Want Speed? Disruption Leaders Urge: “Stop Telling People What to Do”

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Mary Achinger

Mar 22, 2023 • 9 min read
DF BERLIN 2023 hero image

The biggest lesson from industry game changers? As an executive, you don’t have to be a hero – enable your people to do their best.

Mindspace, Krausenstraße, Berlin. Over 100 product innovators under one roof. Over 70 companies coming together to discuss how to beat the downturn with digital. Ten speakers from disruptors and challenger brands such as FREE NOW, Careem, Cariad (VW), Solaris Group, and Babbel.

The 13th edition of the Disruption Forum might be over, but the conversation never stops. No worries if you didn’t make it to the event! Here’s a short recap, panel by panel.

Panel #1: Digital acceleration – innovation likes constraints

Janett Dalka, CEO at Breezy
Dennis Winter, CTO at Solaris SE

Filip Sobiecki, Client Partner at Netguru, as modator

Stars of the first panel
From the left: Janett, Filip, and Dennis

Key takeaways:

  • Lots to learn from fintech – for businesses operating in a highly regulated environment, constraints are a constant. When you have to match regulators’ needs, being creative about your solutions, processes and automation becomes your default.
  • Digital acceleration is not going anywhere – sophistication, improvement, and efficiency are all things that people will always strive for, no matter the landscape.
  • ChatGPT in finance? Not at the moment, no – you want to be very conscious about what you do with your data.
  • However – if something’s difficult, it’s likely a future opportunity.
  • Don’t let competitors discourage you – let them be your mirror. Look for inspiration instead of a threat.
  • Business founders must put effort into doing something entirely different or better compared to others – a fresh perspective is an absolute necessity.

Panel #2: Engineering Culture | people, product, purpose

Benjamin Eckart, SVP of Platform and Enablement at Babbel
Jannis Rake-Revelant, Director of Engineering at Delivery Hero
Shenoa Chee, Director of Engineering at i2x
Anita Singh, Director of Engineering at FREE NOW

Łukasz Pietrucha, Staff Engineering Manager at Netguru, as moderator

Stars of the second panel
From the left: Anita, Łukasz, Benjamin, Shenoa, and Jannis

Key takeaways:

  • Leadership is about enabling people to do their best – you don’t hire people to tell them what to do, rather you want to support their creativity.
  • Culture gives you the confidence and trust that your people will go in the right direction even without an established process or oversight.
  • How do you know you lack a strong engineering culture? Spot silos, friction in communication, and poor collaboration.
  • When it comes to productivity, a good engineering culture encourages people to work on the outcome, not the output.
  • Give your teams the autonomy to solve problems – without it, your engineers won’t be productive.
  • If, at a certain point, you need to prioritize speed, make sure to clean up afterwards – quickly-built code must be addressed, and a good engineering culture ensures that it is.
  • Building on top of ideas of others is great. However, it’s not the companies with the best ideas that win – it’s the companies that execute them best.

Panel #3: Speed-to-value mindset | trust your team

Johann Jenson, SVP Product at GoStudent
Peter Schmidt, Head of Software Platform ADAS/AD at Cariad (Volkswagen)

Mateusz Krawczyński, Consulting Director at Netguru, as moderator

Stars of the third panel
From the left: Peter, Johann, and Mateusz

Key takeaways:

  • Asking “is it done yet?” won’t boost delivery speed – trust and leading by example will.
  • Look at the way you communicate, host your meetings, keep your documentation – want speed? Show speed!
  • To be fast, select the right people, and get out of their way. Also make sure to get rid of any blockers they might have.
  • Being fast means taking out the risk fast – when the risk is gone, the rest is easy.
  • To measure speed, you need to know what the effort is for a given task – learning that will give you the accuracy you’re after.
  • Prepare your organization for quick MVPs – the right tools, processes and frameworks will accelerate your tempo.
  • Foster a speed-to-value mindset – teach your people to deliver something sufficient for the moment, but not complete. Refinement is the next step.
  • Culture, strategy, structure, and craftsmanship – this is the right sequence. Add fun to it, et voilà! You’ve got yourself a winning recipe.
  • Always remember that you’re not building a million-dollar business – you’re solving an immediate problem. Keep this mindset all throughout your journey.

Panel #4: Design for business impact – KPIs & creativity

Evgeniya Markova, Head of Design & Research Operations at OLX Group
Tiago Cabaço, VP of Design at Careem
Agata Rączewska, UX Practice Expert at Netguru, as moderator

Stars of the fourth panel

From the left: Evgeniya, Agata, and Tiago

Key takeaways:

  • Nobody wakes up in the morning thinking “I love my job, ‘cause I moved my metric” – we all want to be proud of the things we build, it’s universal.
  • Fun is an important part of life – if your people don’t find it at work, you’ve got a problem.
  • Business impact and pure creativity don’t have to be contradictory – business KPIs offer a framework within which creativity can and should thrive. Limitations stimulate imagination.
  • To keep people motivated despite market uncertainty, bring in as much clarity as possible, have their backs, and reprioritize tasks – be human. Many people find focusing on their daily tasks the best cure for uncertainty.
  • There’s a fine line between enabling people and blocking people – make sure your processes don’t compromise creativity.
  • The larger an organization gets, the more important design processes become – design systems may not be the answer to all of your struggles, but they’re definitely a big enabler.
  • At times of volatility, it might be hard to put out every fire – focus on the right ones, and control the others.

Closing thoughts

Each time we organize a Disruption event, we’re eager to find dominating themes in all of the discussions. The spring meeting in Berlin brought us, without doubt, at least three themes:

humble leadership, team empowerment, and seeing obstacles as a source of creativity.

It’s quite reassuring to hear leaders bring these up at times of extreme volatility. The more uncertainty in the market, the more people-centric our conversations.

We may be at a difficult point in time, but, as Evgeniya from OLX Group points out, it’s okay to admit that you don’t have an immediate answer. Just say to your people: “we’ll figure it out together, as a team.”

Filip, Agata and Basia in the audience
From the left: Filip Sobiecki, Agata Rączewska, and Basia Rybicka

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Mary Achinger

Editorial Expert at Netguru
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