Dirty-Work Group

Dirty-Work Group

A Team Management, Dynamics and Structure Model

(Originally published in 1998)

1. Management – Sense in Multitude

1.1 In the beginning there was…

With the industrial revolution, came a problem, which was unfathomable for the people of the times. It was simply how to manage the enormous. A large number of workers, machines, raw materials that flowed in tones, production, the products and supplying it. And last, but not the least, the profits it generated and the money involved in the whole process.

1.2 Then came the manager…

This led to the development of some methods, functions and attitudes, which came to be collectively called as management. Management, like all abstract thought intensive activities, has no clear definition. Collections of sentences, which cover its various aspects, are taken as a framework in which it can be said to belong. Some of the accepted thoughts that broadly classify as definitions are:

1. Management is the integrating force in all organized activity.[1]

2. The process of designing and maintaining an environment in which individuals, working together in groups, efficiently accomplish selected aims.[2]

3. Utilization of technical, human, conceptual and design skill at various levels in an organization to achieve selected aims.

4. Planning, organizing, staffing, leading and controlling various inputs in an organization to achieve selected aims.

As step-by-step formalization of management techniques, it was possible to understand and chart the course of a revolution. And it led to another revolution. From production-oriented industrial revolution to a commerce-oriented economic revolution. Profit almost is now a dirty word. Modern paradigms of efficiency, growth and environment-of-work and customer-is-king were the driving force.

1.3 The honeymoon is over…

Soon, with the growth of this new attitude, something was found missing in the concept of an efficient manager. Some said it was that a manager adopted an impersonal (though not passive) attitude towards goal.[3] They tend to view work as an enabling process involving some combination of people and idea s interacting to establish strategies and make decisions. They preferred to work with people and avoided solitary paths. This was seen as a good managerial practice but thought of as a big hindrance in taking those small bold step, calculated risks that made all the difference. It was increasing felt that a manager went on with his job with total trust that the function he performed was sufficient for the goal. The whole system lacked something, which could break new ground. It was felt if a manager was more personal, far-sighted, pro-active, driving, motivating in his unique was, he would fill this gap. A void in concept was detected and here came the concept of leadership. A void rightly understood, but wrongly filled.

1.4 A leader is born…

Certain traits were identified, certain attitudes were formulated and this resulted in the birth of a leader. A leader was required to be personal and proactive towards organizational goal. Leaders always took calculated risks and were more concerned with ideas, relations with people and worked in an intuitive and empathic way. Leadership was called the art of directing sub-ordinates will, abilities and efforts towards organizational goal.[4] A leader was to comprehend that people are different in work style and motivation pattern; understand group dynamics; create a stimulating environment; inspire and gain respect; understand the big picture and boil it down for his employees. Something called the fundamental principle of leadership was developed.

“Since people tend to follow those who, in their view, offer them a means of satisfying their own personal goals, the more managers understand what motivates their subordinates and how these motivations operate, and the more they reflect this understanding in carrying out their managerial actions, the more effective they are likely to be as leaders.”[5]

It was believed that a manager could utilize only 60-65% of the capacity of his subordinates without the exercises of effective leadership.[6] Many approaches to leadership were defined. It was observed, “Research has produced such a variegated list of traits presumably to describe leadership that, for all practical purposes, it describes nothing. Fifty years of study have failed to produce one personality trait or set of qualities that can be used to discriminate between a leader and a non-leader.”[7]

1.5 Shayad leader – Shayad manager…

Amidst all this discussion on leadership and how a leader differs from a manager, one subtle but distinct trait does come forth. We feel that all the traits of a leader described in management book are in general traits of an efficient manager. Leadership, it seems is the next step of being an efficient manager. A good manager, given authority and held accountable, will certainly take risks as dictated by his vision. In order to achieve that vision, he will surely make it personal and filter down the motivation and urgency to achieve it to his subordinates. Empathy is a trait of any decent human being and if found in a manager, would certainly make him a better manager. But what is that make an efficient manager cross the line and be a leader? We feel it is his personality, charm, charisma or style. It is his personality. Traits in his personality that make him seem genuinely superior, pedagogical and serene in his vision. It is not what but how of thing he does that makes him a leader.

