Freitag, 15. März 2013

Coffee, Beer and Taxi Rides. Or: Visiting Stockholm with Jimdo

I had the pleasure to give a presentation at the first StopStarting, Start Finishing Conference in Stockholm last Monday. I thought this might be a great opportunity to visit some interesting companies. So I planned an extended stay and asked Fridel from Jimdo if he wanted to join me. He well as Naddel (the Flow Manager)...and Matze (the second founder)...and Sönke (employee number 5 at Jimdo)...and Spring (the third  founder). 
So it hapened that the six of us entered the train in Hamburg Altona on Sunday morning 08:46. Only 13.5 hours later we arrived in Stockholm (I skip some interesting things about the train ride here). 

A train ride to Stockholm is not a petting zoo!

After a short taxi ride we arrived at our accomodation af Chapman – an old sailing ship which serves as a hostel now. This was a really good decision! If you ever have the opportunity to do so, book a couple of nights there!

The af Chapman

Blue sky and sunny weather as we entered a taxi the next morning. First thing on our agenda: visit Ericsson in Kista. Our expectations hadn’t been too high. It’s a really huge enterprise, the sort of big oil tanker that needs ages to change direction, so what should we expect? But wow! It’s really impressive how far Erik’s team already has come – with the help of Håkan, their Flow Senssei, of course (he prefers to be referred to as a „plumber“:-) What we could observe was: cross-functional and co-located teams, high visibility of work, flow and problems as well as a leadership team that has accepted the challenge to change their way of working and act more and more as teachers and mentors. After a Gemba Walk we discussed end-to-end-flow at Ericsson and Jimdo. Of course the companies are different as can be. But some things are surprisingly similar: What exactly is the role of Managers in a truly Lean organization? Where are the boundaries of self-organization? And what can we do to keep alignment (in a growing company like Jimdo) or to re-create alignment (in a huge enterprise like Ericsson). And, once again, it became clear to me that the company culture plays a crital role in all change processes (imagine the impact of a value like "perseverance" if it it rooted deeply in your company DNA).

Checking Wifi at Ericsson

Some taxi rides later (from that morning on we had our own taxi driver) we arrived at the Spotify headquarter where we could talk to a couple of Lean/Agile coaches as well as a systems engineering guy. The first thing that you experience at Spotify is – of course – loud music. The second thing are some of the coolest offices I have ever seen! Spotify’s organizational structure is really interesting and described in this paper. We digged into some details. Spotify seems to have managed to cope with an extremely fast growth: If I remember it correctly, the grew from 30 to 300 engineers in less than 3 years with a total of roughly 800 employees (nobody seems to know the exact number, because it changes every day). How do you „manage“ a company of this size without implementing a classical hierarchical matrix structure? Spotify has some interesting answers to this question. From this discussion emerged an idea that could help with one big challenge that Jimdo is facing: Until now they have 3 founders, 140 employees and 6 dogs, that’s it, (almost) no formal leadership. As Jimdo is growing, this is not a sustainable structure, because the workload is way too high for the founders. Jimdo wants to scale leadership without setting classical managers or team leads in place. We’ve discussed this topic quite often during the past couple of months and the visit at Spotify might have brought the answer or at least a starting point for trying things. Other topics that day were self-selected teams with interesting boundary conditions (have at least one sceptic in every team), finding more female engineers and a lot of technical stuff I didn’t understand a word of. 
We were lucky that Spotify organized a community event later that evening. It was called „Scaling Agile“ and consisted of 5 Lightning Talks, good food and a lot of beer. This was a really nice occasion for reflecting our learnings.

Make sure you never run out of beer!

After another taxi ride and emptying some „Hülsenfrüchte“ as well as our bottle of Whisky we had a good but short sleep. The Jimdo guys flew out that morning and I had to prepare my talk about Alignment.
After the great conference (which is worth another blog post) I walked through the old town to my last visit: Crisp. Mattias Skarin showed me the office and told me about Crisp’s way of collaboration, culture and their business model. And he invited me to a great dinner! Crisp is a fascinating company and in many respects they are comparable to what we do at it-agile: Similar size, similar business, similar problems challenges, similar intent to be a "democratic" company and similar experiences with clients. The conversation with Mattias was insighful for me, because he has some great ideas about coaching, which made me think. I really think Crisp is doing a great job and if I lived in Stockholm, I would invite Mattias to dinner every evening to become a Crispare:-) And great news: Mattias is very close to join Twitter. He already opened the registration page but was distracted for some reason!

Crazy Matze

These are my main takeways from our visit in Stockholm:
  • Visiting companies is a great way of learning – even if the company seems to be very different from your own.
  • There are many ways to build cool companies beyond the classical structures. Unfortunately this comes with a price and takes a lot of effort and failures learning experiences. Lucky enough, there are so many smart people around the world we can learn from. We all should do this more often!
  • The Kanban community is absolutely amazing! All three visits were really easy to organize, because the locals very extraordinary helpful. And they all were very open to share their learnings. Tack så mycket Håkan, Erik, Joakim, Anders, Mattias and all the other people we talked to!!!
  • I have never drunken so much coffee and never had so many taxi rides (thanks, Fridel, for breaking your leg!) And I think we owe Spotify some beers...

P.S. Our next destination is San Francisco. Fridel, Naddel and I will be there in April. And I heard there might be a couple of interesting companies as well...