RES Software R&D Summit 2015 – The Results

Wow… what a great week it was. It is now already is a couple of weeks ago, but it still feels like it was last week. Everyone in one location, all 95 R&D employees in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

The goal of the RES R&D Summit 2015 was to build trust and understanding and to apply the lessons learned from the RES R&D Summit 2014.

We did not just want to work together for one week but we really wanted to focus on building Trust and Understanding. We wanted to increase Trust and Understanding within all R&D teams and between R&D teams. All activities we organized were linked to this theme.

RES Super Guild Event

On Tuesday we held the first ever RES Super Guild Event. Every group of professionals in our company has regular Guild sessions. Goal of these sessions is to have people exchange knowledge about their profession and to increase the skills of the professionals in the guild. We decided to organize a RES Super Guild Event: an internal conference. Speakers from RES Software who speak for RES Software. This would give people the option to get a clear understanding of other guilds, to learn together about new things, to get some interaction going with people from other teams and even departments and to have a fun evening! We were hoping for eight sessions, we were positively surprised when we ended up with 16 sessions!
RES Exploration Days

Later in the week, to show the trust we have in our R&D employees and to provide room for learning, we organized the first RES Exploration Day. The goal was learning, not shipping. It is great when a team delivers a potentially shippable product, but it’s also great when the explorers fail spectacularly by discovering the wrong continent, one they had never planned to find! We showed trust in the people who participated that they would learn and discover new things, people would show trust in each other that day so they could learn together. At the end of the Exploration Day there would be a presentation and every project would present the results. As said before, it was not about the results but about what the people learned.

OKR

We believe in data driven management so we, the organizers, set ourselves two OKR’s. The first OKR was “Organize R&D Summit to improve knowledge”.The key results were:

  1. At least 75 people of R&D should attend the RES Super Guild Event
  2. At least 23 people should participate in the RES Exploration Days
  3. We don’t spend more money than budgeted

According to the latest Gallup research about employee engagement, 17% of the professionals in NL are not engaged. Therefore, we expected at least 83% of R&D to attend the RES Super Guild event. Including Product Management we have some 100 people in the department so we aimed for approximately 75 people.

According to the 2015 Developer Survey of Stack Overflow, the average developer spends more than 7 hours per week coding on the side. We, however, expected only the developers who spend more time than average on coding on the side, to attend the Exploration Days. Taking that number this would be 22% within RES Software R&D. We decided to aim for 25% of the people of R&D to attend the RES Exploration Days.

So how did we do on those OKR’s? Around 65/70 people from R&D visited the Super Guild event. We also had some people from Support and Professional Services. 36 people participated in the RES Exploration Days. Definitely a great success! We did spend more money than we had budgeted though. Not because we tried to attract people with gadgets, but just because we did not take all costs such as dinners, taxi, etc. into account.

The second OKR was: “Organize an R&D Summit to grow relations in teams and between teams”. The key results were:

  1. Did you interact with colleagues you did not know really know before? 50% or more should answer yes.
  2. Do you think it is easier to approach colleagues now after the summit? 50% or more should answer yes.
  3. Do you now have more trust in your colleagues? 80% or more should answer yes.
  4. We don’t spend more money than budgeted.

We sent out a survey that we prepared earlier directly after the R&D Summit 2015 to collect feedback and to ask the team members to answer the questions above.

89% of the team members responded that they interacted with colleagues they did not really know before. We were positively surprised by this result. It seems that everyone grew their network and their was a lot of interaction between the team members from the different locations.

“Do you think it is easier to approach colleagues?” 86% said yes to this question, which was totally in line with the previous question in our opinion. Working in a team is all about knowing and respecting each other. When 89% of the people grew their network, it is in line that also a lot of team members will find it easier to approach colleagues.

74% of the team members said they now have more trust in their colleagues because of the R&D Summit 2015. A lower score than the other key results, but it could be some team members already had trust in their colleagues. Can you only trust a colleague for 65%?

The budget key result was not met. We underestimated some costs, mainly related to transportation and dinners.

