An organization deconstructed
It’s safe to say I knew next to nothing about the challenges of a software development company when I joined the Operations department at Particular Software two years ago. My background is in Human Resources, and that part of me was intrigued by the little I knew about the company – just past the start-up stage, 100% dispersed, flexible hours, growing fast.
As a passionate planner, it rocked my boat a bit that there was no master plan for the company. Three things were clear, though. One, I was part of a team passionate about our culture, organization, and products. Two, we wanted to build tools that developers were equally passionate about. And three, we wanted to build the kind of company where we all wanted to work.
Particular founder and CEO Udi Dahan says that we may not know exactly where we’re going or how we’re going to get there, but I trust him and my talented colleagues to keep things afloat as we work our way through the transition. We’re trying to make good decisions at every step along the way, to fail small and learn big. It’s a fascinating journey, and I plan to share our learnings through this series of blog posts.
In the beginning
When Udi decided to create a company to commercially license his open-source project, NServiceBus, he didn’t plan on having employees working remotely from all over the world. His focus was only on bringing in the best people to create the best products for making developers better.
As the company grew, keeping everyone remote had advantages: no overhead or relocation, the broadest possible pool for great candidates, and a completely flexible work environment. We were able to provide 'round the world, 'round the clock support to our customers while still providing an excellent quality of life for our staff members.
After about two years, the company made a conscious decision to stay on this path – there would be no “home base.” Like Udi’s distributed system design philosophy, we also became officially “dispersed.” And like NServiceBus itself, it just…worked. But, would this structure hold as our staff proceeded to grow dramatically?
We saw how our growing staff allowed us to tackle projects we hadn’t been able to address before, but there was a cost. While the department structure led to more cohesiveness and regular discussions within departments, there was much less of that between departments. Udi began to hear complaints that the processes were handled inconsistently between departments, leading to frustration. Also, with a hierarchical structure, we didn’t always have the right combination of skill sets involved, leading to less than optimal decision making.
What? No departments?
Toward the end of 2014, Udi presented us with a vision for organizational change. Rather than optimize for the efficiency of certain groups of tasks, we would optimize around end-to-end processes. To do this, we would bring together, on an ad-hoc basis, individuals with the right skill sets to see a task through from beginning to end. These groups, called task forces, would be transitory and dissolve after completing a unit of work or making a decision.
This change included eliminating the director positions in the company, allowing for direct communication between individuals rather than forcing staff to follow a hierarchical path up and down a chain to resolve issues and get approvals. Decisions would be pushed down to the individual and task force level. (Lots more to to talk about here in future posts!)
When Udi made this announcement, he was met with puzzled faces. Some were thinking, “Why mess with something that is working?” Others thought, “I don’t get it, but let’s see how this thing plays out.”
My mind went right to the human resources implications. This change would have a tremendous impact on how we hire, evaluate performance, provide career development guidance, compensate our staff, etc. For me, this was a gold mine of opportunity, and I couldn’t wait to see how it would shake out!
How’s it going?
For each problem, task, or project that arises, we are trying to apply these new principles. We’re deconstructing the whole into components and putting them back together in a way that makes more sense. Through these efforts, the vision is slowly becoming clearer. But, there are significant challenges. They include prioritization, overloaded to-do lists, trying to formulate processes while still being productive, and determining how final decisions are made.
We’ve already seen some positive results coming out of this. For one, there are better and faster decisions being made by a wider variety of people with multiple skill sets. Also, staff members participate in a broader range of activities of interest to them, energizing them to collaborate and work through issues together.
I’m encouraged. The challenges are surmountable. The results are promising. And I’m personally having a great time!
About the author: Karen Fruchtman oversees all activities that allow the staff at Particular to shine. Karen is energized by the opportunity to help craft a company culture that attracts and retains such a stellar staff. Blogging is a new venture, and just one example of how staff at Particular can explore new ways to enhance their careers. Intrigued? We’re hiring!