How Being More Human Can Help Tech Companies Do More With Less
Jule Owen is a product director at video ad tech company Unruly
How, as a small tech company, can you learn to punch above your weight? How can you scale up in ways that bring people with you while competing with larger competitors?
Before joining Unruly, I worked for many years in engineering, business and product management at Microsoft on Windows Live, Bing, Windows and Xbox.
There is an oft-held misconception of Microsoft that it is not Agile, but actually it has been formally using Agile methodologies since 2011 and is part of the Scrum alliance. The developer division works in small teams, in 3-week sprints, and runs daily stand-ups.
But it goes without saying that Microsoft has a lot of people, and a lot of resources to play with.
What if you are working for a smaller company? How can you fight for market share in a world dominated by players with more resources than you?
Here are my 3 suggestions on how to achieve more with less:
1. Be Extreme In Your Thinking
Extreme programming, or XP, is an Agile methodology described in a book by Kent Beck and Cynthia Andres.
A version of XP is at the heart of everything we do at Unruly. It isn’t only used by the development team, and its practices and ethos have been adopted across the entire company. Fundamentally, it’s a tool that allows us do a lot more with a lot less – a lot more quickly.
Since joining video ad tech company Unruly, I’ve been really astounded at how much work we get through by using XP practices. The standout thing about XP is the acknowledgment that people are, well… human.
Being human means we are creative, logical and smart, but we sometimes make mistakes – and that’s OK! In product development, we run two weekly team retrospectives and retrospectives on particular projects or situations where problems have come up.
Part of why we do this is to unpick the facts about what happened, but it is also about unpicking how people felt about what happened. To see developers – these incredibly logical, abstract thinkers – do this and see the need to do it is really wonderful.
2. ‘Hive Minds’ Are Stronger
We tend to talk about our ‘hive mind’. In other words, it’s the recognition that we can do so much more in concert than we can alone, but we need to be constantly checking in with ourselves and each other to do this.
It is hard work, but the payback is extraordinary productivity.
Developers pair or mob while coding, minimizing errors, and there are no test servers, no lengthy beta testing process and no time-consuming layers of sign-off before a release.
The person who requested the work signs off on it, so a release doesn’t get stuck waiting for sign-up from the most senior person in the division.
3. Being Lean Saves Time
From a product management perspective, the major positive difference is the way we decide what to do. Unruly’s teams have taken on the ideas behind lean thinking. In other words, we cut bigger items of work into smaller slices that we can achieve in our two-week iteration cycles. We don’t have lengthy or onerous planning processes. We don’t kill projects with analysis paralysis.
By not turning ideas into mammoth projects, it minimizes the risks.
It means there is a real willingness to listen to people at every level because there is genuine trust in people. Getting it right is really so much more important than egos.
So whether you’re a small start-up looking for ways to increase the productivity of your development team, or a Fortune 500 company looking to work faster, XP principles can offer real-world applications to make your team work more efficiently.