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November Monthly Gathering (part 1)

Rafael Jegundo

On the first Friday of each month, we host our Monthly Gathering. It’s a company-wide event right after lunch where we review the progress of the last month and set course for the next one.

When this event is right at the end of a quarter/year, we take particular attention to also look back into the past and align where we want to be in the next quarter/year.

We just had our Monthly Gathering for November, and as we try to keep increasing the transparency in our company, we will make an experiment to write up a summary for each Monthly Gathering on the next 3 months: November, December & January.

Since this is the first one, I’ll have to spend a bit more chars providing context about a number of small things about how we work at Whitesmith. Hopefully, that will be of interest too, so bear with me.

COMPANY GOALS

For this year we have three main goals as a company, that we then break down into more concrete goals for each quarter and month. We actually believe a lot on the advantage of systems over goals, but through time we find that having some goals is a good yardstick to ensure we are improving in a fluid environment.

Goals are set to ensure they are hard and ambitious, but achievable, and we review them as necessary to keep them that way. While we don’t apply it formally, our approach to goals derives heavily on OKRs, a well-documented process that is used at Google and many other great companies.

The goals' purpose is not necessarily to push the team into a soulless, data-driven imperial march, but instead to lead us into improving continuously. We use them in three ways:

CELEBRATE ACHIEVEMENT WHEN WE MEET THEM

Goals are rarely easy, and when we hit them it means our process & strategy was well thought out, and the team put in the effort & focus to nail it.

TRIGGER A RETROSPECTIVE WHEN WE DON'T

We apply a lot of agile practices on our process as a company and believe on the value of a blameless post-mortem. When we fail a goal that was previously seen has hard but achievable, we force ourselves to take a step back and objectively see what went wrong. After asking why many times, we normally discover that either strategy or process was not the best, or eventually our goal was simply not reasonable, to begin with. Working through this process while removing our ego from the equation has been one of the best ways for us to improve as a company.

A HACK TO REVERSE-ENGINEER NEW SYSTEMS

Sometimes we know we need to improve in a given area, and generally, believe that setting up the right systems & habits are the best way to do it. However, it’s hard to figure out the best system when we are approaching a new endeavour. In these cases, we try to simply think what is the definition of awesome after putting this in place or what could be a good measure for that improvement. It’s pretty hard to set reasonable goals on the first cycle of this improvement process, but starting from the goal we then discuss what is the simplest and highest impact tactics & systems we can apply to meet it. On the next cycle, we can do a retrospective and then gradually improve from there.

2016 GOALS

500K€ IN REVENUE 

Even though we are invested in building our own products, we like the independence to do it and there have been many advantages of our consulting business. So growing financially allows us to have a sustainable & independent business while being able to invest further into our own products. Revenue so far this year is at 396K€, while our conservative estimates indicate we should end the year with about 450K€. The £ devaluation has had a significant impact here as the UK is our primary market, but we believe that we should always focus on the things we control to do our retrospective and correct course. We started making some changes over the last few weeks as we saw that we might miss this goal, but it’s hard at this point to see if they will have the desired impact before the end of the year.

LAUNCH 6 PROJECTS

First, we define projects as small products that we build out of investment time, normally to scratch our own itches. By the time of launch, we expect to have an MVP that does one thing well. The purpose is not so much to make money directly out of these projects, but instead use them to exercise our ability to quickly assess a problem and build a simple & effective product to fix it with a combined team of Designers, Developers, and Product people. They also have some potential of portfolio for our consulting business, as we have absolute freedom to pick tools or problems that we are interested in. So far this year we launched Remotes.in, Causa (PT) & Hawkpost. We have 2 more in the oven that should be out soon, so it should be easy to hit 5 projects by early December, and we will see in the coming weeks if we are still able to launch another one before the end of the year.

PRODUCT/MARKET FIT OF ONE PRODUCT

We have two products that we are actively investing on, Qold & Unplugg. Both already have positive interest from prospect clients and even a few sales made. The goal until the end of the year is to have enough sales and/or other objective signs of strong interest from a well-defined target segment with a business model that works and sales process we can replicate. This isn’t easy, but we know if we hit that, we can then put the foot on the gas and start focusing on growing this to become a substantial part of our income and eventually spin-off. So far we have sold a bit of both, but don’t have yet the sales volume and data to argue there is a clear pattern we can replicate with reliable results.

AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT FOR NEXT MONTH

BETTER INVESTMENT FRIDAYS

Following from discussions on past MGs and feedback from 1on1s, we set out to further tweak & improvement our process on Fridays. These are generally reserved for Investment Time, which means working on our own products, writing blog posts, learning new things or other maintenance/improvement work we normally don’t have time or focus to tackle during the week.

During these days there are some priority projects (like the ones we hope to launch until the end of the year) but in general, a lot of freedom for each person to manage their schedule and work for the day. However, this easily becomes hard to manage as we try for everyone on the company to participate in something during this day. As there is also freedom regarding working schedules & generally a lighter mood as people work on something different from the rest of the week, it’s quite easy to lose focus, overcommit and not really make a lot of progress on a given day.

So we have been tweaking constantly to find a balance and incentives where people have a high level of freedom to pick their work and schedule, while still ensuring that we leave each Friday proud of what we achieved and use this time well to learn things and collaborate with others.

First, we wanted to bring a bit more of the focus and fun of hackathons we usually participate in these days. Hence we are now re-framing Fridays as Hackadays, to be clearer that as in any hackathon, people should pick a project/feature that’s sensible at the beginning of the day and do their best to ship it before leaving. Again, as for projects in general, we believe this also helps a lot in our ability to collaborate quickly and effectively, while having a deadline to build a practice of picking a reasonable scope for our work chunks.

During next month we will be trying to put a bigger focus on people deciding what they’ll be doing on hackday in advance, so they don’t get sucked into the slack void or helping a lot of people in small stuff and end up not shipping anything on their own.

We also tuned the demo time to ideally have more people present — which is really hard when there are no schedules and our team is distributed across Portugal, Brasil, and Thailand at this moment. Still, we believe that having a demo in sync is a nice way to motivate people to ship something, even if small & kinda broken, and celebrate their effort.

WORKING TOWARDS A MORE PREDICTABLE & PACE

On a different segment, we discussed a new way to better sync our planned & actual team allocation in consulting with our financial estimates and revenue goals. After some retrospective in past month, we notice that there were several cases of missed estimates & a team allocation less balanced than we would like. To improve this, we will now be using Resource Guru & Lattice differently, while getting each member of the team more involved every week to review the estimates and plans and how everything fits together. After these changes we expect to have more accurate estimates, use better our team’s time & allow them to work more focused on fewer projects. This should also have a positive effect on revenue and clients happiness.

PEOPLE UPDATE

Diogo Laginha
Diogo Laginha

In November we are joined by Diogo Laginha, which started working full-time with us just now. He is an experienced developer, after working on a mobility platform with Django for years and other experiences with MEAN stack. More recently he has been getting into React.js and will join us as a Full-stack developer.

This concludes the company-wide notes for this month, but we still haven't shared what we have been up to in terms of our products, Investment Time & Content. As this was becoming quite a big post, we will be adding those on a next one!


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