Tech Week lets our product team flip the script. It’s the one week of the year where we put the product backlog aside and focus on the projects and problems that we're passionate about, but haven’t had a chance to work on.
In the normal course of business, product development is about the product team working with stakeholders to provide solutions to the most pressing priorities of the customer and the business. We need to move fast in order to get value to the customer early, learn rapidly and stay ahead of the competition. This leaves little room for exploration of new ideas or trial of new technologies and in some cases can lead to a build up of technical debt. It is well understood that innovation comes when you give your teams some slack, but for most organisations this feels like unproductive time so they never take the step. Tech week shows the flaws of this kind of thinking and the tangible benefits that an organisation can accrue.
During Tech Week, the team gets the opportunity to work on any project of their choosing, in squads of their making, using their technology of choice. Any type of project is allowed including building completely new features or internal tools, creating proof of concepts, addressing outstanding technical debt or even working on the feature that’s currently at the top of the backlog. There are no limitations.
Well, almost none.
While there aren’t any limitations on the projects, there were some limitations on how we approached Tech Week at Goodlord in order to maximise our chances of success:
Any work not completed in Tech Week will be discarded: It’s not easy to convince the wider business of the value of Tech Week, where your entire 20-person product team switches focus for a week. This wasn’t an issue at Goodlord - the management team immediately bought into the idea - but we still had an obligation to make sure our efforts didn’t spill over into future weeks.
Work affecting production systems go through the standard approval process: Our approval process involves making sure code has appropriate automated tests (with all tests passing), adherence to established standards and product manager sign off. We made sure to remind everyone that there was no lowering of the bar.
No individual projects: We believe in the importance of teamwork and collaboration and want to see that on display at all times. We have some talented individuals who could definitely deliver a full feature in a week but our strongest performers are team players and so know instinctively that they can make a bigger impact by working with someone else.
So, what did we do?
We had five teams in total and every team completed and released their projects in time for the weekly company huddle.
Team Instant Karma Piranhas worked on browser notifications. Now, when an agent logs into Goodlord, they are asked to allow notifications. If they allow notifications, they get browser notifications for key events that happen in the lifecycle of a tenancy.
The Team With No Name was on dashboards. They revamped the View Deal Stats page to include more useful information for agents including monthly completed deals and the number of policies on risk of three insurance product.
Improve application and platform resilience
Team Veni Vidi Vici worked on improving the Goodlord application’s adaptiveness, predictability and ability to self-heal. These are the kind of infrastructure improvements that act as force multipliers, enabling us to do more with less.
Team Discovery Channel focused on improving session management and adding auto-suggest to the universal search. Our agents have multiple tenancies in flight at any point in time and so we want them to be able to jump between them seamlessly.
There had to be one, didn’t there? Team 100 Megaton Dynamite’s project is under wraps… but listen out for the announcement coming soon.
There are a few things we’ll improve on next time, including making our Success and Support teams aware of the new features so they have ample time to inform customers and prepare for any issues that arise. In the rush and enthusiasm to get things out the door, our usual communication process broke down. Luckily there were no adverse effects, but it’s something that we will bear in mind next time around.
On a related note, it would have been great if Tech Week was a company wide activity (Goodlord Week?). The team would have benefitted from having more input from other departments and we would have created better opportunities for collaboration than tend to occur naturally in the normal course of business.
But overall, Tech Week was a win.
It provided us with a great opportunity to do things a bit differently and left everyone feeling proud and re-energised. We worked on new technologies, with new people, tried new approaches and had fun while racing against the clock. We made real progress with the Goodlord application and our understanding of how to solve particular problems.
The week is over now but the fun isn’t - we’re back to building the kick-ass features that are helping to create the best renting experience in the world.