1.6 With every wish, there comes a curse…

It takes good followers to make a leader. What is it that the subordinate wants from his manager that he finds in a leader? What do these traits do to a manager to make a leader out of him? A leader tries to understand what is in the minds of his subordinates and then tries to provide that and boil down big aim to task level for each of his employees. It is, we feel, things that people a lower level don’t understand or want to understand that makes a leader a necessity. But a manager too could have done this. But a leader, with his persona, inspires respect and trust which manager could not. So he is listened to.

The concept of leadership was considered to be the panacea for organization that wanted to be in the market to stay. Good leaders in your organization and it will be a leader. But it came with a flip side story. The personality cult and leader with no lead.

“I can’t forgive or abandon violence. I am not as great as Mahatma Gandhi…”, said the man.

Leaders exist at two levels. At the higher level, say, as a senior executive or CEO. We will try to understand the personality cult factor for two great leaders, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and William H. Gates III.

When Einstein said of Gandhiji that generations to come would not believe that a person of his greatness ever walked on earth, he knowingly or unknowingly hinted at the problem of personality cults. Gandhiji learnt that truth set him free, work made him a better person and freedom of thought made him a human who could find space-time to understand God. While he was alive, he made sure his ideas, not his person was the leading light. But after his death, our society labelled as a Mahatma and revered him as Father of the Nation. Mahatma, the great man took precedence our Gandhi, the ordinary man who not talked but followed truth. Today a word that goes against the image of Mahatma is blasphemy as no one wants to accept him as a normal human. His ideas, however, are lost as practical deeds but are mere words. Had no cult been formed around the name but his ideas put forth, he would have been of better service in his death to the nation.

Today everyone knows the names Windows and Microsoft as the brainchild of Bill Gates, CEO Microsoft. A leader in life and market. Windows NT was always slotted to wipe off Unix. Today the battle is on. Here, we have a typical Personality v/s Idea battle. NT is running on its efficiency. But what happens when Gates is no more CEO. Will its subsequent versions have the same push of being a Gates led product? Today Microsoft is very Gates sensitive. Without Gates, will the market be as supportive? Unix has no such leader involved with it. It has survived on pure efficiency. Many products are making it big only because of Gates persona and surely have been a failure has some other company pushed it in the market.

1.7 Who’s Next…

This leads to another problem. More charismatic the leader more difficult is it to find a successor. After Bill Gates, who? The insecurity and speculation involved in such events could be felt when J. R. D. Tata passed away. When Ratan Tata was to join, there was a thought going around that decline of Tata group was near. The reason was simple. Such was the persona of J. R. D. Tata, that nobody could expect Ratan Tata to fill the void. Without the leader, a decline was expected. In Indian politics, a prime example of this is Sonia Gandhi as leader of the Congress party as she belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi family.Note

Big words are put up in offices, with the name of a bigger personality attached to it. The sole purpose of this is spreading the good word. And one does feel the depth of the words if the person saying it was some great man. God is one – Ram Kumar Sharma, won’t catch influence our thought as God is One – Mahatma Gandhi. The whole idea is to extrapolate the personality influence on the reader. The words may get lost if a reader may not agree with the person.

At the lower level, i.e. the managerial level, when all want to lead, who will follow? Often it is seen that the mark of success is climbing the ladder of hierarchy. Though it is not encountered in organization too often, it is there. Though this is a common phenomenon in the social environment.

1.8 United we stand…

At this moment we introduce a concept of dirty-work group. First, what is a dirty-work? A job, which a person can do, preferably efficiently, but would not do it because he does not like it. e.g., a programmer may enjoy coding, but documentation is a dirty job. He will be happy if someone else did it as nicely, else he would do it himself. A typical dirty-work group is essentially a small, heterogeneous group in which each does his nice job and finds another to do his dirty-job. This has to be cyclic.

Dirty-Work Group

Dirty-Work Group Legend

Blue Red Green
Dirty-Work Nice-Work Dirty-Work Nice-Work Dirty-Work Nice-Work

Action B

Action A

Action A

Action C

Action C

Action B

1.9 So, all this means that…

In a typical scenario, there will be at least one initiator. They/he is the one with the original idea and want to give it an organizational form. He chooses his nice-work and dirty-work and looks for another whose nice job will be his dirty-job and so and form a cyclic group. A team of heterogeneous members will be self-motivating.

