EGOR SVIRIDENKO is the managing director for Targetprocess Germany, a tool that virtually visualizes and manages work. Targetprocess deals with teams in Berlin, Buffalo, London, Minsk, and Toronto. Their goal is to zero in on specific focuses, which is sometimes difficult in the face of many teams and many projects.
His tips for working remotely:
- Use the right tools.
- Visualize your work.
- Know your people.
- Create space for unpredictability. It can help grow and bind a team.
- Focus on quality.
Podcast production by Podcast Monster
Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Okay, great! And we’re live. So welcome everybody to this remote interview. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Today on the line, I have Egor Sviridenko. And you’re based in Berlin, Germany and you’re the managing director of Target Process Germany. So welcome and thanks for letting me interview you.
Egor: Hi, Lisette! It’s great to be here. I’m really curious and excited about it.
Lisette: Okay, we’ll see how this interview goes. It can go a number of different directions. But I want to start with the question I always start with which is “What does your virtual office look like? What do you need to get your work done?”
Egor: Right. So I work for Target Process and we’re a company of slightly about 80 people where the majority of our folks sit in Minsk, the headquarters of the company where they develop the Target Process software; whereas me and about ten people are just spread across the world. And we’re let’s say customer facing sales and marketing colleagues. So here in Berlin, me and my colleague, we’ve rented our space at a factory co-working which is a pretty exciting place to be because another floor is hear above us, we have some cool companies like Uber and Zendesk, and Twitter, a great chance to mingle with those guys. But we’re just coming over with our laptops every day, taking whatever desk we have available under flexi space. They have this flexi room space here. So my virtual office is just my laptop. It must have Slack on it. Slack is awesome. It’s Target Process which we always use ourselves. It’s an Agile project management tool where we keep everything in from library and managing our library and books through HR process and of course all of our sales and development activities; everything really. What else is important? Slack, I mentioned, Skype for video calls, Citrix Web to go to meeting for more kind of high end quality video calls with the customers, and Google Docs, and I guess that’s it.
Lisette: Oh that’s interesting. So I want to go into how your team works together sure but let’s start with what you guys do. What does Target Process do?
Egor: Sure. Well Target Process, we started the company twelve years ago, and that was in the early days of Agile where there weren’t any real flexible and good, the way we saw it, Agile tools out there so we decided we might give it a try. Twelve years from then, now we’re let’s say a mature and flexible tool for Agile organizations, no longer just teams but what we would normally go and support organizations of several hundreds of people using all kind of flavors of Scrum and Kanban and whatnot, and almost crazy mixtures with Waterfall. We have seen it all. And so we would give them a way to quickly focus in the complexity of their day to day work activities. So it’s everything from portfolio management through the application lifecycle management, development, testing, and most important, integrations, customer management, etc.
Lisette: So then basically, you’re helping to visualize and thus manage the work because you can see all the things that are going on.
Egor: That’s true. The visualization is the keyword here because there are several hundred different tasks and project management tools out there. So where we found our path that is fun to follow is that we’re seeing that data visualization is an interesting approach where if you really know what you’re doing with data visualization, you can make a lot of sense out of complete information noise and complete information complexity. So we kind of jumped on that path with a lot of enthusiasm. There was a lot of research going on. I’m personally happy to read books about visualization and give some talks and some conferences about visualizing project portfolio and avatar. And so our promise is really like what is the smartest visualization possible if you have dozen of team working on dozen of different projects, and everybody in all those teams might need to have a specific focus on the most important things she or he is interested in. So yeah, visualization is a key.
Lisette: Yeah, I’m learning more and more about that I mean through talking with Jim Benson who we met last week at the Distributed Agile Teams conference. He uses visualizations a lot. He tells stories about going into companies and visualizing their work for them and showing people like “Whoa! I had no idea that it looked like this.” So I can see that that would be a key component for teams. So then let’s talk of then a little bit about how… Oh, before we go to that, I would like to add, so this isn’t just for Agile teams anymore, right? This is software that could be applied like you started with Agile teams but it seems like it can be applied wider to anybody who’s interested in visualizing their work. Is that true?
