Taking W2O Software from Good to Great – Part 1: Focus

Posted by: in Insights, Software on July 21, 2014

keep-calm-and-focus-81Over the last year we’ve built up a very process-oriented culture within all things software at W2O.  We’re actually big geeks for it and have built up an informal book club – challenging each other to read books like The Phoenix ProjectGood to GreatLean StartupThe Goal and a few others.  On a recent trip to reset (small beach, large margaritas) I read Built to Last (I know –  an odd choice for beach reading – I am what I am) and I felt encouraged to perform a little social experiment on my team.  You see, up until now the products we build have been defined either by the immediate needs of our clients or from great ideas coming from our account and leadership teams – my fear was that our team may not be aligned to a set of core values.  So I sent an email to the entire team asking 2 questions: “At W2O we build software to_______” and “…and in my role I service our clients by______” Within 48 hours I had an impressive 40% response rate – and some impressive answers.  These were placed in a spreadsheet and mixed up so to eliminate bias based on the team member who answered – then each placed in a broad category based on the content of the answer (we’re data geeks). Three categories emerged in response to the first question: Make Money (4 votes), Analytics-Related (7 votes) and Everything: (5 votes).

There is a wonderful simplicity and truth behind the “Make Money” answer – and yes that is The Goal of W2O Group and the thing that keeps our business going, but we must go deeper – how will the software we build make us money?  The answers that came back in the “Do Everything” Category were mostly aligned with making money (we do whatever people pay us to do) but there were also some impressively eloquent statements that had no discernible meaning.  The closest to a core principle came from the analytics based responses.  W2O does a lot of things, but at the core of most of these there’s data, a lot of data, which helps our analysts tell our clients things that matter.  I told you we’re some serious data geeks. While the transformation to a process-centric software group was a necessary thing, it’s also clear we focus on what what we build without losing site of how we build it (Preserve the Core while Stimulating Progress).

So I offer this Core Principle of W2O Software (more will come, but this is a carefully guarded list): We provide data driven superpowers to our clients, giving them a wildly unfair advantage in understanding and shaping conversations to suit their needs. This is actually what we always have done, but in formalizing the Software Practice this needed to be explicitly defined.  This principle helps us determine what features to build, how we can best dig into our data, and to determine what makes it into the Innovation Pipeline (more on that in a follow up post).  It’s also what our analytics team does – and as such analytics and software work very closely together.   This is too narrow to be considered a company wide focus, but it fits as a core focus of the software practice. The second question wasn’t nearly as entertaining, but it showed a place to improve focus.  Of the responses two were sales-centric, nine development, three development process management, and two were product related – and a couple of people I probably need to talk to.  The breadth of responses isn’t what bugs me, but rather the missing pieces.  We have a rockstar development team who works by industry-leading process management – now we need to increase focus on the products themselves.  Clients are the key point for this focus – to create great products we must maintain a solid feedback loop with our clients so we can ensure their success. One of my folks asked what my answers would be to these questions.  I’ll close with that: We build software to enable our Core Principles, and my role is to enable this team by breaking down barriers and providing support which allows amazing people to do awesome things.

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