The “Netguru’s take on…” series explains how Netguru approaches important subjects that are often overhyped or misunderstood within the industry, such as mission, sustainability, or innovation consulting. We break them down to shift the discussion from abstract concepts to tangible actions that influence our everyday work. This article gives our take on tools & methods.
Meet Mateusz — a jack-of-all-trades leader
Mateusz Czajka has had an unusual career, spanning the roles of a developer, a designer, and a product lead. He has worked with many tools and mastered different methods, frameworks, and methodologies for improving work processes.
This broad experience pays off in his current role – Chief Delivery Officer – where he is responsible for enabling design and software development teams to work effectively.
“I’ve tested many solutions in practice, but I’m far from enforcing any of them to the organization. My role is to make sure that its members stay up to date with trends and can select the tools & methods that will serve them best” says Mateusz.
The Netguru’s toolbox
It is hard to define Netguru’s standard tools because the company works on over 350 projects a year with customers using a variety of technological stacks, processes, and cultures.
“On one hand, it gives us many opportunities to test cutting-edge solutions, but on the other hand, it requires us to remain flexible to accommodate each client’s context,” explains Mateusz.
With each project representing a unique challenge, there might be a different set of means to find a solution. “Nevertheless, the basic needs remain the same – we need to design, build, document, and communicate.”
“When it comes to building software, I find GitHub and CircleCI indispensable. They are commonly used across our projects to build a foundation of the modern delivery pipeline.” The former provides the status of work and acts as a single source of truth for programming activities. The latter supports Continuous Integration and Delivery to enable a safe and efficient process of shipping work results.
“For documentation purposes, we typically use Atlassian’s Confluence and Google Drive. Templates, automation, and ease of access make those tools fun and effective.” Google Drive is extensively used at Netguru, so much that the company analyzed it thoroughly and designed a more efficient version of this tool!
“In a distributed and remote world we live in, I can’t imagine working without Slack as the main communication channel”.
At Netguru, Slack has become a forum for the whole company, which acts like a canteen or a central hall in a traditional office space. It also streamlines communication for project teams and provides a bridge to clients’ organizations.
“We also use Salesforce extensively – not only as a CRM system but also as a backbone of our business operations” adds Mateusz. It helps gather and crunch data to find insights that improve the way Netguru works.
How to choose the best solutions
Many companies struggle to decide what tools and methods to use because there is a torrent of possible choices on the market and trends shift frequently. Picking the wrong solution not only comes at a financial cost but also undermines the trust in the decision-makers and brings down the organization’s morale.
Mateusz, having seen hundreds of clients going through this process, has a simple framework to approach making such decisions:
- Define the problem (or opportunity)
“Be very specific. For instance, fixing the communication is too vague. Think where, when, and between whom the communication breaks. The more clarity you have the easier the choice of the solution will be”.
- Compare solutions with the goal in mind
“Your context matters, not the feature set or a category of a tool. Keep your mind open to different solutions. For alleviating communication issues between departments, the introduction of a Service Desk solution might work, other times changing the organization of Slack channels could be better, or simply employing a set of rules on how to use email efficiently”.
- Think about long-term
“Lastly, factor in long-term implications like security, administration, and necessary training, as well as the compatibility with your organization in terms of integration with other solutions, culture fit, and opportunities for scaling up”.
Nowadays, with the proliferation of Software as a Service (SaaS), it’s easier to try out different solutions and the financial costs of switching might be lower. However, Mateusz advises caution: “Our mental and psychological resources are still limited. Once you commit to implementing a tool or a method you shouldn’t change it too quickly, as your organization might not get on board yet another change so eagerly, even if it’s well-intentioned”.
Balancing standardization and flexibility
There are obvious advantages of imposing a standard set of tools and methods for the whole organization: it’s cost-efficient, requires less administrative effort, and helps employees to speak the same language. However, it doesn’t necessarily improve work efficiency, often hinders creativity, and might have a negative impact on teams’ morale.
Finding the right balance between centralization and personalization is crucial for all modern companies that want to be at the forefront of innovation.
According to Mateusz, “there are some company-wide processes that require a universal tool – e.g. Slack for communication in the case of Netguru. But for role-specific tools, decentralizing decision-making and allowing fragmentation increases the speed of day-to-day operations as well as creates more space for innovation".
People who are the closest to work fully understand problems they need to face and only they can choose the appropriate tools to deal with them. If a top executive makes this decision on their behalf, he or she will surely be wrong at some point and the whole organization will suffer. Leaders should focus on building an environment for experimentation.
“When people have the growth mindset, are free to experiment, and share their learnings with others, they will select tools and methods that serve them best, and this will have a significant positive impact on their job satisfaction and the delivered results,” says Mateusz.
Principles of decentralization
Decentralization doesn’t mean that everybody can do whatever they want and create total chaos. To make it work right, one needs to apply three important principles: autonomy, alignment, and accountability.
“Autonomy at each level enables experimentation and impressive speed” — says Mateusz — “but the degree of freedom and the scope of decisions should be defined across the organization.” For instance, on a software team an architect can freely choose the structure of the technical solution, a tech lead selects technology that fits best, while the team decides on the tools and methods they will use to deliver this product.
This way, the final design and approach to building the product is optimized taking into account its characteristics and people working on it.
Alignment is necessary to contain individual experiments and optimizations, so that the whole organization moves in a single direction. Mateusz explains that it works in two ways: “There is no silver bullet – no ultimate way of working that once found can be used forever. Leaders define goals and constraints that apply to the whole organization to synchronize the efforts of different teams. But at the same time, they listen to the feedback and adjust the base model of the delivery to scale up the most promising solutions.”
Having a healthy alignment ensures that the company can rapidly experiment to innovate and, at the same time, respond in unison to changing trends.
“Accountability can be defined as taking the ownership of the experiments and responsibility for their results, regardless of whether it’s a success or a failure,” says Mateusz. The full potential of giving employees the freedom to experiment can be achieved only when they transparently share and own the results.
This way, everyone in the organization can understand what others are doing, leverage insights from different teams, and be forewarned about possible threats and challenges.
Towards the true agility
An organization’s agility is often evaluated based on the elements visible on the surface – the tools and methods. However, true resilience and ability to adapt come from a culture that guides the choices of the solutions.
Mateusz explains that “at Netguru, we assess agility based on actions, not declarations. We use agile principles to respond to changes swiftly. If we are quick enough to capture the value that comes from these changes, then we are truly agile – regardless of the tools and methods we select.”