Egor: Yeah, absolutely. Recently, we’ve had quite a few companies coming to us where there want to visualize their marketing process. There’s a lot of interest from construction industry where people are building things or architecture [inaudible—6:03] where they just want to understand what’s going on and move away from Excel and endless meetings into some kind of real time visual tool. There’s an interesting case actually in a school in Holland where they decided to use Scrum as a learning method for 12 and 13-year-old kids and put the whole paradigm of the Agile thinking and philosophy to schools where they would just remove teachers, bring in coaches, let kids come up in self-organized teams and decided on what topic they want to work. They would use Scrum as a kind of a disciplined way to deliver the learning value. And they chose Target Process as the only tool they could find out there who would be able to map all those activities. And those kids are running around with iPads and just dragging those cards on their Scrum boards.
Lisette: Oh my God!
Lisette: Sounds really cool I mean as a way of learning, it seems like that’s a whole other realm I think, that’s a whole other topic. Super interesting.
Egor: That’s true.
Lisette: And it’s in Holland so it’s something I might have to look into just to see.
Egor: That’s true. That’s not so far away from where you’re at, yeah.
Lisette: Exactly, exactly. Sounds like a cool idea actually. So I’m assuming you guys use Target Process to manage your own teams. I’m going to assume that.
Egor: Yes, yeah, we definitely do although we bend it and break and do whatever with it but, yeah, we definitely eat our own food absolutely.
Lisette: Right. And you said you have most people are sitting in Minsk? That’s the development team and then you sort of have the insular Sales and Marketing in different locations.
Egor: Yeah. Well we have people in Buffalo in the US and also somebody in London, somebody in Toronto, and there’s somebody else joining soon. So yeah, we have a few offices out there where people are sitting closer to our international customers.
Lisette: And I was going to ask why it is structure this way, and that is to be closer to your international customers.
Egor: Sure. Sure. Well actually, I think that distribution is not necessarily always a good thing and we’ve deliberately tried to keep our development teams—well we don’t have development teams—well they are cross-functional teams so we actually have featured teams, yeah. So there are five featured teams. Each of them is a cross-functional team of product designers, developers, testers, DevOps guys which all sit in or headquarters in Minsk, and we try to keep this as one big area so that people don’t have to go to different floors, etc. so that there’s as much collaboration as possible and people see each other as many times as possible, etc. But in many cases, this is just not possible. And this definitely what concerns our sales, our technical sales people which are all around the world. And another interesting thing is that we don’t really have strict hierarchy in the company. This is why there are some things similar to what you might compare to Spotify’s Guilds where we call them boards. So let’s say there is a marketing board so it’s a constellation of different people from different roles which must be as diverse as possible. So there’s currently six or seven people from development, from support, from sales, marketing, from product which come together in order to make decisions about the product strategy, define the criteria by which we’re making decisions what to put on the next roadmap, etc. And so obviously, all these people are sitting at different locations and we do feel as one distributed team although we also belong to some other teams which might not be distributed teams. So it’s like this [inaudible—10:14] coexistence of different team work forms.
Lisette: Yeah, and it sounds actually very common that may organizations are set up in this way. I mean it’s very luxurious actually when you can have everybody distributed in some way because that makes things easier on some levels. But then the question is what do you guys really struggle with this sort of arrangement? What is it that’s hard for you?