What did we learn

The RES Super Guild Event was a success. Everyone who attended the event and filled out the survey said they liked it (55 people)! However, we think it also was an opportunity to break down silos between R&D and other departments. Next time, we would like to make it a real RES Super Guild Event. We will ask Account Managers to share their sales process and we will ask our CEO to share some of his experiences.

The RES Exploration days also were a success. 95% of the people who participated in the Exploration Days said they liked it! One of the spin offs, for example, is that the testers have now started to work on some test automation projects in the evening with colleagues. Not because they cannot find the time in the day time but because they want to learn and experiment and they found out is is fun to hang out together. The seed of innovation has been planted. However, several colleagues still mentioned that the day-to-day work load made it hard for them to spend time on the RES Super Guild event and RES Exploration Days. We will have to rethink how we can reach out to these people next time.
In general, we see and feel that NL, being in their comfort zone, is lagging behind with team building and being aware of the day to day issues of their remote workers. We think that if money allows it, it should be a serious option to consider organizing the R&D Summit abroad next year. Perhaps RO or a company kick off in January somewhere else in Europe. We feel that a number of Dutch colleagues should be taken out of their comfort zone as we did with all foreign colleagues many times.

How “Get to know you” in distributed teams

RES Software is a distributed software company. They have 230 employees distributed over eight offices and also many people working from a home office. Making sure they have one company culture, act as one team and trust each other is hard work. It will not happen automatically. One important thing you lack in a distributed company is the small talk, most people don’t do the small talk when they only meet in meetings. Small talk can make people feel like a team, it is important to really know your colleague. What are his or her hobbies, personal interest, his back ground etc. When you are really connected to team members, the chance on a successful project will increase significantly is my believe. For example, when your closest friend ask for help, or a neighbor who you only see a few times a year, probably you will help both but I suspect you are more committed to help your closest friend.

I believe in small steps, small improvements, small activities to get things happen. 1% every day. One of the things I started within RES to get people close to each other is the Yammer group: Get to know you. I read about the concept in this blog. David and Carrie McKeegan described: “For example, each Friday we post a “Get to know you” question and everyone chimes in — talking about everything from their summer plans to what book they are reading and sharing pictures of their kids. It helps build bridges that aren’t naturally there if you don’t work in the same office.” I loved the idea but sending an email every Friday to 230 people and people answering with replay to all… I don’t think it will be appreciated by most people. Also I believe you can’t force people to do something, people should voluntarily participate.

I created a dedicated Yammer group, with the name “Get to know you”. To give it a boost, I invited people who are active on Yammer, who would support the idea and also would participate actively. I initially invited around 15 people. Explained the idea of the group in the first post. The idea was to post a question every week, a question to challenge people to share information about themselves.

The idea was great… (I think J ). How did it work out?

I started the group end last year when I was at RES Software. At this moment they have 55 members in the group. Some of them just listening in, but most of them actively participating in the questions. The first questions were posted by me, but at this moment they post questions themselves or things they would like to know more about. They don’t post a question every week, I think two/three questions every month.

A while ago I discussed the idea to share why and traditions around public holidays within distributed teams with Lisette Sutherland and Andrea Darabos. This will be a small improvement for the Yammer group. Ask one colleague, who is from the location that have public holiday, to explain the holiday in this group. Why do they have a public holiday and what the people normally do on this public holiday.

Do I feel closer to people? Definitely, I know for example that Robert is also really into Lord of the Ring books. I learned that Helen also really likes Warehouse 13 when someone asked the question: “What is your favorite TV Series (at this moment)?”. I was impressed by some of the pictures that people posted as answer on the question: “I love to travel and I wanted to find out what is the best place that you have ever visited. For me, that was the Grand Canyon.”

Did it help them to become closer? I believe yes. Not everyone is participating in the discussion but at least I feel myself closer to people who share things they do in their private life. I asked the question in the Yammer group and 80% of the people said yes, they feel closer to colleagues.

What tips do you have to get distributed teams closer to each other?

Implementing Kudo Cards

At our shop, we implemented Kudo Cards this year. I would like to share our experiences so far. Kudo Cards are small gestures of gratitude. I found out what Kudo Cards are through Jurgen Appelo as described on the Management 3.0 website and in his book Management 3.0 Workout.

