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In our company we have 3 teams working on different software. The level they are working on is very diverse from 8/16 bit microcontroller in C , via 32bit arm on C++ under winCE to PC software developed with C# and windev. The tools and procedures we all use are roughly the same, although some teams use VSS and others SVN for version control. At the moment there is not much formal communications between the teams.

Improvements in the process are only accidental because you hear something from a member of the other team that you could use in your own development. We would very much love to improve this situation but don't know how. What did you do that did or didn't work in such situations?

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We have a quarterly meeting with the entire R&D department (including electrical and mechanical engineers). The best option at the moment is to try to have a lunch and learn meeting for the SW engineers afterwards. I think the frequency is to low but is better then nothing, and always can be adjusted. Thanks for the answers. –  refro May 5 '11 at 5:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Lunch 'n learns are fantastic. It gives your teams the ability to show off what they're doing and spark conversation between teams. They should be fairly informal, giving them almost a casual feel, which tends to spark more interest than if you were to make them mandatory. They should also be held to a lunch timespan.

Great method of knowledge sharing.

Here are some tips on preparing Lunch 'n Learn sessions.

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I agree with the other answers in that meeting with the other departments (either formally or informally) will help spark some discussion about how everyone does their work, what tools they use, what process they follow, how they would approach a problem, etc.

What I feel needs to be done is to write things down and share knowledge this way. Setup a common internal portal or wiki (e.g. a SharePoint site) where each department can contribute and see what the other departments are doing and how they do it. This would allow each department to showcase what they are doing and how they are getting it done and would allow other departments to gain some insight and perhaps improve their own way of doing things.

Meeting in person is always effective, but ensuring that things are written down and shared just helps to strengthen communication and collaboration.

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Are weekly or monthly progress think tank style meetings are an option for you?

If so, then you could use them to show/communicate what each team is working on?

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Arrange weekly meetings for the teams together, topics might be how to solve a problem. This can work as an ice breaking session between the teams. Technical people love to talk about technology and if you give them a chance to share their opinion, difficulties it might really help.
You have mentioned that the teams do work in common technologies, i think you can take 2-3 guys from team A to team B (of course for a short term), working together is best way to maintain a proper formal communication.

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In our company there is a monthly meeting where project managers share the best suggestions from their projects in that month. These suggestions can be technical or process related. Managers can then implement a suggestion into theur project if they find it useful. In one such meeting we shared a suggestion which we could not apply to our project (since we were using a lower version of a tool) but was useful for other projects.

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The project managers meet on a regular basis but don't really care about the development process (some more then others) so this won't help the engineers –  refro May 5 '11 at 5:45
    
Ah, that is the real problem! If managers dont want to improve then there wont be any improvement, regardless of whether you have a process in place or not. They need to be made to compete. For instance , the best suggestion gets a prize and so forth –  DPD May 5 '11 at 6:12
    
Managers want to improve but don't know what our real problems are. If we find a problem in our process and explain how we will (likely) will gain from investing time now we mostly are allowed to. The managers are not very technical over here, if they don't use sourcesafe they don't know our problems with it and can't suggest using svn. So I don't see how putting managers together will help this situation –  refro May 5 '11 at 6:41

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