Blue has initiated a project. Now he spreads his idea to other two. They all share the vision now. If red goes slow on his job, blue will pull him up, who in turn will be pulled up by red for completing his dirty-work in time or up to mark. Also, if a member, say, red leaves, other to will sustain the project. Until the time they find another dirty-worker to substitute red, green will do his dirty-job himself.

Let us see, how does a dirty-work group fill the void leadership was filling.

Shared Vision: Among a Dirty-Group, it is easy to share a vision, as it was the ability to grasp that vision that made them come together. Any clash of vision will be rare as it is a heterogeneous group, with people doing what they like and knowing another work, will understand all the restriction and difficulty of certain approaches. If they feel their idea can be implemented they can easily take it up as their dirty-work. As they all are of different but related to the field of next, it will make them less like a committee, which as people for representation sake, rather than work contribution sake.

Idea Cult: A mix of people working will ensure that a single personality fixation is avoided and thus we will have ideas as the guide rather than personalities.

Big Picture: Big picture is often very complex to gather and very easy once understood. A Dirty-Work Group will be easily able to absorb in the big picture due to varied expertise people and spread their understanding to all as one passes it another, who in turn has a lot in common with the first one.

2. How did the idea of a Dirty-Work Group developed

Do not tell lies about the past.

– Leonardo da Vinci

The concept of Dirty-Work Group was first presented as a paper in Indore Management Association’s Quest For Leadership held in 1998 in Indore, India.

2.1 The Birth

DWG started with Expressions, an annual advertising festival of International Institute of Professional Studies (IIPS), Indore, India where we were pursuing our MCAs. We, as a small group of friends, were attracted to it for various reasons. Some wanted to contribute to jingle because of their interest in music and some in posters because of their interest in graphics and some wanted to join in because of their interest in just having fun.

And as years went by, we all remained a group. The strand or glue that held us together was the diversity of interest. And, the understanding that to do something interesting, there are lots of overheads that need to be taken care of and which usually are not interesting. So when one of us wanted to design the college T-Shirt because of interest in designing, the overhead of dealing with manufacturers, printers at business level was a dampener. So stepped in another who loved to make deals. And the dirty-work group created the first IIPS T-Shirts.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. 

– Albert Einstein

IT industry has one peculiarity. Its dependency on people is huge and also on how they interact with each other. Project management is a heavy technical and managerial task. As all of us landed with jobs in this industry, our workplace experience increased and our college became a fond memory. One thought prevailed amongst us. We were a nice team! And if we had similar teamwork at work…

2.2 Who are We

[Three kinds of people] Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.

– Leonardo da Vinci

Definitely, those who see.

In an earlier avatar, I had made an anonymous website for DWG. The idea was to test the concept of DWG on itself. Can it survive just as an idea or does it need a face or a name backing it? To keep anonymity, we used to refer to us as Original Idea Developers (OIDs). Unfortunately, I had to give up on the experiment due to web administration related reasons.

2.3 Acknowledgement

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

– Albert Einstein

Praveen Rao – Student of Masters in the Management faculty at IIPS for all his encouragement to formalize the concept and present in Quest For Leadership.

Indore Management Association – For providing the platform for presenting this concept.

3. Dirty-Work Group Summary

3.1 Foreword …

Dirty-work group started as a convenient way to do things by a group of friends in college. Dirty-work group started as a convenient way to do things by a group of friends in college – a group that puts its hand into everything. And according to interests of each person, he or she may or may not involve.

IMA gave us a chance to formalize this and present it to everyone as a model that could be used at workplace and at play. The idea, though very simple was very difficult to put into words. So with help of the paper and a deck, we were able to express it. Now we do not know how many there thought of it as a really good idea and not just a cool presentation (we were runners-up), but we knew that the idea worked.

So when we left college and went to work, we realized how much effort is being put and work is being done to create a good teamwork environment. And we realized how unknowingly, people who were a dirty-work group were doing well. And so we thought of putting this idea up. To see if it makes sense to formalize this concept.