Egor: Well look I personally think that the main challenge of a distributed team is how do you get this whole thing started and how do you get this ball rolling. Personally, I believe that it makes much more sense even if you’re about to work in a distributed context that you meet all those people face to face before you’re about to set out on that journey because for me, it’s very crucial to understand what are the people that I’m going to work with. And that not only means what are their names and what they say about themselves but there’s something more behind that and there’s something that is not so easily described in words that’s some kind of a feeling; we’re all different personalities, we have our own different backgrounds, we have our own different behaviors. And I think in order to function as a well-oiled team where you can really be supportive of each other, you really have to have this almost like belly feeling to everybody in your team. And I don’t think there is any possibility to establish that feeling if you really spend some time close to those people and really go out together and work on some projects face to face. Once this has passed, this kind of a team building exercise has passed, and once we’re experiencing what we’re doing, then I’m happy to be working distributed. And this is the way we are doing it here. So as soon as there’s a new guy joining the sales team as a sales engineer, technical guy, or one of the sales guys, we make sure that he comes to Minsk at the headquarters to join everybody else and really see what is this company, what are these people, and spend some time together. And then as soon as he’s comfortable, go back to his home office. Most of us are working from home offices or co-working spaces, and yeah, get to work.
Lisette: And though you do have many, you said, many of your dev’s colocated together on one space. And why is that? What is the advantage of having that? Because clearly there’s an advantage there or you wouldn’t do it.
Egor: Oh absolutely. Well, we believe that if a team that is working as a high performance really that is really running shoulder to shoulder and delivering result, when these people are sitting next to each other so that whenever there’s a question, that they can immediately just look across the table and say, “Hey, so how about that?” just clarify that within seconds rather typing that in Slack or go in through a ticketing system and to go into all that. It’s much faster, much more productive, we had sorted out. And also, some of the things you might ask in Slack like you don’t know what this person is doing right now. You don’t know if this person might just be having a bad day today, maybe his personal things, something he has a in the family with or whatever. If you see this person, you’re attentive to this person, you feel this person, you would know when to raise that question, etc. So you end up being much more I would really say attention is the keyword here. And attention is very difficult to translate through the best digital tools which allow digital collaboration. This is why we really want our well-oiled development cross-functional teams to sit together and whenever possible.
Lisette: So I just asked about the challenges like what was challenging for your team but what is something that your team does really well together?
Egor: You mean as a distributed team?
Lisette: Yeah, as a distributed team in the way that you guys are working. What’s one thing that’s really a benefit that it gives you to work on. And clearly, you have the local markets where your customers are sitting.
Lisette: In terms of how you’re working together, what’s really the benefit and how it works well.
Egor: One of the good things about working in a distributed way for me is being flexible about structure in my own day. And that is really juggle and then balancing the time where I need to focus and I need to concentrate in deciding where I’m going to be and how I’m going to structure my day really. So I would bring this down to something like focus and concentration where I really don’t want to be disturbed where I really want to go in-depth of my thinking and really work on something, and ideally, even switch off any disturbance that are potential like even with the chat and email, etc. And once I’m ready to collaborate on something then I would switch on all those nice digital tools back again and jump into a conversation with somebody and see what’s hot in our Slack channels the last half an hour, etc. So it’s really this flexibility about being able to decide on almost half hourly basis on how you’re going to work, where you’re going to focus on, rather than already being in the midst of people surrounding you, and it’s going to be you in control of the situation if you want to be alone or if you want to be sharing and collaborate.
Lisette: How easy is that to do in a co-working space? What’s that like for you because you said you were in a co-working space?
Egor: Yeah, well this co-working space here, the factory is the one that I ended up choosing in the end because the only one I know at the moment which combines both worlds. Yeah, because the place where we all sit and—let me just turn my camera here and…
Lisette: Cool tour.
Egor: Yeah. Not really a tour but you can see there’s this flexi room out there where people are sitting on their desks. And I’m currently in one of the meeting rooms so I’m having a complete silence to myself and I can have this call with you, Lisette; while if I go into that room, I would not be speaking because then I would disturb others. And so this is the discipline that everybody respects so people are just silent working on their things. And again, you just make a few steps into the cafeteria and into the lounge, and you have a crowd of people hanging out there where you can come and talk to people, see what people are working on, maybe exchange some experience. There are a lot of events here, etc. So this is what I call both worlds nice to mix together and this is what I like a lot.
