How to collaborate with your Operations colleagues

null

Twiga tech team currently has 25 members, the business in whole has 400+ employees and rapidly growing. This means for every techie we have 16-20 colleagues in other departments. Even more importantly, Twiga is a Tech enabled business, that is, the tech team plays a supporting role. Working well with other groups is not a luxury for the team, it’s a necessity.

As you can expect, there is bound to be some friction when operations and tech have to work closely together for business success.

As a tech team, we have great appreciation and respect for our operations colleagues. It is not easy to sell to over 2,000 vendors daily from a rapidly growing customer base of 6,000 customers and a network of over 13,000 farmers. Clearly, there are a lot of people doing a lot of things right.

In my experience, I have come to find out the areas of friction originate from two major areas:

  1. How the departments interact with the business
  2. How the people within the company interact with each other

Interaction with the company

Twiga is in the business of aggregating retail demand in African cities to provide low-cost access to better quality food.

To this end, Ops(Operations) and Tech(Technology) contribute in fundamentally different ways.

Imagine if you will, a company-wide meeting has been held, and all teams are reporting their numbers. Ops goes first. The crew talks about 100 tonnes moved from farm gate to vendor, 10 million Shillings in revenue and perhaps 4 million shillings in operating costs. Now, as the person accountable from tech, would you follow that up with, we delivered 100 story points? Even worse, 10KLOC (Thousands of Lines of Code)?

In these cases, you should use different approaches. For starters, try to identify simple to understand metrics. For example, our system uptime was 99% is more useful than our Apdex score was 98%. It doesn’t matter that the latter metric communicates more information. You can make it better if you can find business-oriented metrics, for example, we processed 10,000 orders and 9,000 deliveries without a single failure. Or 100% crash free users.

Given the flexible nature of the work, you must compensate by aggressively marketing what you plan to do, why you plan to do it, and when it will be done. Once it’s done, show don’t tell. Fairly regular tech demos where you invite your colleagues from other departments should help.

The moment a new business process is introduced, you can be positive pressure will immediately mount to have it reflected on the system. Know that businesses processes take time to mature, what seems set in stone right now will likely evolve into something barely recognizable once it hits the actual reality of operations. You want to give the process time. Otherwise, you will end up scrambling to rework your architecture every time the process bumps on a wall.

Interaction with people

Ops move fast! Almost all stock brought in is out within 48 hours with the notable exception of bananas which requires ripening.

Tech, on the other end, moves in two weeks sprints. There is progress in the middle of the sprint of course, but before you show this out, take a long look at an incomplete building or a car out at the garage. If the owner is nearby, their horror as the mechanic hammers, pulls and twists the various parts is palpable. Better to only share what is at least understandable.

Given this reality, I suggest you do far more planning than I would usually advocate for a tech team. You want your colleagues to co-create with you. Invite them to all brainstorms, you will be pleasantly surprised at the insights the non-techies can provide. The joint sessions will also allow them to peek into how you work, hopefully, in the process, they will also learn to appreciate the complexity of building a modern application.

Take the time to educate your colleagues. What you consider common may register as jargon to your colleagues. Don’t for a moment take the statement

“I am not a techie, I don’t understand this thing you guys are the geniuses”

or any of its variants. When it’s said, don’t take it as a statement of your superior cognitive status, interpret it for what it really is,

“You are a cost center who I am still not sure why I need.”

Make a great effort to understand your colleagues, get them to know how what you are doing will benefit them.

Finally, you want to be running an efficient support function. Most issues which will come to tech will likely be transactional in nature. For example, I can’t log in, I can’t see my records, etc. Transactional issues have an exciting asymmetry, they are usually easy to solve yet cause a lot of pain for the person experiencing them. This means you can create a whole world of value just by quickly handling them.

How do you handle collaboration between your tech team and the operation team? Talk to me in the comment section below, my Linked in chenchajacob or my twitter @jchex

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Is your team effective?


When agile hit the market, any tech team which adopted it was virtually guaranteed to see improvements in product quality, delivery cycles, and customer satisfaction.

Now, any tech organization not exercising scrum or any of its agile siblings, there is probably something very wrong with how the organization thinks of its process. Then for a team who are already matured in the ways of agile, how do you know you are still offering relatively higher value compared to your competition?

Is your team focused on the end users?

One may say, of course, we are focused on users, what else would we be focused on? Well for starters, top management, career growth, latest technical fads, etc.

Now your user does not need to be the general public, in Twiga for example, our end users for a long time were sales reps and scouts. The point to remember here is who actually gets to interact with the application. Eventually, their need wins out.

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need a UX team before you can consider yourself user-centric. Jeff Bezos famously keeps an empty seat for the customer. Such simple acts are enough to prompt your inborn empathy as you work on the product.

