Many of us looking for a new job need something more from an employer than a paycheck and a comfortable desk. We’re looking for meaning and a chance to do something challenging and to show what we’ve got. For a chance to learn and grow. And rightly so, because if we don’t take care of ourselves and our careers, no one else will. In this interview with Marek Talarczyk, Head of Delivery at Netguru, we’ll learn what it means to start your career with a bang, what to look for in the perfect employer and how important it is to invest in your project management team and give each individual room to grow professionally.
Olga Trąd: How long have you been at Netguru? What are your impressions so far?
Marek Talarczyk: Since 9 May, 2016. I was looking for a company with a startup culture but bigger than my previous employer. I wasn’t sure whether it was possible to find companies of this kind on the Polish market, as I had never worked in Poland before. So Netguru was a pleasant surprise.
OT: How did that happen? You being from Poland not working in Poland before your joining Netguru?
MT: It just happened. I graduated from a university in Poland, then I travelled to India for a year, worked in Iceland and the US after that, and then came back to Poland for personal reasons. After university, I was worried I’d be just one more guy among thousands of people with identical CVs. So I did something different, I went to India – and it worked out rather well. During the interview for my next job after coming back from India, my time there was the main topic they asked me about. And I’m convinced I ended up at Netguru thanks to my previous two jobs, in Iceland and the US.
OT: So would you recommend a similar path to project managers and other young graduates?
MT: Yes. I probably shouldn’t say that, since we want the best talent here at Netguru, but yes. (laughs) Though to be honest, the working culture at Netguru is amazingly dynamic. The company keeps changing and growing, so if someone is looking for a challenge and adventure, we’re not a bad choice at all.
OT: Do you think this kind of adventure seeking is something only recent graduates should do?
MT: Not necessarily. I believe everybody needs that kind of adventure. Most people will search for one, either right after university or later on – and if they don’t find it, they might end up regretting it.
Again, working at Netguru could be either an adventure or a good way to prepare for an even greater adventure. It’s easy to climb up the ranks here. We have people who are around 25 years old and are Head of Product Design or Head of Technology. It’s easy to make something of yourself here.
OT: How was last year at Netguru for Project Managers? Any changes made to the process? Has the team grown?
MT: Netguru is all about change.
The size of the team has changed: we’ve got 15 people now, and soon it’ll grow to 20. We take on more projects, too. When I started in Netguru, we had about 40 projects at a time, now there are 60. I think a lot has changed in terms of processes as well. With each month, we mature as an organisation. We’re building a more coherent project management methodology. We’re adapting more and more Scrum elements, but it’s Scrum adjusted to our particular circumstances, our projects and our requirements. Responsibility in the team has also changed quite significantly. More tasks are being dispersed within the team as team members come up with new tasks and are responsible for implementing them. I, as Head of Delivery, am able to make fewer decisions, which gives me the freedom to do other things and increases the sense of ownership of tasks within the team.
In the last quarter, we’ve seen a 50-percent increase in the predictability of our projects, which we measure by observing the completion of sprints. Also, we’ve been consolidating our methodology of project management. Its basis are the four scrum artefacts: standups, demos, retrospectives and sprint planning. We use this for 80 percent of our projects, and we want to introduce this methodology to all our projects to make them as agile as possible.
This is good both for us and our clients. Being predictable means fewer problems, and clients are happy, as they can plan better and cooperate better with us. We can tell that our clients are happy to work with us, because most of our projects come from current clients, recommendations or references.
OT: Any exciting changes in store for the next few months?
MT: What has been changing for a while now and is going to continue to change is education – the focus on learning and more knowledge exchange within the team. One example of this is a process we use, the agile review: a team member with a lot of knowledge and skills becomes involved in another PM’s project and helps introduce change to improve the methodology. Then the PM moves onto another project and helps out there. This promotes sharing knowledge within the team and consolidates our methodology.
OT: Is the coherence of methodology something you believe needs to be improved? Or maybe it is something you just want to improve because, you know, you can always do better?
