Today I joined the entire company in our new café for our monthly company meeting. But unbeknownst to me, they had changed it up dramatically. And the modifications they made to the meeting are indicative of the important cultural changes that have been taking place.
It has been a little more than a year since we took the radical step to eliminate traditional management entirely. The goal was to extend the observations we had made from human psychology and the performance of Agile teams to the furthest extent we could imagine. It was truly an experiment: there were a handful of well-known examples to learn from, but the literature is pretty thin on the practical realities of self-organizing teams outside the software industry. And there were no peers that we knew of in eastern Iowa that had gone as far as we were intending to go. So, we rolled the dice and went for it using the best information we had at the time. Since we declared we’d be open about the experiment, it’s about time to revisit where we’re at, what’s working and what’s not. This post will just outline a few of the areas where we’ve seen success, and some where we’ve had difficulty. I’ll use the same format we use each week on each team in our retrospectives.
A number of the readers of GeoVoices are other companies using Agile methods, or considering it, because Geonetric is particularly aggressive in using Agile methods. If you’re interested in Agile, this post is for you. If not, feel free to skip this one!
Our Agile coach, Richard Lawrence, and his company Agile For All, put on a conference called Humanizing Work this week for advanced practitioners of Agile. Everyone had at the minimum been through a full Agile training program already; most had been involved with Agile for quite some time, some for many years. Attendees ranged from very large, well known corporations to small businesses and everything in between. Continue reading
At our last company meeting, we watched a video about pit stops. Why? Because it was freaking awesome to watch! The Red Bull team set the record for the fastest pit stop in April of this year. The video shows it in slow motion for a minute and a half, and then the entire process in real time.
So, before you watch it, predict right now how long you think it takes to do a pit stop for a Formula One racecar. Remember it, we’ll come back after you check it out (you will want to put in on HD, and turn up your speakers):
You probably know we’re a bit fanatical about measuring and acting on our clients’ feedback, so much so that we do it every 90 days. And then we post about it publicly on this blog. (Why? Because we think it holds us accountable to both clients and prospective clients!)
For our second quarter 2013 client satisfaction survey, we’re proud to announce that we exceeded our goal of 5.0 or better on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 6 (highest) in the Overall Satisfaction category, scoring a 5.08.
If you’re in the Creative Corridor, you might know that Geonetric is planning a big move next year to the New Bohemia district of Cedar Rapids. We’ve been in our current location since 2004, and while it has treated us well, we’re excited about swapping our current office park for a real, well, neighborhood.
We’ll be on the third floor of a building that will look something like this:
If all goes according to plan, the new facility should be ready in the Spring of 2014. This is an important move for Geonetric for a couple of reasons:
- We’re continuing our steady growth and we simply need more room. Our new location will be almost twice as large as our current one, and can accommodate projected growth for the next 10 years, at least.
- We have a creative team. We need access to coffee shops, book stores, restaurants, markets, and beer to fuel all that creativity. New Bohemia is packed with this stuff: everything will be available in a one-block radius of our new location.
- It’s being built on a former industrial site (it was once a steel plant at 415 12th Ave SE). Our project will convert an empty brownfield lot into a state-of-the-art office facility for several progressive companies.
- Our current location doesn’t offer the collaboration space we desperately need. Our Agile adoption has put tremendous pressure on our teams to be flexible and communicate better. The new location will have lots of room for us to easily get together and make things happen.
- The new facility will feature important amenities we don’t have now:
- Open floor plans for easy pairing (two employees work together on one task)
- It’s on the major bike path in our area, so employees can bike to work
- Showers for those who do bike to work
- A café for serendipitous conversations
- A room large enough for our all-hands company meetings in which we can sit comfortably as we grow
- Training lab space for group learning
- An indoor grill so we can continue our mission-critical provision of meat (or veggie burgers) to our team, even in the winter. Grilling outside in the winter in Iowa is not fun.
In short, the new location will help Geonetric grow and continue to deliver outstanding work for our clients.
When we’re ready, I promise we will throw one heck of an open house party!
Last week we held our 8th annual eHealth Symposium. Clients from all over the country came to Iowa to work together on pushing the boundaries of healthcare marketing. With a jam-packed agenda of topics ranging from the latest website design trends to agile marketing methods to newsjacking, clients left with brains full of new ideas, knowledge and relationships:
— Matt McKinney (@MattMcKNC) April 25, 2013
Clients also received a healthy dose of Iowa hospitality, which consists of overwhelming friendliness, and over-the-top food:
Taking a lot of inspiration, ideas and knowledge back from #geolive. With all the great food, probably also bringing back 5 lbs.