Lisette: I can imagine. So you have the quiet space when you need it and then a social space when you need it, and also just sort of being around people.
Egor: Right. Right, which is also great in comparison to being at home working from a home office because you can’t just go, well you can probably go knock at your neighbor’s door and have some socializing. How nice your neighbors are.
Egor: Right? So yeah, this is also the reason why we used to have our proper office here in Target Process Berlin and we’ve had it for two years, and then we abandoned it and moved here into the factory co-working because we decided this is much less waste and much more flexibility about choosing how we are.
Lisette: And in terms of how the team works together, when you guys communicate through the tool or how does the dev team interface with the rest of the distributed team? What does that look like?
Egor: Well obviously, Target Process has a linkage tool between everybody and kind of allows this collaboration. I mean any of the digital Scrum, Kanban tool would do the same so there’s nothing special about Target Process here maybe apart from a couple of better visualization approaches here and there. But absolutely all the activities, let’s talk about things like marketing campaigns where we need to participate in an Agile conference in Orlando or somewhere else where the Agile conference is taking place. So we need to prepare the design for the booth, we need to have our customers contacted, we need to work on some other activities, some content for the landing pages, etc. So we would tap into the resources and skills of our designers, of our developers, maybe we’ll also work with some external marketing agencies, all that starts from an initiative of a marketing campaign in Target Process where work gets split into themes, we call them features, and further into some kind of activities like user stories, and then spread across the people. That’s easy to see who’s doing what, where we’re running against some deadlines, where dependencies are identified, etc. And at the same time, our guys who are working on the next build of Target Process are clearly working on a feature were still broken down into user stories. They’re using Kanban to pool those and release them every Monday into the fresh build. And if we need something for our presence at this trade show like the newest Target Process version, we can always link these things nicely together between their built I mean coming live and our deadlines in order to be able to show that software later etc, etc. I would even go into this example of collaboration now that we’re talking about the Agile Conference. I’ll tell the T-shirt story.
Lisette: Yeah, good. I was just going to ask you to do that. I said because you were a sponsor for the Distributed Agile Teams Conference in Berlin just last week, thank you very much. And the T-shirts that you guys made were great. They’re better than any conference T-shirts I’ve ever seen. So yes, please share to us the story.
Egor: Yeah. There’s a T-shirt story. So those T-shirts, we have a gallery of different, I think over 150 different T-shirt designs online on Target Process website. Those were all the T-shirts we created pretty much in real time at the Orlando Agile Conference two years ago, a year-and-a-half ago where basically we wanted to make some kind of an explosion around the brand. We haven’t been going to the conference for a couple of years. And the idea was that we would visualize the most popular tweets. And here where the distributed teamwork came in nicely because we have our sales team in Orlando at our booth working with customers, talking to customers, and hanging around sessions, etc. We had our external marketing agency with whom we worked who had a few copywriters, and we have our designers sitting in Target Process office in Minsk. So these people were all in different locations. The copywriters would monitor the most important tweets in the Twitter hashtag for the Agile Conference, they would pick up and they would come out with some interesting suggestions of how we might visualize those tweets. So they would send them over to us in Orlando. We would look them up on our smartphones and see “Oh wow! That one is really great.” So we would just take that card and throw into the direction of our designers in Minsk who would start working on a few quick design suggestions pretty much real time. Within half an hour, we would have a few design suggestions for that quote, and then we will just pick one of those and said “Approved,” then it goes to the Approved column, and then the final T-shirt design gets finalized, and it’s being printed on our printer at our booth in Orlando, and immediately, is stamped on a T-shirt on a fair’s T-shirt right there. So that was a risky process because it could have had several bottlenecks but everybody performed just awesome and we had, like I said in those three days of the conference, we had over 150 T-shirt designs which were created. You can imagine the guy who tweeted would immediately get a tweet was an example of that visualization saying, “Hey, here’s the visualization of what you just said half an hour ago. Would you like a T-shirt of your size? What’s your size by the way?” and that person would go, “Awesome! Who are you people?” So we would just have a crowd of people queuing outside of our booth in the second conference day, all waiting for their T-shirts. And that was really a great idea as a concept thanks to the marketing agency we worked with. And finally, it was a great example of a distributed team nicely collaborating.
Lisette: Yeah, it’s super, super fast and really a wow moment for people like a way to really impress people. And it reminds me you said something there that I’ve heard before which is there can be. When you have this distributed team, there can be a number of bottlenecks and the number of things that can go wrong. There are some weak links that are possible in the process but when it works, it works really well like it can do awesome things like that. So that’s fun to hear. So I want to make sure we get to a few more things because we’re running short on time. I always go too long and that’s because everybody’s so interesting. But I want to talk quickly about virtual team management because you guys really are focused on management. And I don’t know if there’s any virtual team like any tips you can give for what makes a good virtual team manager. What should people focus on maybe?
Egor: Interesting question, Lisette. Apart from knowing that we as a tool that support virtual teams, and obviously we support management, but I would not really go into as much as saying we support virtual team management. I would stop by saying we support virtual project management. As with the teams, I would rather say from my personal experience here at Target Process, you do not be team managers. We do not have team managers and we do not need team managers. Our teams are either set by their purpose or they’re always set by their purpose and they’re either colocated as our cross-functional dev testing teams or they’re distributed as an example of a product board or sales team, but there’s not even a team lead. None of our development teams or sales teams or anything have a team lead. So it’s really about people who joined by the same purpose and really are eager to do the best they can in order to achieve that purpose triggering each other to do their best, and getting into this collaboration mode, and then just getting the best work done. That’s the way I live it day to day so I couldn’t give you any tips on virtual team management , I’m sorry.
Lisette: I think actually that’s the best answer I’ve ever had to that question because people come up with communication and discipline and things and 360 team reviews. And I just love that when you have virtual project management that you don’t actually need team management in that way. It just sort of takes out that level of hierarchy. So your answer is actually very exciting to me to hear that.
Egor: Yeah, it’s a challenge and it’s not always nice and fuzzy. There are always challenges. There are always difficulties and it has a lot to do about the way you hire people and what kind of people you attract as a company and hire, and the way you let your people develop. But like a couple of values we set at Target Process: One is really about learning so one of the things that attracts people to come to Target Process is that they know they can come as a junior but they can learn to become a senior, and they’ll be given all means, they will be given budget to go to external conferences, there’ll be internal events, there’ll be change, and there’ll be orange Fridays. We now have December coming as an orange month for the five teams, there will be no development done, people will go into pre-Christmas orange activities. And if this is something that motivates people to learn and to get better and not to become a manager and tell other people what to do, then I think you kind of have the right spirit for where things can grow. And it’s completely unpredictable which way they will grow and it’s a challenge for us because we’re growing as a company and we hope it will work out nicely for us. But looking at some companies who have made it to bigger sizes, we see yeah, it can work so we’re positive about our own future.
Lisette: I really like that. I like the idea of focusing on the way you hire and who, and helping people to develop and having that as a core company value. It seems you’re really inspiring to make the room for people to develop themselves at the company because I mean a lot of people who work 40 hours a week and they’re work, work, work and they also have families, and there’s very little time left on the side for your actual development I think. A lot of people manage to do it but I think it’s nice that the company gives the space for that. That seems really motivating to me anyway. I’m assuming your colleagues are also motivated by this, sounds like.
Egor: Yeah. I don’t know. I think my vision of that is that all productivity oriented company structures are sooner or later going to be replaced by some kind of machine, some kind of artificial intelligence because if it’s only about the output and not about creativity and unpredictability which is similar to creativity, then you should give space for those things to grow, yeah. And you cannot push, you cannot manage those things to grow and this is why getting the atmosphere and the company’s culture right is much more important for me than getting the short term objectives fulfilled to 100% of people being completely productive as of today. I’m a total fan of Slack not as a product but as a concept. Slack is cool.