MT: Our theme of the year is increasing predictability and client satisfaction. Coherence is one of the elements that will help us achieve this. Another such element is data, more work with data. This is a major change. We’re creating a library of core tools we’ll use and which will contain all the data. Examples of such tools are Slack, which we use for everyday communication, as well as Jira, which helps us manage projects (we even have a saying that if something hasn’t been documented in Jira, it doesn’t exist) and Salesforce, in which we manage relations with clients and the communication between Project Management and Business Development teams. All these tools are interconnected – whenever important information gets added to Jira or Salesforce, it also appears as an automatic Slack notification.
OT: What will be the biggest challenges in introducing these changes?
MT: I don’t expect any challenges. (laughs) I really don’t! The way we work is already extremely mature compared to other companies on the market. We haven’t been able to find much helpful advice from other software consulting companies, which means we’re already leaders on the Polish market. I have no doubt that we will achieve what we have set out to achieve.
OT: What is the project management process like at the moment?
MT: Our work begins when we take over from the Business Development team. They do a handover for us, during which we receive all the relevant information about the client. We receive handover documentation before we begin the project, along with data stored in Salesforce and any documentation delivered by the client.
A project can begin in three different ways:
Through a product discovery sprint: this is for clients who have a very basic idea – we help to forge this idea into a clear vision of the product, which we can then develop further during a scoping session.
Through a scoping session: we work with the client to build a roadmap for the project.
The third option is a client with a working product: we just begin cooperation without the two above mentioned services.
Next, we have a kickoff meeting. We meet the client, tell them how we work, and what the next few weeks will be like. Then we work iteratively in sprints to provide the client with business value with every iteration. That’s a goal we’ve set for ourselves.
OT: What were the most important lessons you’ve learned working at Netguru?
MT: For me, the most important lesson is that the people are the company’s most important asset. They build the culture, the values and the processes. It’s thanks to their energy and work that we are where we are today.
If I were to look for things that make us unique, I’d point out the team. Thanks to this brilliant group of people, the responsibility isn’t focused on me – I can trust my team members and focus on other tasks instead of monitoring their work. It’s something I’m very grateful for.
OT: On which markets do you operate? What kinds of clients do you work with?
MT: We work on the global market. Most of our clients are from the UK, Germany and the USA, though we have clients from almost every continent. We tend to manage 60 projects at any given time. Historically we’ve worked mostly with startups, and today we’re moving up the value chain and helping mature startups, bigger organisations and corporations.
We’ve also recently launched a new project: Netguru Labs. Netguru Labs is an initiative in which we offer our capacity to innovate and build brand new things to larger companies. So our goal is to continue shifting our scale upwards and working on bigger and bigger projects. And we want to give large organisations the flexibility and speed of development that startups enjoy.
OT: Why is working as a PM at Netguru exciting?
MT: You can’t be bored here as a PM. We can work on several projects at once, with various types of clients, with different project teams, on different products from various fields… You can learn a lot very quickly.
Each individual team member can have a lot of influence on how our team and our department grows and develops. We’re actually expected to share our knowledge and have an influence on the way the company works. That’s our culture.
OT: How much can you learn here as a PM?
MT: Learning never stops at Netguru. You can join us at any stage of a PM’s evolution – with no experience but a lot of potential, or as a very experienced professional. For each role, you will be able to learn a lot and help the team in a meaningful way. You can learn by working with international clients from various cultural backgrounds, try really dynamic work and practise time management, among other things. And this is all possible in a very short amount of time, thanks to the fact that each PM is responsible for several projects.
You can watch how the company grows, which is especially fascinating to me: watching how Netguru tries to hold onto its culture despite the company’s rapid growth and succeeds. I think every company tries to do this, but we’re among the lucky few that succeeded in maintaining a flat structure and allowing every employee to have an influence on the whole company.
OT: Why is it worth joining our team?
MT: Netguru can be the adventure of your life. You’ll find room to grow and spread your wings here, and you’ll be able to build the company’s culture with us. You don’t have to drop everything and move to India to find meaningful work – we’re doing more than fine here.
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