What Can The World’s Smartest Lake Teach Us About Building Smart Teams?

Scott K. Johnson wrote this excellent article at Ars Technica about some impressive work being done in mapping and modeling environmental data at Lake George. What’s fascinating to me, is seeing people working together so well, on a huge multi-year project that has a potential for great impact. Some things I see as contributing to this project’s success:

Cross Functional Teams

The  “Jefferson Project” is an interdisciplinary partnership between IBM, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and FUND for Lake George. Each partner brings different skills to the project, and they are collaborating together. Collaboration is a basic model for a successful team. Instead of separate teams of specialists working on their own sub-projects, the groups work with one another on slices of the same project.

Organized Around A Single Goal

The FUND for Lake George states its single driving goal as Stopping the present decline of water quality and achieving sustained protection of Lake George for the next generation. They go even further than that. They want to set the standard for restoration efforts anywhere in the world. I imagine that everyone working on this project is on board with this goal. The people at IBM are probably most interested in pushing the limits of big data. At the same time, they must understand that this work isn’t about the data, but about the data in the service of protecting the lake. On any successful team, each contributor is more valuable when they understand how their contribution provides value to the larger goal.

Information Radiators

Each sensor helps scientists study the impact of stressors on the lake in real time. For a Scrum team, radiating information in real time is also vital. Everyone should be able to see the team’s progress in the moment, without having to wait until the next progress meeting.

Always-Changing Environment / Marketplace

Nothing is static. The Lake George team is moving beyond real-time data. They’re creating sensors that will adjust the sampling size when unusual events are detected. This is just the type of thing that your project team can do. Every meeting is an opportunity to inspect the work in progress. Every Sprint is an opportunity to take a step back and see the big picture. Things will always be changing. Keep in mind the Agile Manifesto value of “responding to change over following a plan”. When you notice big changes on the horizon, it’s time to increase your observations, so that your short term plans can be informed, and you will be ready to modify your course if needed.


Internet of Things In My Garden

Image from page 16 of "Currie's farm and garden annual : Spring 1917" (1917) Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library Page 16 of “Currie’s farm and garden annual : Spring 1917”

Talking to your plants might make them grow better. I haven’t come across the evidence that confirms it. I’m more interested in the day my plants talk to me.

Tell me, sweet blueberries, is the pH too high for you in here? Is the sunlight enough or is it too much? Roses, are you thirsty? How are your roots doing? My dear tree, are you seriously considering running a root that close to the surface of the freshly paved driveway?

I want the lawn service to be notified of everything the plants have to say. I want to set preferences with the lawn service, too. For some things, I want the service to propose a date and let me confirm. For other things (bugs!), I want them to show up as soon as possible.