— karamoran (@karamoran) April 24, 2013
It helps that we hold the event at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center, which is unlike any hotel you’d expect to find in Iowa:
The Hotel also happens to come with a culinary school serving up delicious meals every 2-3 hours. In fact, that’s how we kicked off this year’s event, with Chef Anthony Green, talking about ways to take an ordinarily mundane recipe, Caesar salad, and kick it up a notch or three.
Our clients are such good sports – they volunteered to help whip up a deep fried Caesar salad on TV in front of everyone.
Having pushed culinary boundaries, it was time to move into more serious material. Two days full of speakers and presenters covered topics showcasing the best in eHealth.
John Morgan, author of Brand Against the Machine, was our keynote speaker. He blasted apart conventions about branding. His entertaining and irreverent message was pitch-perfect, as Geonetric and clients work together to shake up the staid industry of healthcare marketing.
Ben Dillon presented on emerging trends in our industry, and how they affect clients.
There’s so much to learn that we used “Date-a-Geek” speed dating to make sure everyone had a chance to discuss critical topics around content, mobile vs. responsive design, and keeping up with the latest technologies and practices.
With clients representing hundreds of hospitals, there’s issues that are unique to larger hospitals or rural hospitals. Our peer group roundtables let them focus on those topics, and learn what’s working and what’s not with peers facing the same challenges.
We’re renowned for our deep relationships with clients. One of the best ways clients get the most out of symposium is to spend some one-on-one time with their client advisors to work through the next year’s plans:
We ended the program with a panel featuring Leslie Kelly Hall from Geonetric partner Healthwise and Gabrielle DeTora of DeTora Consulting, who gave us insights on the evolution of marketing’s role in engaging patients more deeply in their health, and how technology and data are fundamentally changing the role of marketing in healthcare.
— JoAnna Brogdon (@HW_JoAnna) April 24, 2013
To add a little serendipitous fun, we hid Amazon gift certificates and gave out clues:
— Geonetric (@Geonetric) April 24, 2013
By the end of the day, with brains overflowing, we had switched to beer while playing darts, pool, and laughing at a local pub, followed by a good night’s sleep back at The Hotel.
Our post-Symposium surveys reveal that clients loved the event, learned a lot, made new friends, and are excited to come back! We’re already planning for the 2014 eHealth Symposium, to push the boundaries even further! We might even find something else tasty to deep fry.
If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you know we’re relentless about measuring Client Satisfaction and posting it here.
Last quarter, and most of 2012, the primary pain point our clients revealed in our Client Satisfaction survey was issues with deployment of our software. So for the past few months we’ve been implementing our new push button automated deployment system, which takes a single click to do, is more reliable, and much faster.
We looked with anticipation to the Q1 2013 survey to see if the changes had any effect. The results are in, and we had the highest overall score we’ve ever gotten: 5.27 on a scale of 1-6.
Clients also commented positively on how we’re deeply aligning our work together on the website to their corporate goals. In many cases, we’re helping clients draft eHealth goals in the first place. We also got kudos for our new Responsive Marketing Campaigns that produced amazing results for Crozer-Keystone Health System. And, we got a bunch of comments about the attentiveness and thoroughness of our client advisors that regularly meet with clients and help them manage their projects.
That said, there were some areas for us to work on that clients identified. Two came up in particular:
- Some clients expressed that they didn’t find our current clients-only GeoLabs as useful as they could be. So we’re going to revamp them this summer.
- A few clients mentioned that certain types of services take longer than they should. We agree; our no-hierarchy peer-accountable culture initiative is designed to address exactly this problem. We should see an impact from these changes over the next few months.
All in all, getting the highest overall score we’ve ever gotten is a great way to start 2013! We’re excited about the improvements we’re making and the incredible work we’re doing with our clients every day!
It’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We took our first step toward Agile in 2008 with our development team. We’ve taken hundreds of additional steps since then. But by 2013, we felt like we had taken all of the easy steps we could take. The next steps looked tougher.
So we decided to take a big leap instead.
