As Microsoft Practice Lead for Codec in UK and Northern Ireland, I’m regularly thinking how Codec has grown a Microsoft Dynamics practice from a small team of 2 people to over 100 Microsoft ‘Power Platform‘ Consultants, in little over four years. In the past two years, our Belfast team has experienced rapid growth with exciting plans to grow further. Building teams at such a rate can challenge any company of any size, but Codec’s success has not come around by accident or luck.
To gain an insight into some of the factors that have helped Codec become both Microsoft Ireland partner of the year and Microsoft Dynamics partner of the year in successive years, here are some of the principles we’ve adopted in Belfast, and across the Codec group, to ensure that we stay the best at what we do.
1. Be a Film Crew, not a Widget Factory
Providing successful business solutions to customers requires a wide mix of skills, from low level technical skills, to accurate confirmation of requirements, to functional requirements and testing. Often larger or ‘Big 5’ style consulting firms will have a very hierarchical structure. Don’t run your practice like a ‘widget factory’. Management in widget factories talk about resources, processes, have strict clear cut job roles and defined inputs and outputs. Most businesses aren’t always like that. Most businesses need to move fast. A ‘film crew’ team is based on the notion that we as software consultants are self-motivated, and enjoy our jobs as much as our kids enjoy playing. If you build and encourage this culture in your team it will help you get through challenging growth spurts.
2. Cross Train & Stay Current
So you’ve hired someone who has 6 years experience in Dynamics 4.0 and 2011 and want to throw them into a Model Driven Power Platform Unified Interface project with a companion Canvas Power app and Portal, with a PowerBI dashboard and Flow integration! How do you ensure that person is up to speed with these new features only released in 2018? It’s important to understand that now more than ever technology is changing fast. To ensure that your team have current skills you might want motivated people who are interested enough learn in their own time, but you also need to realise you need to invest. At Codec, we are an early adopter of new Microsoft Technologies. We invest in our staff through regular internal ad-hoc show and tells, lunch and learns and webinars which have become invaluable for providing consultants with a solid base for accelerated learning.
3. It’s good to talk
In huge organisations where Dynamics 365 or PowerApps is just another technology, it’s easy to feel like a lone wolf. You might rely on techniques such as ‘rubber duck debugging’ or endless googling to solve a seemingly impossible problem. At Codec, with so many knowledgeable Dynamics consultants available with specialisms in specific niches, we find that it’s good to talk, email, skype, wiki, WhatsApp and occasionally have a quick beer to get a problem solved quickly. Outside of the office, it’s also good to attend events such as Summit EMEA and 365 Saturday encourage involvement in the wider Dynamics community through consuming and creating blogs, podcasts and screen-casts.
4. Play to your team’s strengths
5. Give youth a chance
It’s tempting to only employ experienced consultants, but it’s true that the Generation Z have an ability to pick up technologies faster than us oldies. Building an academy of apprentices, graduates and a mix of functional and technical consultants helps keep the knowledge within the practice and will give a nice balance to your film crew. A Codec we have a growing graduate and apprenticeship programme which ensures we will be stronger again in years to come.
6. “Move fast.”
Mark Zuckerberg coined the phase “Move Fast and Break Things” when talking about his strategy for Facebook’s explosive growth. Unlike him, I’m not advocating breaking things for the sake of it, but this concept particularly applies when looking at complex Dynamics, Portal upgrades, traditional bespoke ASP.NET project or integration projects. Encourage your team to not spend a long time hypothesising about what might happen. Do lots of small proof of concepts and de-risk technical projects for your customers as early as possible. If you can fix their costs early they will thank you for it. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
7. Encourage Commercial Awareness
Whether your company has very detailed processes that need to be followed to the letter, or whether it is more agile and ad-hoc, it’s important that people at all levels of the company understand what the companies commercial goals are. Is the purpose of a new project primarily to make money, or is it a loss leader because you want to use it as a test bed to learn a new technology or enter new markets. How much is a project worth? How does it compare to some other on-going projects? Communication about high level goals in the company gives your team a shared vision and allows people to make the right low level decisions to feed into high level goals.
8. Show me, don’t just tell me
I recently completed an IFA Level One football coaching award, where I had to set up and demonstrate various football drills with appropriate learning points. Before completing the course, many participants first instinct was to explain verbally what to do in the drill. Very quickly we learned that this was an ineffective way for participants to learn. The most effective way for people to understand a drill was to demonstrate the drill yourself, or have someone else demonstrate it. In software engineering and with any technical platform the concept is the similar. People learn quicker with better visual cues. Get used to drawing squares and arrows on a whiteboard to explain your thoughts.
9. Refine your methodologies
I’m not going to get into what project methodology is best, whether Agile, Waterfall or Water-Scrum-Fall. I don’t think any is best. It think it depends on a variety of factors including staff skill sets, team maturity, customer constraints and organisation culture. If you go with a one size fits all methodology you will end up with a few project failures. I’m not sure ‘best practice’ exists. Use ‘better practices’ each time to fit each scenario and refine your better each time you deliver a project.
For a small 10 day engagement with a new customer you might have a lean methodology focused on delivery and user adoption. For a 60 day project, you may consider a scrum methodology centred around a product backlog. For a huge organisation resistant to change, you may be forced to propose a hybrid waterfall/agile methodology. It’s tempting for the big organisations to only go after very large projects. However, smaller projects are where consultants can cut their teeth and learn the most to feed into the enterprise projects.
10. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Let your team know what your priorities are and repeat them. Have a forum such as a daily stand-up where people know what is going on and can contribute and listed. Your team will only understand your practice or team strategy when you have explained it so many times you feel like a broken record.
And one other thing, your team will only understand your practice or team strategy when you have explained it so many times you feel like a broken record(!).
Codec is looking for Software Engineers and Business Consultants at all levels to join our growing Belfast City Centre Office.