At Stamplay, weâ€™ve been working together for more than 2 years and have experimented with many methods and tools to organize work, priorities, and keep track of what we do.
After many trials weâ€™ve come to the conclusion that, especially if youâ€™re a small group, itâ€™s better to avoid over-engineering processes. So weâ€™ve adopted a very simple organizational strategy: define a group methodologyÂ and let people organize themselves at the individual level.
This may sound obvious to some, but itâ€™s not. The temptation to micro-manage is always very high, but when youâ€™re dealing with highly skilled and talented peopleÂ this attitude can be very counterproductive. You have to define what we can callÂ Minimum Viable LeadershipÂ (thanks Oli for the label).
In this context, itâ€™s important that allÂ members of the team are individually disciplined and organized, but as a team leader you donâ€™t need to tell themÂ how toÂ do it or whichÂ tools to use. At the same time, the team membersÂ should acknowledge that theyâ€™re working to achieve a common objective and that there is team discipline to maintain.
I consider the Software Developer as an artisanal job; when they work in teams, developers are highly individualist. They like to approach and solve problems, they generally work with great concentration, and they follow the flow of their thoughts.
There are plentyÂ of posts, ebooks and seminars on how to organize work and life. At Stamplay, we think that everyoneâ€™sÂ smart enough to self-organize and create their ownÂ workflow.
We tried to share digital tools like Trello, PodioÂ andÂ Basecamp, but it didnâ€™t really work. Tools like these are only useful if people decide to integrate them into their own personal workflows, forming a habit. If they donâ€™t form this habit, theyâ€™ll always have to thinkÂ that they have to use that tool. The result being that a tool thatâ€™s supposed to increaseÂ personal and team productivity becomes aÂ distraction.
Personally, I love my Moleskine (did you know itâ€™s an Italian product?) and my black Uniball Eye MicroÂ pens. Then I use a blend of digital tools that include Google Spreadsheets and Docs, Wunderlist and a Pomodoro timer. Iâ€™ve also adopted the Inbox Zero strategy to deal with emails and process them in batches. I know that my cofounder Giuliano uses Evernote for almost everything. I tried using it, but I becameÂ tired of it very quickly: I need to draw and use paper and pen.
Although we often work in the same room, we generally communicate via email and Slack to keep the environment as quiet as possible. Itâ€™s rare that there are questions that require an immediate response, so the asynchronous conversations become the most effective way to exchange the information needed to proceed with the work. This choice appears very useful now that weâ€™re moving from being a team in a single location to a team distributed across Rome and San Francisco with 9 hours of difference between the two cities.
While we acknowledge the need to let people organize themselves, we also remember that we need to pursue a common goal. The main tool by which we maintain a teamÂ discipline is a whiteboard full of post-its. If youâ€™re thinking that this is a weird way to do it,Â you are not considering the fact that â€œkeeping people on the same pageâ€ is often the simplest and most effective way to encourage people to form a cohesive group able to do incredible things.
Remember that as a startup, we work with people thatÂ like challenges and a work that is not always the same every day. TheyÂ donâ€™t needÂ to follow a process designed by others. This is not always obvious, but I believe that trying to micro-manage smart people is one of the fastest pathsÂ to failure. You need to support them, keep them aligned, and give them a sense of direction and visibility of whatâ€™s happening. You donâ€™t need to babysit them at all. If you do, youâ€™reÂ wasting a lot of energy.
Often development teams use complex kanbans with many processing steps. We tried, but came to the conclusion that managing the board became too strenuous.Â We have also tried digitalÂ kanbans,Â butÂ at the end, even if youâ€™re a distributed team, I believe that a physical board is unbeatable. The simple act of moving post-its from a position to another along the week is very rewarding and gives a tangibleÂ perception of progress.
In our kanban, there are only individual tasks; whoeverÂ starts and activity generally completes it from beginning to end. This allows us to avoid any temptation to multi-task, because doing several things at once is the best way to make them all bad.
Originally, we only had a whiteboard for software development. But after joiningÂ 500StartupsÂ weâ€™ve now set up another whiteboard for marketing activities, so that all the team is aware of the distribution program.Â Marketing is becoming more and more technical and often the engineering team is involved in setting up tools and developing scripts to automate tasks. Adopting a disciplined approach also for marketing is crucial.
This the second post in a series of thoughts about software development and productivity. Iâ€™m not a programmer, but Iâ€™ve worked with programmers for the last 20 years in a variety of roles. View the first post here.
This post was originallyÂ published on Stamplay Blog.