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The best company I worked for (part 1)Pieter VD
In my previous blog, I started with an introduction of my blog series about the best company I worked for until now…
In this part, I will take you with me in the company culture and the explanation of it’s importance for any member of a team.
The best company part I: the culture of ACA
Writing about company culture is not easy. Isn’t culture something we intrinsically feel or observe?
How could I possibly describe something like this?
I read a lot of definitions and theories about organisational culture on the internet (for example on wikipedia). These kind of definitions are good, but this blog is not about generalisations, it is about a very real and existing company. I could have tried writing down our values, which – don’t get me wrong – are very useful and needed in every company, but words like trust, transparancy, quality, etc… do have a tendency to be vague sometimes, especially for anyone outside the company, who does not ‘live’ them.
So let’s try something else: let’s tell some stories! Maybe this will give you a true feeling or at least more insight on ACA’s company culture:
- Let’s empower
- Let’s work with the right people
- Don’t give in on quality
- Don’t sell but invite
- The nifty details are important
A couple of weeks ago we organised a meeting about the fast company growth. We worried about the fast inflow of new colleagues and the resulting risk on our culture and values. How could we make sure that a fast company growth does not imply taking shortcuts? What actions should we take to prevent this?
I could stop this story right here and most of you would think I am some senior manager, discussing this topic with my fellow senior managers. Or maybe you think I am working at a small startup company with only a few employees, where that kind of discussions could be considered normal.
Well, we are not senior managers and the company has over 100 employees, not a small startup. This perhaps does’t seem very extraordinary to you, but it really is not as obvious as you might think. First, we felt it was our job to take responsibility for this. Secondly, we felt that we were implicitly given the space: the opportunity and the time to think about it. And third, we were (are) convinced, we could actually do something about it, we had the tools and the means to change it.
This requires a very open and mature culture, with trust from both team and management in eachother.
Let’s work with the right people
To have the discussion mentioned above, you need maturity, which is kind of a life wisdom, but as an employee, you need other traits as well: the (potential) commercial, analytical, technical or management skills and a fit with our culture.
This is an amazing thing: every day again I am working with different people with very different characters and still you can find all three traits in everyone of them.
I am quite sure we look for these traits in all our new employees. The right people: an important aspect of our continuous drive towards quality.
Don’t give in on quality
In project management, there are 3 or 4 important aspects to manage:
- Planning (when will the software be ready)
- Budget (how much is it going to cost)
- Product (what will be included in the software)
- Quality (what is the maintenance cost and the cost of change afterwards)
These aspects are all linked with eachother: if you need more product, the budget will increase and the planning will change. If you want the product faster, the planning will change and the budget will increase. That’s the theory.
In real life, customers often want the first three aspects to be consistent or even better: predictable. This means that quality is the only aspect that can fluctuate or decrease in their perception. The ‘advantage’ 😉 in software building is that a possible decrease is not always visible, certainly not on the short term. The technical debt, as we call it, will only be visible after some time that the project was delivered. Almost every software building organisation finds themself in this situation now and then and are often forced by their internal or external customers.
We at ACA know these situations all to well, but we never take shortcuts!
Because of old habits, I tried a couple of times to force some shortcuts in the beginning, because the planning was quite ambitious and there was a deadline (the usual excuses). It did not pass 🙂 The team immediately blocked me and explained that we never work like that, long-term thinking is an important part of who we are and we will never allow anything less than the best possible quality solution.
Don’t sell, but invite
Did you ever participate in a sales meeting with a potential customer?
I have quite a few times and each time again I experienced the same problem:you have to ‘sell’ your company or your product. In our business (software building), you can’t actually show your product. Showing software doesn’t tell your potential customer anything, it has little value. So we resort to words. All software companies are trying to convince their potential customers the same way: we are better than the other, we build software faster, better, cheaper, etc.
The first time I participated at a sales meeting with an ACA account manager, I wondered why this “talk” never came up.
The only thing he explained was what we did (building software), the structure and the size of the company, etc. No brawling, no selling, no ‘we are the best’. In fact, during that meeting, it was me who felt obliged to add something to emphasize we are not like other companies and why we are different. Our account manager ended the meeting with an invitation to visite our offices and to see who we really are.
This is just one example of our open culture, to show you what I mean when I say “we don’t sell, we invite“. We want everyone to know who we truly are to experience what we can do.
The nifty details are important
Part of the culture is the way we treat our work environment. It may look like nifty details, but it is not. It adds to the overall ‘experience’ of working at ACA. Everyone is part of the team and everyone truly wants to pitch in, wherever they can:
- The washing machine in the kitchen is filled and emptied by the team.
- Every lunch, a team members orders sandwiches for everyone(We have a cool system with a Google doc).
- For birthdays, people often take cakes, but if someone doesn’t, no-one says anything about it.
- The bathroom is clean and stays clean and smells nice. The toilet brush does even get used 😉
- A leak in the water dispenser is cleaned up by someone in the team. We didn’t wait on the cleaning lady. (In fact, I did, and I was ashamed later.)
The nifty details are important. It seems obvious and not very important, but it is not obvious and it is important!
So, what’s next?
These were just a few examples to give you an idea of our culture. It’s impossible to give you a true feeling of the whole experience, I would need a lot more articles for that 😉
For now I will focus on my next article, the vision of the company (ACA).
If you did not get a chance yet to read the introduction of my blog series, then here is your chance 😉
This link will redirect you to all previous and following articles in this blog series: Link
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We are always looking for new motivated professionals to join the ACA team!
Have a look at our new ACA job website: http://www.aca-it.be/jobs