Do you understand how the business generates value?

I naturally love puzzles. One of the reasons I fell in love with tech is I genuinely felt I was being paid to come into work every day to solve puzzles. I would bet a good number of engineers are cut from this cloth.

The best engineers love their work, they continuously pursue excellence in their craft simply because it gives joy.

It came as a surprise to realize mastery of craft does not necessarily translate into business value. In fact, my answer to the question “How do I become successful in my business career?” is simply “Be reliable.”

The truth is most business problems are simple, you just need to take the time to understand them and then orient your team towards solving pain points with the greatest business impact. Sometimes this means reworking the entire architecture to microservices most times it’s merely splitting out a SQL report to better fit different types of data consumers.

Are you taking advantage of your opportunities?

Problems almost always seem to win over opportunities. Problems are clear, immediate and painful. If your head hurts, you will find your way to a hospital in short order, if a gym opens up near you with a lifetime 50% discount for all charter members, you may never sign up.

Yet, as a tech organization, you have unique insight on the going concerns of the business, you may see chances for dramatic improvements in operational excellence which you are the most suited to solve. If you are only focused on the problems of yesterday: The users who crashed, the inefficient use of the DB pool, etc. then you will never have the mind space to contribute to the future of your business proactively.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your tech organization? Talk to me in the comment section below, my Linked in chenchajacob  or my twitter @jchex

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

How to write an agenda

 

Previously, I have talked about the value of an agenda In fact. I went so far as to say a meeting without an agenda is probably a waste of your time.

I still stand by these words thou now there is more to say. Having an agenda at all gets you 80% of the way there, how do you cover the rest of the way? Better agendas of course!

In this entry, I will be sharing some thoughts on how to craft your agenda. These are the questions you as the meeting sponsor should be mindful of.

Why is this meeting needed?

In organizations, meetings are a way of life. In fact, once you become a manager, meetings are the way you get your work done.

A basketball player has his court, a sculptor his marble, a manager has his meetings.

Yet every meeting needs to have a purpose. Do you want to:

  • Pass on some information to the team?
  • Get an update from the team?
  • Collaboratively solve a big strategic problem?
  • Have the team update each other?
  • Hold court so they all know who is boss?

If you don’t know what you want, the confusion will radiate across the whole group spreading woe and misery to all who have to sit in.

This doesn’t mean you have to be dead set on what you want to be done. It simply means you have to have an end goal in mind if then you have to modify it, at least you know what you are modifying.

Who needs to be in the meeting?

An organization, at least the successful ones, pull in one direction. To achieve this, you must understand what it takes to get things done.

You must be acutely aware of who can:

  • Provide know-how on the meeting objectives
  • Veto the meeting actions/decisions
  • Will act on the outcomes from the decision

Provide know-how on the meeting objectives

In today’s economy, knowledge is specialized, this is why we form organizations, to bring together multiple domains of knowledge to bear on a single well defined problem.

With this in mind, if you are calling a meeting to solve a problem, it’s useful to think who would have expertise in these kinds of problems. This way you would save time otherwise wasted in trial and error.

Veto the meeting actions/decisions

I have heard of flat organizations, I am yet to see one without any kind of hierarchy and is a going concern.

Unless you are the owner and CEO, you probably have someone or a group of someones who can overturn your decisions. You need to be mindful of how important the purpose of the meeting is to them.

Consider inviting them to the meeting or at least sharing the important factors you are to discuss and have them give you their opinion beforehand.

Will act on the outcomes from the decision

Handoffs don’t usually work. If you want someone to do the work well, they need a sense of ownership over the work. The most effective way to get there is to co-opt them into the decision making progress.

Even if you don’t end up adopting their ideas, they should be sure their ideas were given full consideration and turned down on the basis of merit.

What will be the output?

A meeting that does not produce any artifact is better classified as a hangout.

You need to be clear on what exactly will be the output of the session. This can come in multiple formats:

  • An action list
  • A decision
  • A report
  • A statement

The idea here is a meeting is rarely a reason in itself for existing. It supports another process or a bigger objective. The output of the discussion then needs to come out in a format another person or team can consume.

How will the meeting be run?

Meetings come in all types, some are short and sweet others are long and engaging. The point is to identify how you plan on having the team work together.

Some of the common ways include:

  • Individual updates in a round robin
  • Brainstorming session where all ideas are dumped into a common board
  • Listing session where ideas related to one item are solicited
  • Executive update where the sponsor gives information and fields questions
  • Timeboxed deliberation where agenda items are discussed with no aim for a resolution

The way of working will depend on your organization. The point is by being clear on it, you are able to make the most of the time the session runs.

How do you build an agenda in your organization? Talk to me in the comment section below, my Linked in chenchajacob  or my twitter @jchex

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail