Building the Team
Often, a student satellite project is initiated when a couple of enthusiastic tech geeks come together to work towards this ambitious goal. However, if a team is to be sustained, a recruitment mechanism should be established which would ensure that the team, at any given point of time, would always have the required number of people. This recruitment mechanism should be robust enough to ensure that work goes on smoothly, irrespective of events like graduation of experienced team members, people leaving the team for personal/academic reasons etc. Hence, it is essential to give some thought to the format of the recruitment process as well as the team structure.
Qualities of a long-lasting team member
More than 100 students of IITB have worked on Pratham. We have had team members who joined the team in their first year and stayed right upto graduation. We have also have had team members who did not last even a month in the team. Based on the experience we have had with so many students, we have been able to identify three traits of team members who typically last for several years in the team, members who become the true assets of the team. Surprisingly, technical prowess is not one of them. It was observed that people with traits mentioned below could develop their knowledge with time if they are technically inferior while joining. Here are the three key qualities we feel are essential for a person to last long in the team:
- Humility: This is an important quality required in a person when she/he has to work in an interdisciplinary team consisting of people of different departments, programs and specializations. It is essential for maintaining a positive work environment and developing a strong bond within the team. A humble person is typically enthusiastic to learn more and more, receptive to suggestions and improvements and knows how to respect other team members.
- Will Power: Working on a project like this can involve a lot of testing times. A strong will power is essential if one wishes to sail through these times smoothly. Stories of Pratham, listed in the blog, The Making of Pratham Satellite, do a good job illustrating the need of a strong will.
- Motivation: A strong motivation is required in order to answer the question "Why am I working in this project?" that every team member asks himself/herself at one stage or the other. The motivation can change with time, but it should be strong enough to make one keep working in the project, even when the launch is nowhere in sight, when there are other important/interesting/tempting things that can be done, when managing time becomes an issue.
Requirements from the Recruitment Process
An ideal recruitment process should fulfil the following requirements:
- Favor the selection of candidates possessing the three traits discussed above
- Give a rough idea of the technical knowledge and experience of each applicant to the existing team
- Enable the applicants to develop technically as well as non-technically, even if they don't get selected
- Get completed within a short period of time and not interfere much with the technical work of the team members
- Ensure suitable knowledge transfer across the old and new team members
- Develop a strong bonding between the incoming recruits and the existing team members
There is no single correct recruitment process. A number of processes could meet the requirements listed above and you are free to design your own. Pratham's recruitment process is described in the next section for illustration purposes.
Pratham's Recruitment Process
Pratham follows a 4-step recruitment process. The steps are listed below:
- Pre-Recruitment Orientation: Here the current status of the project, the expectations from new recruits, the experiences of existing team members and the pros and cons of joining the team are presented before the interested students. Post the orientation, documents pertaining to the individual subsystems are sent to the interested candidates to help them prepare for the test and at the same time, give them some knowledge about the various constituents of a satellite.
- Written Test and Interviews: These help give an indication of the technical knowledge of the applicants and also gives us a chance to evaluate their fit within the team.
- Mini-project: The people shortlisted after the written test and interviews are given a fortnight-long mini-project wherein they have to do something hands-on. Each applicant is allotted a mentor from within the team. The mini-project gives the applicant a flavor of working within the team, and also develops a good rapport between the new entrants and the existing team members, through the mentorship process. The mini-project concludes with a presentation before the subsystem.
- Temporary membership: People who clear the mini-project round are inducted in the team as temporary members. Within 6 months, we can evaluate whether they possess the necessary humility, willpower and motivation. At the same time, they get a chance to contribute to the project in a significant way. People who demonstrate that they can be a good fit in the team join in as permanent team members after this step.
Though long and exhaustive, this process has ensured that the satellite team gets good team-members who become valuable assets to the team.
The simpler the team structure, the more efficient will be the work. Period.
A team should typically consist of a hierarchical structure, where the roles and responsibilities of each position are clearly defined. At the same time, the team culture should be accommodating enough such that the boundaries between different hierarchical positions are never strict or rigid. There are times when the Project Manager has to do the work of a new entrant and times when the new entrant has to demonstrate leadership at a critical point. Pratham has a three tier team structure:
- Project Managers (1 or 2): Typically people who have been in the team for at least 3 year, who have a good rapport with the other team members and have demonstrated good leadership skills and a strong vision are selected as the Project Managers.
- Subsystem Leaders (1 or 2 per subsystem): Again, people who have spent at least 1.5-2 years in a particular subsystem, have a good knowledge of the various aspects of the subsystem, have good leadership skills and good people skills are chosen as subsystem leaders.
- Team members: All the other members.
For most part, this distinction appears only on paper and the culture of the team is so good that the existence of this hierarchical structure is hardly felt though it is present. The hierarchical structure helps for official purposes and during the dissemination of responsibilities in emergency situations. It can remain dormant for the remaining times.
This page would have made it clear that building a satellite is as much of a non-technical challenge as it is a technical one!
If you are done reading this page, you can go back to Starting a Student Satellite Project.