How to Build a Quality Culture
Perhaps the biggest obstacle that I come across on a regular basis in trying to help people improve the tech in their individuals space, is dealing with that of culture. We can talk about tech driving change in our world, but the truth is that culture needs to change in the workplace to better make use of tech, not the other way. Yes, smart people will always come up with innovative solutions with technology, but if people are not in a space to adapt to them, or willing to change themselves and their approaches to better develop according to something new, it’s unlikely to make much of an impact.
What is a Tech Culture and why would you want one?
Before I go too far into talking about how to build a tech culture though it’s perhaps worth explaining exactly what a tech culture is. Essentially it a culture where technology (mostly software) is utilised to grow and expand our business. For tech and software development companies, this obviously forms the centre of what they do as a business, but to many corporate companies whose primary business is elsewhere and are looking to star making better use of software an technology to help them stay relevant, this is not something that is necessarily easy to release.
The reason though companies would want to make the move to having a tech culture though is because technology shapes the way people live and expect to interact with companies and if business, regardless of primary focus, are not willing to embrace some form of tech culture, there is a chance they could make themselves redundant in the future.
Culture and the acceptance of new ideas or innovation does not just happen though. In fact, it goes against our basic human instincts which is to stick with what we know and trust and takes deliberate effort from teams to get right. So, if you want to turn your company around into one that doesn’t just use technology, but starts to be driven by the technology they help create, then you need to try the following steps to start getting your corporate culture changed.
1) Have a clear goal
Technological innovation doesn’t just come from nowhere and the best solutions are often identified when the problem space becomes clear. As a company, you need to be acutely aware of the problems you need technology to solve and the areas where you see technology playing a role in an organisation. Having a specific vision will help to unlock the different people in the company to come up with solutions that will allow you to use tech in a manner that is truly transformative and will add value.
This does not only help to form the why as to what your IT or development team does, but will also shape other things like the 3rd party systems you may want to use, as they should fit into this broader vision first before choosing to take them on board.
2) Allow for time to learn
People cannot be on the cusp of innovation if they are not familiar with current trends and willing to constantly learn from others. While this is something which many passionate developers will do naturally through extra-curricular reading, as companies, this is also something you should drive and ensure time is made for teams to deal with tech debt, learn and innovate. It is a tough thing for many companies to do though because this ultimately can limit delivery, at least in the short term.
If you want to be serious about build tech culture though this is important. Teams that are constantly stretched, on tight deadlines and always focusing on the next big deadline, invariably struggle to think out the box, take the chance to reflect and get better. Ensuring that people have the time to do this when they need, is a good way of changing this.
Now you need to be careful with this approach though. Firstly it needs to be optional, because not only doesn’t everyone necessarily want to do this, but also you need to give people the freedom to play when they feel most inspired by their ideas. Secondly, it is incredibly difficult to govern if the time being taken up is being use effectively. There is an element of trust that needs to be given here and as long as certain limits are put in place and people have regular deliverables form their innovative ideas that need to be shown, it can work. Some form of cadence should also be established so that the your learning can be a little more structured and measurable.
3) Learn to tolerate failure
This may sound a little silly, especially for companies where software quality is essential, but the truth is that innovation and the fear of failure do not fit well together. If you want to build a company that is more innovative in the tech space you need to first learn to embrace the idea that mistakes will be made as part of learning and be okay with that. While you obviously need to ensure enough measures are in place for mistakes not to cripple you either financially or technically, you do need to have some appetite for failure to ensure that you continue to focus on delivery and improvement.
4) Focus on Agility
Many of you have heard of the term Agile, but I know few companies that actually understand what this means. Agile is not just some form of scrum process, but rather a mind-set where the focus of the software development is in regular delivery and fine tuning of the software by giving the business early exposure to this. The biggest problem for many companies is that the rest of their business doesn’t work this way and so they find it difficult to translate their processes into an Agile manner. There is a lot to Agile thinking, which you can read more on, but the gist of what you want to try and do is get your business used to details being ironed out over time, working with the software team in refining how the software should look rather than expecting them just to deliver on set requirements and then also the removal of unnecessary meetings and bureaucracy. Failure to grasp these simple tenants of Agile, mean that even if your tech team is creating some remarkable software their delivery is going to be slow and the team engagement, likely quite low.
5) Clear Accountability to the Tech Team
Another pitfall on which many companies fall on, is that of clear accountability on tech initiatives. While they want their software development teams to deliver on certain goals, they still have overall ownership residing with the business on its success. While this is not bad in its entirely, it does prohibit your software teams from the above agility and rather than try and put some form of business oversight or governance in place, rather allow the teams to succeed or fall by their own violation than constrain them with a person /team that perhaps doesn’t understand software well enough.
This doesn’t mean that there should be no process or deadlines, not at all, it just means that these should be developed in conjunction with the development teams who then need to deliver on what they promised. From a business perspective, it’s important for the stakeholders to grow in their understanding of technology, so that they are able to engage with the development teams at the right level and also ensure that they are truly delivering on things correctly.
Putting these initiatives in place won’t ensure success with your companies move to becoming a more tech oriented company, but together they will lay a good foundation in which you can get there. Failure in any one of these areas may hinder your ability to deliver on your intentions fast enough and leave you at risk of becoming obsolete.