R&D Summit 2014 and 2015 – Trust and Understanding

blog, distributed

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.


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