May 28, 2011

How Big is Your Team?

One question has been bugging me for a long time. How do you quantify the 'size' of a team of volunteers preparing a mission to send a robot to the moon?

Scroll down to the bold highlighted sentence about half way down this post if you want to see the first real answer to this question!

The difficulty in giving a good answer is that members come and go over time, and the amount of effort any individual puts in depends on many factors - how busy their day job is, whether they live near to other team members, births of their children, how motivated they are, whether they have skills that we can make effective use of, etc.

What I already knew is that over 240 people have contacted us, sending their resume asking how they can help the White Label Space team. In most cases we were able to assign them to a sub-team or give them a specific task to work on, however that still leaves the problem of keeping track of all those distributed members. So I decided to do a little survey..

The graph below summarizes responses to a survey of the 40 most active team members of White Label Space. I've asked each member to estimate how many hours they put into the team over the last 12 months. (The results are still coming in, so this post might be updated in the future)

As expected for any volunteer project, the distribution of efforts forms a Long-Tail Distribution, with a minority of the members putting in large amounts of effort but a lot of members putting in a small effort. From the 24 members who answered so far (and more answers are expected to come in), the efforts ranged from 816 hours to 0 hours, the latter being a brand new member.

The total effort over the last year was 4906 hours, which corresponds roughly to 2.4 standard full-time working years.

Thus, if we were a normal company, it would still be a rather small one (although 2.4 full-time employees is nothing to sneeze at!). However, in such analysis one should also consider the value that comes from having such a large number of people involved, each bringing their own experience and network to the team, not to mention the fact that they are distributed across more than 10 different countries.

Considering this, it's no surprise that White Label Space has been a strong performer in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) so far. Our team at Tohoku University is making excellent progress on a fully functional rover prototype, and our Netherlands-based members have built a very realistic and attractive mock-up of the lander, which was deployed at the recent Mars analog field trials in Rio Tinto. Aside from this, we are making steady progress on a realistic and affordable engineering design of our GLXP mission and our Japan Office is preparing some exciting activities that promise to engage a huge audience in that very important and technologically advanced country. Finally, we now have a team of video editors in place making professional video content to communicate our work to the world, engaging potential sponsors and partners.

So don't take quantified answer to the blog post (2.4) too seriously. This team is showing what's possible when 100% pure passion is your rocket fuel and motivation is your oxidizer!


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