Company self-examination

This week we gathered the entire company (first time, ever) for a couple of strategy sessions. We ended up doing a lot of reflective exercises, talking a lot about how we work. Below are the results.

Identifying our own weaknesses

Reflections were very open hearted, which made it a very useful exercise.

Not enough “slack” in the system

This surfaced as a root cause for many of the negative caracteristics we were able to find about ourselves. We’re always pressured for progress on all fronts, by customers, by our own ambitions and by the need for more revenue to keep going. And even though this tension between where we are and where we’d like to be drives us forward at breakneck speeds, it does have some negative side-effects.

a) “Sharpening the saw” Not enough time is spend educating ourselves.
b) Sharing: It feels like disturbing each other when we need to get help or want to share.
c) At times, lack of slack limits our capacity to jump straight onto new important challenges.

Solutions to this problem are many. In many ways it’s a management problem. But solutions rarly have only one single solution. As the management problem might have schrunk in the past years, the culture for pushing the limits of the machinery is there still.

We need to

  • Take the time needed to sharpen the saw. You don’t get more time, you take it.
  • Drop projects that are not core business.
  • Be clear on when we are available, and when we’re not.
  • Insist stronger to hand over projects to customers’ internal development teams.
  • Hire more people.

And please note that the problem is one of ambition, not of sloppiness — we’re not working hard due to excessive amounts of bugs. We’re out there pushing forward.

Not enough sharing between projects

Lack of sharing is not always a problem. (Creating shared dependencies between products can be very limiting to innovation. Google’s Eric Scmhidt knows this, as he recently was quoted “I learned a long time ago, don’t try to force technology to be merged.” And thus independency is a strength, too) However, there are ways to increase sharing and still keep the benefit higher than the cost.

We’re always on the lookout for ways to share code and technology without creating limiting dependencies. We’ve had several unsuccesful attempts at this in the past, but we’re getting better. We’re a bit concerned that we’ve been scared by our earlier failures, but we’ve now made a concious decision to keep up the dialogue of a possible “loosely coupled” sharing architecture.

We have a lot to benefit from more knowledge sharing, though. Learning more about “who knows what about what” we believe will enable us to improve our ability to pull knowledge when needed. Combined with fixing the “lack of slack”-problem above, we hope that this will trigger many an interesting conversation in the time to come.

We’re forcing ourselves to share more information such as “I’m going to be working on caching technologies for the next two weeks. Let me know if you have anything to share.” and then to be sharing the results findings in each projects regularly (i.e. every two months in an interactive whiteboard-session)

Our web-site stinks

Being quite proud of our individual and collective capabilities, we like to think of ourselves as a Ferrari-engine inside a Volkswagen. Thus it’s time to do something serious about the way we present ourselves. That does not mean that you’ll be seeing us coding in suits any time soon, but we’ll definitely have to do something about our web-site. We’re currently on the lookout for graphical designers that can understand our business and help with design and profiling. Let us know if you have any tips. Pimp my http://aptoma.com. We need it.

Other caracteristics

As you can see we’re more interested in what we can improve, than what we’re good at already, and we do think we’re a bit hard on ourselves. Some caracteristics have negative side-effects, and some have positive, but most have both positive and negative aspects. Below are some caracteristics with good side-effects, with a few ones with negative side-effects thrown in for good measure.

  • We’re sometimes a bit hard on ourselves.
  • We’re very agile – Customers not accustomed to our style sometimes find that this makes us seem unpredictable — we’re not commiting for distant detailed roadmaps, as we’re adapting to the ever changing future as it unfolds. We see this as a strenght, and customers tend to do so, too, when they’ve seen us in action for a while.
  • We like doing everything ourselves – You don’t have to look further than our web-site to understand that this is not always good. We learn a lot from coding our own sites, frameworks and tools, but sometimes the time has come to admit that we have learned enough and should move on to build on other’s work.
  • We’re very focussed – Focussing means saying no to something. Customers don’t always love this. But we didn’t forget or ignore you, we just focussed on something more important for the time being. It’s our job to care for customer needs in the long-haul, also. When we get to your problem, it will also get our undivided attention.
  • We don’t communicate enough internally.
  • We think that exposing ourselves to customer feedback is a strenght, but sometimes it becomes too much and it ends up limiting our work.
  • We’re very clear on what we value in our software: maintainability, usability/productivity and performance.
  • We’re good at creating cheap proof of concepts before we solidify into production code, but sometimes we move on too fast which creates a bit more technical debt than necessary. But we’re very concious about our technical debt, and we have a track record for paying it down before it is too late.

During these strategy sessions we also spent a great deal of time talking about the future of large scale new media publishing, and our role in it. We’re very grateful and excited about our increasing opportunity to play an important role in the way ahead for innovative new media publishers.

And, oh, there’s one solution to all the problems here that we have yet to discuss. We could hire you and put your great skills to good use. Join us in our relentless quest for personal and collective productivity.