There are several potential reasons why programs, large initiatives, exist:
- Some endeavors are inherently big. Sometimes an organization will decide to take on a complex effort, such as building an office tower, an air traffic control system, or a financial transaction processing system.
- Overly-specialized staff motivate larger teams. When staff are narrowly focused it requires many people to work, at least part time, on a team so that the team has sufficient skills to get the job done. This in turn requires more coordination/management overhead. When people are generalizing specialists your teams become much smaller and more collaborative.
- Overly bureaucratic processes motivate larger teams. Sometimes the systemic bureaucracy in an organization requires large numbers of people to address that bureaucracy. We once assessed an eighty-person project team who were doing work that only required between ten and fifteen people to do the “real work” and everyone else to conform to the overhead of their traditional CMMI-compliant process. Sadly, they didn’t rework the team and failed to produce anything after three years and many millions of dollars of investment. As an aside, it is possible and highly desirable to effectively combine CMMI and disciplined agile approaches, but you need to overcome the cultural dissonance of the two paradigms. Similarly, we’ve seen teams misjudge and adopt an agile scaling framework when their situation didn’t warrant it – this motivated them to create a much larger team than they actually needed.
- Working on large teams can lead to greater rewards. Similarly, someone is “empire building” and purposefully creates a large team so that they will be rewarded for doing so. In some organizations the pay grade of a manager is determined by the number of people the person managed, or people’s rewards on the size of the team they are on.
In our opinion, the only valid reason for having a program is because your endeavor is inherently big. The other reasons reflect aspects of organizational cultures that need to be fixed in time. When you find yourself in a situation where you need a large team, and those situations do exist in many organizations, and you can’t find a way to reduce the size of the team, then you will need to adopt strategies to coordinate that initiative. This process blade will help you to do exactly that.