So, Kudo Cards: some companies call them HERO awards, others Rippas or Hugs, Jurgen calls them Kudos. You can pick your own name if you want. Kudo Cards are a written and public recognition of a colleague for something he or she has contributed to the team. A Kudo is not just given from the top down but can be peer-to-peer, cross department and cross organization. Anyone can publicly recognize someone else’s work. It is a way to break down hierarchical limitations and to encourage everyone to offer instant feedback and to publicly show appreciation. More information can be found in the book or on the website.

If you decide to start with Kudo cards… how do you tackle it, what is your first next step… I don’t know for you but I can describe how we implemented Kudo Cards and what we are running into.

The first step was to discuss the system with the department managers to make sure we have their support and backup. I decided to make it a bottom-up approach: no involvement of the board, HR or others people higher up the scale. Just a local R&D implementation. The R&D managers were totally in favor of the system, until they learnt that there would be money involved. Not a lot of money, but a small web shop gift card for every Kudo someone would receive. Suddenly a lot of questions were asked, including: what if people starting giving Kudo Cards to everyone? What if Jim gives one to Susan, and Susan always gives one back as token of appreciation? How will this impact the budgets that we have for the year-end bonus?

My answer was very simple… if it happens that people start abusing the system we will stop. That would simply indicate the manifestation of a more serious problem and some other things would then need to be worked on in our department’s culture first. I also told them that we could always adjust the system. We could for example set a rule that someone only gets one gift card per month regardless of the number of Kudo Cards he or she received. In my opinion, however, this would dilute the Kudo Card system. Nevertheless, I then would prefer a limited implementation over no implementation at all. We decided to just get started, and then we would inspect and adapt.

Management was OK with it, so we gave it a try to see if it works.

Now, RES Software R&D has three locations, we develop and maintain software in Bucharest (RO), Den Bosch (NL) and Philadelphia (US). Immediately we had three points of attention:
  1. What should be the value of a gift card in every location?
  2. Do they accept gift cards of Netherlands-based bol.com in RO?
  3. How to publicly share Kudo Cards on all locations?

Value of the gift cards

Jurgen talks about a small reward, to make sure the reward itself won’t become the goal. We all know that rewards and bonuses didn’t work that well in some financial companies… I don’t know what small is for you or your employees but we decided to give the award a value of 25 euro in NL.

However… 25 euro in RO has a different value than 25 euro in NL, the same as with 25 euro in US. I used the Big Mac Index to calculate the rewards for US and RO. The value of the gift cards currently in the US is $30 and for RO it is 60 lei.

Is bol.com accepted in RO?

I found out that bol.com has the option for e-vouchers, perfect. I think it is hard to find people in NL who can’t find anything they like on bol.com. But… what about RO and US? Will our team members like a voucher of bol.com, does bol.com deliver in the US, would people mind paying 15 euros for sending a package to RO or the US? Or what would be a matching alternative?

I just asked our colleagues what the biggest bol.com alternative in RO is, it is emag.ro. Emag.ro also has e-vouchers and accepts Dutch credit cards. (Yes, that can be an issue, believe me). The US is easy, they have something called amazon.com. Apparently it seems to be pretty big in the US from what I have heard.

So people in the NL get a voucher from bol.com of 25 euro, people in RO a voucher of 60 lei from emag.ro and people in the US a voucher of $ 30 from amazon.com.

Sharing cards on different locations

 I overall believe that physical is always better than virtual. Giving someone a physical Kudo Card will make more impression than writing an e-mail with a picture of a Kudo Card. I like to travel but to travel to RO for every Kudo Card or to the US is a bit much. I also really wanted to have a physical Kudo Card Wall, you know as a shared wall of fame… Further questions arose: should we collect all Kudo Cards in NL? And one step back, where are we going to put the Kudo Card box itself?

I decided we should have a dedicated Kudo Card box in all our locations. I believe the action of writing a text on real Kudo Card and putting it in a box is very important. Also, having the box visible in the location for all to see, is much better than just providing the mail address kudocards@ressoftware.com. When people see the box, you are reminded of the Kudo Card system every time you enter the office. I made the some custom handicraft cover for the Kudo Card box in The Netherlands and just asked people in the US and RO to make a local box.

The Kudo Card Wall.