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.

– Albert Einstein

If you think this idea is too simple and too trivial for all the effort, a few years ago we would have agreed to you. And it would also tell us that you have crossed the first mark. You have understood the concept. But seeing how difficult it is to word concepts, standardize it, put it in a way that everyone makes the same sense out of it, it is all worth the effort.

3.2 All Dirty-Work Group means is…

The part always has a tendency to reunite with its whole in order to escape from its imperfection.
The lover is drawn by the things loved, as the sense is by that which it perceives…

 – Leonardo da Vinci

Here we dare to sum it all in few words. Not a good thing. So let us put it up as an example.

Your wife does not enjoy driving. You do not sitting idle in the car. So, you drive and she watches. What a happy dirty-work group you are!

Your project team is trying to crack a new technology. Your secretary does you time-sheets, leave cards, and tax return for you. You hit the technical specifications and the student-trainee converts your notes into presentations so rest of the team learn the easy way so the rest of the team learns the easy way. They in the meantime have all basics done, so as soon as the team know what to do, they shoot at it. What an efficient dirty-work group you are!

3.3 With this you get a free…

The idea which we highlighted in presentation with help of the slides was, what we felt was how steady organizations would survive in future, was to have ideas rather than people as leaders. And how we thought that a dirty-work group implemented ideas as leaders rather than people as a leader.

3.4 Always, have a backup…

Among the biggest threat to a good team is the loss of a team member. If we look carefully at a dirty-work group, we see that in implementing it, a team also inadvertently, implements a method where we have a back-up for each member.

The key here is, we choose not to do our dirty-work. It is not that we do not know how to do our dirty-work. So if tomorrow, the worker who was doing my dirty-work leaves the group, I can still do that task. So while we look for a new member, we are not stood still or are lost.

3.5 To Po(i)ntificate the Concept…

  • Dirty-Work Group implements a team structure, work distribution and robustness of the team
  • The knowledge of purpose, direction and means are all shared among the team and decided upon further by the team
  • Each worker has interest in the work involved and would love to do it
  • Each worker also has skills to perform at least one other task involved but may or may not want to do it
  • Each worker compliments another worker by choosing a task as nice-work, which was declared as dirty-work by other
  • Each member thanks the group member who handles the dirty-work by keeping in touch with the progress, issues and general details of the Dirty-Work.

4. Reviews of Dirty-Work Group

4.1 Martin Ryder (University of Colorado at Denver, School of Education) 28 July ’01

… It offers an interesting angle to the idea of collective activity and potentially fits within the context of one or more subject indexes that I maintain: notably Activity Theory and possiblyOrganizational Learning and Knowledge Management.

My main concern is your anonymity. I assume that you are a human being, but the identity of your web page and of your email message is solely that of an impersonal organization. We both know that organizations and humans are codetermined: one cannot exist without the other in human society. …

Note: This comment was made around July ’01, when I had presented these views in anonymously as “OID”.

4.2 David West (Dean of managementlearning.com) 29 July ’01

We think your ideas make eminent sense. We would like to reference your material on managementlearning.com. The topics that we feel that it connects to are team building, leadership and organizational culture….

This concept was also published on their website in form of an essay/article. The Article in ManagementLearning.com

5. Reference

1. R D Agarwal: Organisation and Management (Tata McGraw-Hill) pg. 1
2. Harold Koontz, Heinz Weihrich: Essentials of Management (McGraw-Hill International Editions, Vth Ed.) pg. 4
3. A. Zaleznik : Excerpts from Managers and Leaders: Are they Different ? (Harvard Business Review, MayJune 90) pg. 54
4. R D Agarwal: Organisation and Management (Tata McGraw-Hill) pg. 224
5. Harold Koontz, Heinz Weihrich: Essentials of Management (McGraw-Hill International Editions, Vth Ed.) pg. 346
6. Harold Koontz, Cyril O’Donnel: Management: A system and Contigency Analysis of Managerial Functions ( McGraw-Hill) pg. 587
7. E E Jennings: The Anatomy of Leadership, Management of Personnel Quarterly (Vol.1, no. 2, 1961), pg. 2

Shayad (Language: Hindi) – Maybe

6. Note

JRD Tata was head of TATA group. He and his organization has richly contributed to not just the economy of India but also help in improving the social life. The contribution of JRD to India is fondly remembered. This paragraph is not a comment on his successor but heartfelt realization on our part that people like JRD Tata are irreplaceable.

