R&D S.W.A.T. Teams – when you need a solution and you need it fast!

We’ve all heard of Police SWAT teams. These are Special Forces used when a situation takes place requiring interventions outside the capabilities of the normal officers and patrollers. Still, most people don’t know the meaning of the name SWAT, Special Weapons And Tactics.

There are times when a Special Weapons & Tactics team is needed also within the R&D Organization; when we seek a rapid and effective solution for a “special project” and there is no regular team that can deliver it by itself using their normal and/or known procedures. This is when an organized group of Testers and Developers from different teams can be of help, each contributing the tools & tactics from their day-to-day practices.

R&D SWAT teams are different than their police counterparts, they are usually created only after the need is identified, and their members are selected based on the specific characteristics of the challenge at hand.

The use of these teams comes at a price and thus you need to be careful when using them.
Following are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Don’t abuse them. If you start using SWAT teams all the time they loose the effectiveness that comes from the fact that team members feel they are working on a task that is out of the ordinary, both in nature and importance.

2. Be very strict appointing the team, and then let it loose. You need to trust the team and especially its leader to make wise decisions; once you have done this STEP BACK and keep out of the way to let them work and solve your problem.
If you feel that you cannot do this then try been part of the team; just understand that you will need to obey the rules and work EXCLUSIVELY on the problem for the duration of the task.

3. Create a synergistic team (where the integration of the elements is greater than the sum of the parts). This means getting people who (a) compliment each other, and (b) can work together and communicate. It is important to have people from as many expertise fields as possible, as long as they have something to the task.

4. Define a deliverable but don’t limit the methods. Each team member should know what they are expected to deliver, but they should also know that the how is up to them.

5. Limit the timelife of the task.

6. Support the team. The rest of the R&D Organization should know that whatever your SWAT team is doing takes precedence over any other task. This means they should help and cooperate with whatever these guys ask and need.

7. Publish the results. SWAT teams should not work in secrecy; both success and failures need to be shared and analyzed by the whole Organization in order to learn from them. If the team does not succeed make sure this is not taken as a personal failure for any of the members.

8. Reward accomplishments. If the out-of-the-ordinary job is accomplished make sure to reward accordingly. People should fight for a chance to prove themselves in these teams.

My personal experience with SWAT teams has been very positive over the years, especially around situations that had very strict time limits around complex and risky deliverables (e.g. solving hard issues happening on production Customer Sites). I recommend using them wisely since their abuse will only make your team less motivated and your difficult tasks unachievable.

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