Upside9 was started by doing custom projects for clients who came solely via references. For a couple of months, we build projects for clients, then started to build our own products, burnt hands and then again started doing what we were good at- Building a great product or building a great product delivery team.
While we served our customers we also optimized our processes so that we can pass on the benefits to our customers. These processes, in turn, helped us build a robust product delivery team. Well in a startup it is said there is no place for processes but based on our experience they have helped us deliver cool products. So we thought of sharing what we do that might help you.
Team is probably the most important component in any business. Your team will eventually define where your company goes. Remember you alone cannot do everything. Having said that this makes hiring very important. How you hire and who you fire will have a large impact. While hiring, make a process that marks the most important thing which is required for your startup. In our case, it was a willingness to work. To be ready to go that extra mile. Define what are must haves and never compromise on that. Build a team you are proud of.
Getting your first five hires is very difficult and also critical. Difficult because nobody wants to work for a start if you are building a product delivery business. Critical because these five people will help you grow and set the culture for your company.
Set the mode- Once you hire right you need to constantly motivate and train your team. There will be times when they will feel that the team is small and this and that. You have to motivate them and be with them. Listen to their concerns. And try to figure out solutions. Mostly, if you have hired correct your biggest challenge will be to keep them engaged in a challenging work. People who are willing to go that extra mile, need work that satisfies their desire to excel and do more. It is an exceptional quality, use it!
Once your team and their mojo process is set will need to build processes that will not tolerate mistakes- in our case delays, building everything but what was required etc. How we do that?
Whenever we get a project we first do pre-mortam. We make a list of all things that can go wrong with the project and derail us from our 2 objectives mentioned above. For example, if it is hardware project, things that can grow wrong include- hardware not having all the functionality as described by the client, your team does not receive the hardware on time, some change in the technology that makes certain modules not usable etc.
In our pre-mortam we make a list of all these things and then figure out ways to solve them. If we have dependencies from the client we clearly state it to the customer. We DON’T assume that everything will be great at this point.
Be open-minded and transparent- We as a team strive to become open-minded and transparent. That forms a core of our processes and culture. This helps us not only with the clients but within the team as well. A team that can give a clear feedback and can be open to new ideas is very powerful. It is super agile and fast. This attitude enables us to quickly implement the feedback and improve. Being open to new ideas helps us to build a better product and provide a better service to our customers.
This is the key to deliver amazing services. How your team manages their time will impact how and what they deliver. Developer time is critical. It should be spent on writing right code. We follow agile. Typical sprints are for 7–10 days depending upon the product. Once we have decided the priorities, developers spend their time in building that code. We share our priorities with the customer and take a sign off. This way they also know what they will see at the end of the day. Usually, our team also shares quick paper prototypes of what we will be building so that the customers get a visual estimate as well.
If you or your team anticipate an issue share it with every stakeholder. No point in waiting for it to happen. The idea is if you are transparent you have already set an expectation. This helps a lot in client management. And also solving issues before they arise. It will keep you on track.
Feedbacks helps us improve both personally or as a team. How we see ourselves is very different from how people perceive us. Hence build a system of a continuous feedback in your processes. Ask your team members to provide feedback to each other. This process should be very transparent. Remember when they do that their egos should stay out of the room. No blame game. Also, collect feedback from your clients.
How we collect feedbacks- We use cards for each team member including myself. Every week we provide feedback to each other. Everyone writes what was good and what needs improvement in every other person and shares it with them. The next week’s feedback we evaluate if we improved on the points or not. The duration of writing these cards varies.
Project Post- Mortem-
You will do mistakes and it is okay until you are aware of them and do not repeat it in the future. Post-mortems, as the name suggests, help us do exactly that. Write down in detail what went wrong and why and how can you make sure it does not happen again. What went right and why and how to make it better. make sure you write everything down. Writing has a strange power to itself.
You, your team and your customers should have a clear communication channel. Teach your team to how to communicate clearly. If anyone is not clear ask. It is okay to ask. If there is any ambiguity, it is your and your team’s responsibility to bring clarity to it.
Communication Channels– In today’s time the sheer number of communication channels have increased. There is Skype, hangouts, what’s app, messages, slack, facebook messenger, email, etc. Decide on one channel. Using multiple channels for communication will increase your overhead and ultimately lead to a lot of time wastage in collating everything. It may also lead to some lost threads- like quick changes from customers or feature addition request or any other feedback.
How we do it– We have stick to emails and excel sheet. Everything we do is on an email and copied to an excel sheet with details. If our customer shares it over some other channel, we take it as our responsibility to collate everything. This keeps everyone on the same page and enables transparency- which is one of our values.
Above points, if implemented will help a lot in delivering better products, maintaining good relationships and ultimately growing your business.