NOV 2, 2020

Continuous Improvements - Good For Code. Good For Business.

Nintendo, then and now

Nintendo started out producing handmade playing cards. Netflix was selling and renting DVDs by mail. Starbucks used to only sell high-quality coffee beans and equipment (no brewed coffee or delicious handcrafted espresso drinks!).

As different as their businesses were – and still are – they all managed to pivot/strengthen, expand and thrive. Even without firsthand knowledge on the details of how they went about these changes, it’s not hard to imagine that experimentation and a desire to constantly improve was somehow involved.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time visiting the Corgibytes website, reading the blog or listening to our podcast (Legacy Code Rocks!) knows that we’re constantly talking about reducing technical debt to make codebases stable, scaleable and secure.

What you likely don’t know is that we also apply those same concepts to our operations.

Just like we do code health checks, we do operational health checks. Although we make a special concerted effort yearly, we also have quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily checks.

Stability

One of the ways to help create stability is by diversifying the income stream. Although we remain a services-centered organization, we’re also currently creating products that we’ve identified as needed in our industry (our first product is launching soon by the way. Keep your eyes peeled on our blog for our big announcement in the coming months!).

Another way is by reducing turnover both in clients and team members.

Reducing Client Turnover

Our best move in reducing client turnover is by providing high-quality development work and technical advice. Delivering a consistent, expert-level experience is key to retention and referrals.

To go the extra mile though, we develop and nurture a positive relationship with our clients by relying on frequent communications and check-ins. In addition to the daily communications that occur throughout the workday, we also provide weekly retrospectives, bi-monthly reports and do executive check-ins to discuss plans and stay ahead of potential issues. These help us facilitate conversations about:

  • what we do,
  • how we do it,
  • what issues complicate matters and why, and
  • how our clients get value for their investment in the areas that matter the most (codewise and businesswise).

In that spirit of ensuring our clients obtain great value, we recognize openly with them that at some point they won’t need us anymore. Thanks to us having such honest conversations, we’re able to work with them on ramping down and the transition phase. It helps our clients be better set up for success – until it’s time to collaborate with us again – and it helps us better plan for the next client.

Reducing Team Turnover

The level of talent and skill on the Corgibytes team is impressive. I know it’s tempting to dismiss this statement thinking I’m biased, but really. Spend a little bit of time getting to know the members and you’ll see what I mean.

Because they’re so awesome, we really want to keep them. But, we also recognize that not everyone is here or stays for the same reasons. Although we’re still experimenting with ways to provide each person with what motivates them and keeps them engaged the most, we started doing a few things to help:

  • speaking with everyone individually,
  • getting to know the real human being behind the amazing team member, including what functions they enjoy and don’t enjoy,
  • making time to connect as a group at our weekly team meeting,
  • trying to pair members with clients based on interest and desire for challenge as much as possible,
  • encouraging working on personal side projects (and when one of their projects takes off, we celebrate that with them!).

Keeping the lines of communication open, recognizing that we may just be journeying together for a limited amount of time, and coming from a place of genuinely caring about the team members, we aim to make it an as mutually-beneficial period as possible. Again, keeping that openness tends to smooth out transitions.

Scalability

Scalability is often thought of as synonymous with growth. Although this is usually what we’re aiming for (sustainable growth), sometimes we need to be able to scale down quickly.

This ability to adapt to changing circumstances requires agility (with a small “a”).

To us, that means being lean, efficient and constantly sharing as much information as possible. In the concrete, it also means documenting processes in an effort to reduce the amount of tribal knowledge and constantly challenging our thoughts by reading books and articles, consuming podcasts, and having difficult conversations. We aim to learn how others think, how they approach their business, what is working for them, what is not working and why.

Even though we’re always evaluating ideas individually, looking for ways to keep ourselves malleable enough to adapt as required, the executive team also makes a point of reading the same book at the same time once a year. We then discuss what we like about the ideas presented, what we don’t like, why and whether Corgibytes could benefit from incorporating some of the practices presented. Once we’ve evaluated enough of the information, we consult with the team on the aspects we think might be of value so as to gain their perspective as well.

The most important part is to ensure that whatever we’re considering fits us. We joke that we Corgify processes. We’re not interested in blindly implementing what works at other companies because we have our own unique ecosystem going on here and we wish to preserve what make us special while adapting.

When reviewing whether something is for us, we keep in mind our mission, our core values, and an eye out for red flags such as these two:

The Bandwagon Effect

Just because a book is popular, and “everyone” is reading it/talking about it/implementing it doesn’t mean it’s right for us. It might be really amazing. But it might also only be that someone did an outstanding marketing job. So we really dig in and analyse the concepts.

The Blank Slate

Be wary of statements to the effect that “everything you know about” – insert topic – is “wrong” because all the scholars before this author were clueless and this author has cracked the code/found the magic bullet. Of course, discoveries happen, new information arises, and things change. But, as firm believers in the value of maintaining and improving legacy code, we like to also view operational-type information in the context in which it was created and update what is needed with care and consideration. Even though there may be times when throwing the whole thing out and starting fresh may be advisable, let’s be sure that’s truly the case and not just toss it because it’s “old” advice.

When we do encounter such red flags, we also do not toss it all out. We add an extra filter of critical thinking and still extract the good from it.

Security

When it comes to keeping operations or the business secure, we too rely on a network of professionals. To help us ensure we’re compliant, that we’re meeting our obligations and doing our due diligence, we employ the services of:

  • lawyers,
  • an accounting team,
  • HR specialists,
  • payroll specialists,
  • registered agents,
  • insurance brokers, and more.

Processes that involve laws and requirements could mean hefty fines, penalties and much worse. To avoid building and growing a business on shaky grounds, surround yourself with these experts as needed and ask a lot of questions. Just like we make sure our clients get the gist of what we’re talking about, even when discussing highly-technical topics, our chosen extended team also takes the time to answer our questions so that we’re able to obtain enough information to make informed decisions.

If your chosen professional starts “blinding” you with all these terms and confusing explanations, don’t assume it’s you. They could be hiding behind their own lack of understanding. Make sure they are clear and transparent with you.

Cleaning Up Operational Debt

Whether we’re performing these health checks or coming up with ways to improve, all that we do is infused with our mission and core values.

Even though we don’t always get things right, we come from a place of good intent. We want to make things better. We want healthy operations in all of its facets.

Whether you’re aiming to go the distance like Nintendo, Netflix or Starbucks, or your goal is to be the best small organization you can be, block off time to gain new information, determine what works for you and what doesn’t and implement where it makes sense to try. Don’t let operational debt accumulate. Take it one incremental improvement at a time toward becoming stable, scaleable and secure.