If every location has a Kudo Card box, every location should also have Kudo Card wall. I made the Kudo Card Wall for the NL office and put it on the wall in front of our Scrum Room. Everyone leaving the Scrum Room or entering our offices will see this wall. I asked Alina and Charlie in our other locations to make a Kudo Card Wall for their locations as well and put it up for all to see. What do you want it to be they asked? I said I don’t know… be creative, make it something nice. Charlie, with the help of his kids, was definitely creative. I really like the Kudo Card wall in the US, although the Romanian one turned out nice as well.

I asked Alina and Charlie to monitor the Kudo boxes at their sites, I personally monitor the box in NL. As soon as there is new card, we make a picture of the card and send it to the others. We print it, and put it on all the Kudo Card walls. We give the original card to the person to whom it was addressed. Furthermore, I post the Kudo Card also in our R&D group on Yammer. So everyone in the organization can see we give Kudo Cards and they can see who got one and for what reason.

Informing people

As soon as the Kudo Card boxes were put in their spots, people started to ask questions. What is it?

So we made a small announcement:

This week or the beginning of next week you see will see a Kudo Card box in your R&D office. What is a Kudo Card box? A Kudo box is a box where you can put in a card (they are next to the box) to compliment a colleague. Simple as that. Who decides when someone deserves a compliment? You do! Just take a card, write down your compliment and the name of the person deserving it. Your own name is not mandatory but you can and should be proud when you give a compliment so just write it on the card. Alina, Charlie and I will check the box regularly to see if there are new cards. If so, we will put a copy of the card on the compliment board and give the person the card and a small reward. We trust you all in not abusing the system. Thanks you already for your compliments!

That is it… that was all we communicated. Nothing about vouchers, gift cards, rewards, rules, nothing…

Some interesting cards

First Card

The first card was a compliment for a colleague working part time. The compliment said, thank you for working part time… Er what to think about this? Fortunately, I recognized the handwriting and asked the person who wrote the card if he was serious. No he said, he was just joking and thought the box was just a joke… OK, no problem we had a good talk about it, I explained things and it was OK not to put this card on the wall :).

Card with only names

We then received three cards with only the names for who the card was. What to do with this? We clearly stated we wanted a reason for a card. However, just throwing away these card didn’t feel right. We decided to put the cards on Yammer only and on the box with a yellow sticky. “Thanks for the card, but why?” and we decided not to give gift cards yet. A few days later, the person added reasons for writing the cards. We then put the updated cards on Yammer and put them on the Kudo Card wall in the other locations and also gave three vouchers.

Someone was really doing a great job

We had one colleague who got two cards for different reasons in one week. Er, are we going to give this person multiple vouchers? We already agreed upfront that we will only will give one voucher for something someone has done. But these were two different things… We decided to give only one voucher and we informed the colleague he would only get one voucher because we keep a 3 to 4 weeks interval before you can get a new voucher. He was totally OK with it, and understood.

I got a card myself

One day, there was a card for me in the box. That made me feel good, I am also human ;). Should I give myself a voucher? Should management be allowed to get a voucher? Yes of course why not? After discussing with some peers I decided to give myself a voucher. A few weeks later another manager also received a Kudo Card.

So pretty easy?

No, implementing a Kudo box is very difficult. At least it was for me. Why? As a manager, are not allowed to judge the cards… you have to trust the people who give a Kudo card that it is for a valid reason. Sometimes you read a new Kudo Card and you think well, does this really deserve mentioning? Is it really worth a gift card or is that overdone… Then again, who are you to judge how someone perceives somebody else and their actions?

We started May 1st and people gave 18 Kudo Cards. You can calculate yourself how much it cost. In our opinion, it was not that much, and it proves to be a great way to get people engaged and motivated.

Is the Kudo Card box successful? I would say yes because people gave the feedback they really liked it. People are continuing to use and we haven’t had to tune the system. That makes me quite proud to be part of a group of people who can be trusted in using a Kudo Card box.