7. More Reading

Product Backlog


I propose a method to build a Product Backlog, how to record a feature that has business value clearly quantified and how this fits into a project inception.


Backlog Definition From Agile Alliance:

A backlog is a list of features or technical tasks which the team maintains and which, at a given moment, are known to be necessary and sufficient to complete a project or a release:

  • if an item on the backlog does not contribute to the project’s goal, it should be removed;
  • on the other hand, if at any time a task or feature becomes known that is considered necessary to the project, it should be added to the backlog.

These “necessary and sufficient” properties are assessed relative to the team’s state of knowledge at a particular moment; the backlog is expected to change throughout the project’s duration as the team gains knowledge.

The backlog is the primary point of entry for knowledge about requirements, and the single authoritative source defining the work to be done.

Not That Backlog

Various terms exist for a backlog being used in Agile development. Based on scope / tradition, terms Story Backlog, Feature Backlog, Epics Backlog, Development Backlog and at times Product Backlog too are used.

I will refer to these as Story Backlog so I can differentiate it with the Product backlog I am introducing in this write-up.

Story Backlog Definition From Mountain Goat Software:

The agile story backlog in Scrum is a prioritized features list, containing short descriptions of all functionality desired in the product. A typical Scrum backlog comprises the following different types of items:

  • Features
  • Bugs
  • Technical work
  • Knowledge acquisition

Story Backlog Definition From Atlassian:

A story backlog is a prioritized list of work for the development team that is derived from the roadmap and its requirements. The most important items are shown at the top of the story backlog so the team knows what to deliver first. The development team doesn’t work through the backlog at the product owner’s pace and the product owner isn’t pushing work to the development team. Instead, the development team pulls work from the story backlog as there is capacity for it, either continually (kanban) or by iteration (scrum).

Product Backlog

A Product Backlog is prioritized features list, containing short descriptions of all functionality desired in the product, with a business value for each feature clearly quantified along with source of the feature request / inspiration.

Product Backlog Card

A take at what a Product Card can look like:

Theme / Module
Action – Expected Result / I want to – So That / Feature / Inception time Epic
Value Ranking
Success Metric (to judge value delivered)
Failure Metric (to trigger a re-learn / re-analyze)

I am still not sure if Priority would still make sense given that Value Ranking is there. The reason I have added it is because Priority represents the perspective on person who is creating this card and Value Ranking is a quantitative analysis based on weightage. Value Ranking is a kind of check on the ‘gut feel’ or ’emotional’ Priority.

I think Source is important. We should link back to the CRM entry, the social media post, a market study, email, etc that lead to creation of this. It is important to refer to that original content which can be referred to as-is in future and considered as ‘interpretation free’ source which a ProMa used.

Scoping Product Backlog Card

How much work is a feature? There are some questions that a ProMa should ask to give BAs, IMs, Dev a good idea of breadth of work involved. There is, always, more to a feature than just implementation. Look at the suggested list to get an idea what I mean here:

Time Is a GTM time identified?
If yes, date?
Collaterals Does it need marketing collaterals?
Does it need sales collaterals?
Does it need support collaterals?
Does it need user collaterals?
Change Management Does it need change in process?
Does it need change in people & behaviour?
Does it need change in how users interact?
Does it need change in tech?
Control Does it bring in regulatory & legal aspect?
Does it bring in un-handled regulatory & legal aspect?
Does it need extra/new licenses?
Does it get covered by existing licensing model?
Security & Safety Does it need extra security focus?

A yes on any of these, will affect the scope of work and for folks other than the Devs. It is important to look beyond the functionality during implementation.

Prioritizing Product Backlog

Quantifying Product Vision

A feature can be seen to provide / contribute to one or more of following values at various levels:

  • BAU
  • Strategic
  • Competitive
  • Collaborative
  • Revenue
  • Cost

Based on the vision, these six can be given various weightage.

