Ed Harley, COO of Pandesic LLC, a joint venture between Intel and SAP that makes Web-hosting technology.
What's Your Problem?
"We've released nine products in a little more than two years, and we're always in a hurry to deliver our next release. So we're always working with aggressive project schedules and do-or-die deadlines. But developing a piece of software is notoriously difficult, as is getting people to agree on what they can deliver. So how can we facilitate communication and make expectations crystal clear?"
Tell Me about It
"Developing products quickly is a lot like running a relay: Speed becomes meaningless when a handoff from one team is unusable to the receiving team. One faulty deliverable can create a chain reaction that may set back an entire process. So it's essential that everyone has the same expectations: What features is the quality-assurance team expecting to see in the next phase of testing? Are those features in sync with what the development team is preparing to give testers? Traditional communications methods — schedules, specs, emails — can't really keep pace with all of that."
What's Your Solution?
The Flea Market. "This is an informal gathering in which the 20 or 30 people who are critical to a project agree on deliverables. Several conversations are always going on at once, so the meeting is very unstructured. In each conversation, we try to answer some basic questions: What are you going to need from me so that you can add value? What are other people going to need from you? We keep track of products and dates on large pieces of paper, which we all initial at the end of each meeting.
"A few rules make this meeting work: Everybody stands — which gives the meeting lots of energy. Such deadly distractions as cell-phones and laptops are absolutely forbidden. And no one can leave until everyone is finished."
Cathy Olofson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor who lives in Belmont, Massachusetts. Contact Ed Harley by email (email@example.com).
A version of this article appeared in the May 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.