R&D Summit 2014 and 2015 – Trust and Understanding

At RES Software, we have software development centers in the USA, The Netherlands and in Romania. We firmly believe that one of the most important factors to make distributed software development successful, is to really get to know each other. Not just get to know each other’s name and face, we mean really get to know each other. Knowing that Dave often goes to the mountains to snowboard with his wife and kids, knowing that Mircea really likes to hike in the mountains of Romania, knowing that Sabine enjoys scuba diving all over the world and knowing that Andrei is looking for a new place in Den Bosch. We feel that the natural barrier between people that do not know each other that well prevents them from asking questions, makes them afraid of wasting someone’s time which in turn is an impediment to getting knowledge transfer going.

Getting to know the person behind your colleague during work in a distributed team is challenging. You don’t meet your colleagues from other locations at the coffee machine or during lunch. When you are in a meeting, you often focus on the meeting itself, the small talk can be done during the day but people tend to do less small talk. As a result, it is harder to really to get to know each other.

So how do we solve this problem at RES Software? We solve it in many different ways but the most fun is our yearly R&D Summit!

Every year we invite all our R&D colleagues from abroad to ‘s-Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch) in The Netherlands to RES Software Headquarters. For one week, the entire team is in one location. Normally we work with 45 people in the Dutch office. That week, we are 90 people in the office… that automatically makes it gezellig.

Lessons learned in 2014

Last year we organized the summit for the first time and we were happy to just have all team members in one location. We gave all teams the opportunity to work together, some teams planned extra meetings but it was most of all a regular work week. Thursday saw the main event and we had a party day. We did an update meeting in the morning, had lunch together and did fun activities in the afternoon. People could choose between a city walk to get to know the beautiful historical character of Den Bosch, a pool tournament, a drum workshop or could race the town in a solex tour. We would have loved to have one activity for everyone but we realize the group is too big to make everyone feel happy with the same activity.

Following the afternoon activities, we enjoyed drinks over a pub quiz containing the low down and dirty anecdotes of events at RES in the last couple of years. We then had dinner on a boat sailing the Dutch canals. We concluded the evening with a pub crawl in the city center of ‘s-Hertogenbosch of which the plan was to set a benchmark for the next years to come. It was fun, we went home late.

It was a great week and everyone loved it. It gave energy to the department and the next weeks in all meetings people talked about the week. The fact Mihai got lost in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (That is worth a compliment 😉 ), people who visited the coffee shop, an American colleague who lost the award he won (he just forgot he gave it to someone else for safekeeping) the peanuts on the ground in Het Veulen but most of all the fun our colleagues had at the hotel balconies in the evening where even Dutch colleagues started to join the hotel were priceless.

Looking back at this week, a great event!

Being an agile company, when we started the preparation for the R&D Summit 2015, we realized that we could and should improve.

The teams can work every together day, so why focus on just working together as a team during this week? Why not focus on binding the team this year? Additionally, we believe in the concept of guilds. Getting together with your colleagues from the same profession and improving your skills as a developer, a tester, a tech writer, etc. by learning from the apprentices, journeymen and masters. So why not do something with this concept during the R&D Summit?

Making sure people learn and experiment is a challenging value at our company. Our team members are so committed to release great products that they find it hard to find time to learn and innovate even though we encourage them and provide all tools and time. So why not give team members the opportunity to learn about things during this week? Learning as an individual is nice, but learning with colleagues is great!

R&D Summit 2015 – Trust and Understanding

We believe in continuous improvement, so looking at the summit of 2015 we are going to do things slightly different.

First of all, the goal will not be to work together one week but to focus on building Trust and Understanding. We want to increase Trust and Understanding within all R&D teams and between R&D teams. All activities we organize will be linked to this theme.

We asked our program managers to use the opportunity of all teams being in one location to strengthen the teams. We gave them some examples:

  • Groom/discuss the next releases
  • Perform technical debt grooming sessions, where does the product need to be improved most (from technical perspective)
  • Do a release retrospective: not just a sprint retro but take a look back at the entire last year
  • Organize lean coffees to discuss things the team would like to discuss
  • Decide on a specific project that you would like to deliver in one week

On Monday and Tuesday we will focus on these events.

