that it is ideal to put the best seniors together with the best juniors, so that the next generation of talents learn from the best. But in general, the most experienced and talented IT people should be brought together on the same team – because while it is true that the skilled ones can raise the level among the mediocre, their own level will decline – but on the other hand, if you put together the skilled ones, their collective output will achieve new heights.

The ideal team for the successful execution of IT projects will therefore consist of the company’s three to seven best brains, who will be allowed to run autonomously and close to decision-making. And if you have any doubts about this, just try setting up a small experiment based on this model, sit back and watch them perform miracles.


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In the book Nucleon, Jeppe Hedaa introduces the first formula to measure the factors that hold back an organization's IT performance, along with the most impactful areas for improvement.

Justine Welby
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