Lisette: Great. That random chance, I mean random happen stance or the weird buttons pushed that the experimental mindset, it sounds like. What about your hiring process? Is there something special about the way that you hire people? I don’t know if there’s a concept like you try to hire just small teams or I’m not really sure. How do you find really good people?
Egor: We’re lucky to have our headquarters in Belarus which is a country where there’s a lot of talent, and at the same time, it’s the country where there are not so many product companies. Majority of companies would be doing the outsource development so what it gives is that a company like Target Process immediately makes it to the top of the list for potential smart guys right after the universities. And this has been kind of an easy thing for us to hire pretty good people because either they would go and develop some temporary apps for US and European based customers without feeling any ownership or they would come and join Target Process and they would just get on this complete new journey where they have just one product which is their baby where they can contribute completely and define the way it takes shape into the next years, etc., and where they’re given the full potential to unfold their possibilities. So yeah, that has allowed Target Process in Belarus to be the winner of this Employer of the Year award and that attracted a lot of good guys and girls to join us.
Lisette: Awesome. I can see how that would be a very attractive prospect actually. I mean I think people love what they do when they have some sort of ownership for it and they feel aligned with the purpose. Yeah, and they have the freedom I think to play and to develop. Wow! Well this I guess go back and reinforce some things that I’ve also learned from this community of people. I guess two last questions and then we’ll see if you have anything that I missed maybe that you might want to add, but one is “What would your advice be for teams who are just starting out or trying to go remote? Is there anything besides using Target Process of course to visualize and manage their work?”
Egor: Yeah, I don’t know. It’s difficult for me to make this advice really, a distributed team specific to be honest, rather than to say before you go distributed, go and meet the people you’re going to work with. I think this is crucial. And then like you said, use the right tools really, like I don’t know. For me, Hangout doesn’t work for me compared to Skype. There are small things but once you know what’s important for you, where you get the best quality, go for quality tools. Don’t try to end up just using something you heard about. Just do proper research and end up with the right list. But that’s that secondary as well. So I would say know your people on your team first and then get the right tool in second, and you’re going to be fine.
Lisette: Good advice. Know your people and get the right quality tools. I wholehearted agree with that. I mean there are so many great things on the market now, there’s almost no excuse I think. And then the last question that I have is “What’s the best way for people to get in touch with you or to learn more about Target Process besides going to the website which is Targetprocess.com, but in terms of getting in touch, what’s your preferred method?”
Egor: We’ve really made it as simple as possible for the website like to get in touch with us, there’s this live chat button where you can immediately jump to and already have a chat with one of our support guys who are awesome and who love talking to people and helping them, not only talking to them. But in general, yeah, if you want to exchange on any topics, around the company culture, or data visualization, and things like that, then you can find me at LinkedIn or you can write me at Egor@targetprocess.com. And if you think that the product might be interesting for what you are doing in your company, then just go take a look at what we have on the website. And if it appeals to you, then yeah, register and check it out for yourself. We have a free version which runs for months and months until you hit a certain number of cards in your system so it can be a good for starting experience.
Lisette: Perfect. And there are a number of great videos I noticed today as I was doing some research.
Lisette: There are lots of great videos for people. I mean you can clearly see what you’re getting into so that’s nice. Okay. Is there anything that I may not have asked that you would want to highlight? I’m not sure if you have a list but I always want to give the opportunity for people in case I’ve missed something big.
Egor: I have a few things but they would launch a whole new discussion so let’s keep it for another call.
Egor: As for this one, I think we have gone through a lot of interesting topics so let’s keep it on that and we can keep talking, Lisette. It’s always a pleasure.
Lisette: Indeed. And thanks, everybody for listening in. Until next time, be powerful!
Egor: Be powerful!