On Tuesday evening we are going to organize the first RES Super Guild Event! Every group of professionals in our company has regular Guild meetings. Goal of the Guild meetings is to exchange knowledge about their profession and to increase the skills of the professionals in the guild. We decided to organize a RES Super Guild Event, an internal conference. Speakers from RES Software who speak for RES Software. This will give people the option to get a clear understanding about other guilds, learn together about new things, get interaction with people from other teams and even departments and have a fun evening! We were hoping for eight sessions, we were positively surprised and we now already have 16 sessions in total lined up! Team members who are proud of what they are doing, or are trying to achieve, or on their knowledge and who want to share this with other team members will have an open stage to present their stories. We want to lead by example so the organizers of the summit will of course also be having a talk.

Later in the week, to show the trust we have in our R&D employees and to provide room to learn, we are organizing the first RES Exploration Day. The goal is learning, not shipping. It is great when a team delivers a potentially shippable product, but it’s also great when the explorers fail spectacularly by discovering the wrong continent, one they had never planned to find! We will show trust in the people who participate that they will learn and discover new things, people will show trust in each other that day so they can learn together. At the end of the Exploration Day there will be a presentation and every project will present the results. As said before, it is in not about the results but about what the people learned.

Friday we will have the grand finale, not directly related to work but relaxed and fun events to grow trust and understanding. We will lunch together with all R&D employees, and do activities outside the office in the afternoon. In the evening we will have dinner together. After dinner we will go to a pub in the city center of Den Bosch and have some fun and beers and reflect on the week.

We are in the preparation of this great event. We will keep you updated in the next months about the R&D Summit 2015 and share lessons learned with you.

Originally published on RES Software blog.

Meet your team members

Imagine, you start as project manager on a new project. There are some issues with the project, that is also of course the reason why they hired you. You have a tool box full of agile experiences to get the project going again. Is individual meetings with your team members one of those tools?

If not, you really have to add the tool to your toolbox! As project manager or manager or any one who is leading a group of people, you should have regular peer to peer (P2P) or one to one(1-2-1) meetings with your team members. Plan 30 minutes, in room where you can discuss things privately. Make sure you have some room in your agenda in case the meeting takes more time. It would be a shame when you have to stop a good conversation about something personal or emotional because you have another meeting. No meeting can be more important than a 1-2-1 meeting! You don’t have to create a formal agenda or minutes, it should be a free meeting to discuss anything you would like to discuss. Of course, are you allowed to think about the meeting before the meeting starts…

I hear some of you thinking, why should I plan a meeting? If we need to discuss something in our project, we will plan a meeting we already have so many meetings. In that case two remarks. Firstly, if you already have to many meetings, cancel all meetings and find out which one you really need. Secondly, in most cases you are too late… if one your team members would like to discuss with you that (s)he has an issue with a colleague, it’s already too late. You should have prevented this to become an issue… Plan regular meetings, every 4 weeks for example. If you don’t have anything to discuss your done within 5 minutes, otherwise take the time or even more time if necessary.

Why do you need to have P2P? Do you know what kind of project management style your team members like? Do they like freedom, just a global description of a task, or do they like to have small steps predefined? How are you able to facilitate/help/manage them if you don’t know what they like?

Do you know what the core motivation is of your team members? Why do they come to the office? Most of them will say for the money. ok but what’s there next driver. What are their personal drivers besides money? For example:

  • John loves to work in a team and deliver a great results with the team;
  • Jane loves to help other people, act as a coach;
  • George would like to get the best out of him self, be a winner;
  • Betty loves to work with new technologies, new concepts;
If you know the personal drivers of people, you also know which people to ask (not assign!) for which tasks. For example, who would you ask for team with several new team members? Betty is maybe not a good choice… I think Jane would be a better choice. There is a small project, to prove a new concept, who would you ask?
Of course, it’s not always possible to ask everyone for his or her ideal task. However, when you have know what drivers are of people, you are able to motivate people.
As project manager you should regular ask feedback about your self. What should you start doing as a project manager and what should you stop doing? I could imagine you feel afraid to ask these questions in a team room. The 1-2-1 meetings are a perfect moment to ask feedback about your self. Additionally, also to give feedback to the team members.
I hope this blog helps you and that you will add an extra tool to your agile toolbox.

Please leave your comments, when did you had a 1-2-1 with your manager or team members for the last time? Was it useful?