Eg: 1/ A product like say ‘Am-Behind App’ is playing catch up on feature parity with competition, the weightage can be:

BAU           10%
Strategic     10%
Competitive   40%
Collaborative 10%
Revenue       20%
Cost          10%


2/ A product like say ‘Am-Expensive App’ is focused on reducing capex, the weightage can be:

BAU           10%
Strategic     10%
Competitive    5%
Collaborative  5%
Revenue       20%
Cost          50%


3/ A product like say ‘Want-2-Breakfree App’ is focused on growing by usual and innovative methods, the weightage can be:

BAU           25%
Strategic     30%
Competitive   40%
Collaborative  0%
Revenue        5%
Cost           0%


and so on. This given a quantitative representation to your product’s vision. This should not change too often. Changes to it will change the ‘value rank’ of a feature as we will see below.

However, it is expected to change given the Build-Measure-Learn nature of ProMa. The change will drive a new priority against which the Product Backlog can be re-prioritized.

Quantifying Value

Starting with asking some key questions around these vision directions.

BAU Does it address key market?
Does it add to the USP/ Key Value Prop
Strategic Does it open up new market / opportunity?
Does it offer significant competitive advantage?
Are early adopters identified?
Competitive Does it allow us to catch up with specific competition (eg: feature parity)?
Does it allow a ‘we-too-have-it’ comparison against specific competition?
Collaborative Does it help “free to use” ecosystem?
Does it help “paying to use” ecosystem?
Cost Does it bring cost benefit?
Revenue Does it enable potential revenue uplift?
Does it lead to revenue uplift indirectly?
Does it lead to revenue uplift directly?

The answers can be Yes or No and quantified as 1 or 0. A Yes will lead to a value of 1 * weightage. We can add up all the values and arrive at a value rank.

Eg: For the product ‘Want-2-Breakfree App’, a feature has been requested that allows it to address a similar need but in different domain. With this vision weightage:

BAU           25%
Strategic     30%
Competitive   40%
Collaborative  0%
Revenue        5%
Cost           0%


This is how feature analysis and value rank can look like:

BAU Does it address key market? Yes 25
Does it add to the USP/ Key Value Prop Yes 25
Strategic Does it open up new market / opportunity? No 0
Does it offer significant competitive advantage? Yes 30
Are early adopters identified? Yes 30
Competitive Does it allow us to catch up with specific competition (eg: feature parity)? Yes 40
Does it allow a ‘we-too-have-it’ comparison against specific competition? No 0
Collaborative Does it help “free to use” ecosystem? No 0
Does it help “paying to use” ecosystem? No 0
Cost Does it bring cost benefit? Yes 5
Revenue Does it enable potential revenue uplift? No 0
Does it lead to revenue uplift indirectly? Yes 0
Does it lead to revenue uplift directly? No 0

Now let us see for another feature. A feature has been requested that allows it to analyze the response via various marketing channels. This is how feature analysis and value rank can look like:

BAU Does it address key market? Yes 25
Does it add to the USP/ Key Value Prop Yes 25
Strategic Does it open up new market / opportunity? Yes 30
Does it offer significant competitive advantage? Yes 30
Are early adopters identified? Yes 30
Competitive Does it allow us to catch up with specific competition (eg: feature parity)? Yes 40
Does it allow a ‘we-too-have-it’ comparison against specific competition? No 0
Collaborative Does it help “free to use” ecosystem? No 0
Does it help “paying to use” ecosystem? No 0
Cost Does it bring cost benefit? Yes 5
Revenue Does it enable potential revenue uplift? Yes 0
Does it lead to revenue uplift indirectly? Yes 0
Does it lead to revenue uplift directly? No 0

So, the later feature should be prioritized higher in the Product Backlog.

Product Backlog and Inceptions

How does a Product Backlog fit into our Inception? Here is my earlier blog post on this: Product Management During Project Inception


Product Management Role in Project Inception Feature

Never Alone

This started with a lunch time discussion with Sriram Narayan few months back. It got re-triggered by a question by Kartik Kannan “How do ProMa figure in Inception Process?” Thanks to Priyanka Kapur and Anantpal Singh Saluja who became first user of this method while creating a pitch for a client.