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June 2019
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Agile Mutants at ACA IT-Solutions

Kitty IdingKitty Iding

A month ago ACA IT-Solutions celebrated 12.5 years being an agile cooperation. For this reason we’ve hosted an event, our theme: “The power of flexible innovation”.

Inspired by this theme, three talks were performed by own personnel: Stijn Van den Enden on “Build Apps like Lego”, Christopher Verhulst on “The Metrix, Reloaded” and my own talk on “Agile Mutants”.

How do we manage to stay as flexible as we need to be? What are our lessons learned from years of doing IT projects and consultancy? How does this relate to our organizational structure and HR policy? The years of experience have learned us adapt, pivot and permanently question our status quo. In short: how did we mutate?

Flat, layered, connected

Like most companies we started small and flat. Easy to maintain, but when you grow, most businesses start building a traditional layered hierarchy. We were no different. Such a model has many advantages, but when you’re growing you start coping with the drawbacks of such a structure. You’re less free to move as a whole, movement therefor is slower and maintaining connectivity to everybody is difficult.

We’ve taken the opportunity to learn from our experience of project setups: small and cross-functional teams, where the communication level is high. This results in being aware of what’s happening inside the team (people related) and in software development (product related). Having too many small teams though provide concerns about high dependencies, planning issues concerning availability of human resources and such.

What if we could use the insights of looser coupling to build not just apps, but our organization like Lego?! We should be small enough to move rapidly and be big enough to scale to meet market demands at the same time. This is how we progressed into a mode of ‘software factory’: a cross functional team, working on several projects for several clients at the same time. ACA now has 4 of these ‘software factories’ in place. It’s a mature model with high trust and less control, since each ‘factory’ is responsible and accountable for their own successes and failures. It’s hard work, and we’re still learning every day, but the payoff is great; not just for the people working in it, but it provides flexibility to our customers as well. The demand leveling of projects is much easier, the overhead cost is lower and the business knowledge stays within the factory. The connectivity and communication level is even higher than before, intense but satisfactory!

Agile Lego Mutants

Diversity and feedback

Being or transforming into an agile organization fails or succeeds with having the right people at the right place. For an IT company like ours, such a hyper collaborative and communicative way of work is not evident for IT people. Stereotyping ITers: they don’t talk much and when they do they’re in their zone of high tech savvy stuff. That’s why in recruiting new employees, we specifically look for highly communicative people with a mindset not afraid of change. Other than that, we feel that a magical mix of people working together calls for diversity. Diversity means different people, means different opinions, means different angles and perspectives; this opens up possibilities you wouldn’t have thought even existed. Since change comes with the territory or structuring yourself in an agile mode, you should accept and foresee to invest time in people management within your company.

We strive for perfection and being the best, but the reality is we’re sure we’ll never get to the end of the rainbow. Everyone changes over time, which is good but scary sometimes. It means letting go of security, of less control, of stepping out of your comfort zone.

Challenging each other and providing continuous feedback to either dig deeper or to broaden your scope, leads to fresh ideas, to learning and insights: to evolution. This is a path every soul working at ACA strives for, improving themselves. Our individual hurdles on this road to mastery are overcome as a team. We coach each other intensively; as peers on the job, with one-on-one sessions with a personal coach and we stimulate 360 reviews. Provided with a context in which working is fun, because if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’re doing it best. Our most cheerful way of giving feedback is through our Kudos system: appreciation by giving rewards like cinema tickets, iTunes gift cards, champagne or even…. cruising the company Tesla for the weekend. Pretty cool being rewarded for something that you like doing anyway 🙂

You’re probably wondering “what is so special about this?”, it all sounds normal and logical. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

Just ask yourself the following: am I fluid in restructuring my organization, do I really know all my colleagues, can I shift my sales opportunities, can I scale up when needed, do I embrace change in favour of maintaining control?

We’ve learned from our experience so far, we hope to let you profit from it. On the other hand we also like to profit from your experience. Feel free to contact me on having a chat about this, I’d like to hear your story.

Agile Turtle

PS: Please check the other presentations on ‘The Power of Flexible Innovation’

* The Metrix, Reloaded

* Build Apps like Lego

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