We did some soul searching. We did lots of reading. We were particularly inspired by companies that have destroyed the boundaries of traditional management thinking. Valve Software’s employee handbook drew a picture (literally!) of how far you can go. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, has a renowned 126-slide presentation on culture that challenged us to really think about what’s most important to us as a company. Steve Denning’s writings had us questioning things we thought were sacred. The Agile movement as a whole, especially Richard Lawrence and Joe Justice who came to Iowa last fall for our company-wide Agile Boot Camp helped get us ready to rethink everything.
And so, on January 9th, we jumped:
- We flattened the org chart. We went to an entirely flat organizational structure, to clear the way for smart people to do what they do best. There are no managers at Geonetric anymore. Everyone is on a self-organizing team, focused solely on how to best deliver value to our clients as quickly as possible.
- We ditched traditional departments. There are no departments either: almost every team is now cross disciplinary, or soon will be, and can respond to client or marketplace needs without departmental relays or hand-offs.
- We’re getting radically transparent. We already share a lot more information internally (and externally!) than most companies do. But to make these changes possible we took an even bigger leap forward by sharing much deeper levels of financial, client satisfaction, and operational information with our teams.
- We’re building a deeply peer-accountable culture. Team members commit to each other, and to their clients or prospects. They don’t need to be “held accountable” by a supervisor.
As a team, we’ve historically been very open to radical ideas and making big changes, but this one is particularly complex. We spent the last 10 years carefully constructing tidy organizational charts, lines of communication, thoughtful performance evaluations, methods for working that depend on departments, and detailed planning tools and systems to keep track of it all.
And on January 9th we pretty much abolished all of that. As a result we’re learning a lot – very, very quickly.
Perhaps the most radical aspect of all this is that we’re not hiding this learning process. No man behind the curtain here. We’re pulling the curtain back so you can see. The fact is there are very few companies that have taken Agile company-wide.
We’re ahead of the curve on this – certainly in our industry and in the state of Iowa – and since it’s an exciting story we intend to blog about it, warts and all.
So you’re invited to join us on the journey. Come along with 73 people who are excited to make changes. To get better. Get faster. Get smarter.
We hope you’ll learn alongside us.
As we continue embracing Agile in the software team, we’ve also started carrying the behaviors and cultural changes to other teams. To be fair, we have a few teams that have adopted some of the tools and techniques, but we’re in the process of figuring out how to do it more formally and more aggressively.
So my first step has been to simply introduce others within the company to the ideas. Last week, I invited two team members to simply observe a retrospective. (And yes, I asked the software team in advance if it was OK to have observers.*)
You’ll have to imagine this: I’m sitting in the back of the software development team’s workspace with the two “outsiders.” The team – about 20 people – begins the process of describing what went well, what needed improvement, and what they should do differently in the future.
The team had no agenda except for those three items.
The meeting lasted an hour.
The team followed the methodology precisely, with Kevin (their ScrumMaster), occasionally refocusing them if they got too far off track.
Every single person spoke.
They debated complex topics.
They called out problems.
They apologized for failures.
And they ended on time.
The observers and I retreated upstairs after the meeting and one of them said, “Wow! That was the most productive meeting I’ve ever seen!”
Yes. Yes it was.
And they happen every two to three weeks on the software team. Carrying that behavior and culture to every part of Geonetric is the next step.
* Perhaps you think it odd that the CEO has to ask permission for something like that. There are two reasons: first, retrospectives can get a little personal. They’re exposing things that, to their direct peers, might be a little easier than when ‘outsiders’ are present. Secondly, this is their meeting – not mine. When I say improvement is the software development team’s responsibility, I mean it! So if I want do something that might affect their meeting, I will ask them.
There are lots of companies that use agile software development methods like Scrum to varying degrees of success. Just getting the hang of the techniques is difficult for organizations steeped in traditional development approaches. It has taken us years to master these behaviors, and to be honest, there’s still more we can improve upon.
But this past year, I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation at Geonetric: Agile has become something much, much more than a software development technique. Within that same software team, Agile behaviors (daily standups, sprints, retrospectives) have evolved into an Agile culture.
Most company cultures are, frankly, aspirational claptrap derived by overzealous HR departments: they’re imposed from the outside. An authentic culture comes directly from the team itself, from its attitudes and beliefs. And those attitudes and beliefs can and do change over time.
So if I’m telling you that the culture of Geonetric is evolving into an Agile culture, what the heck does it look like? Here are some examples of our Agile culture:
- Peer accountability and candor: During a recent sprint retrospective, one team member, in front of about 20 peers, said that an impediment to the success of the sprint was “my bad attitude.” People have bad days and that’s hard enough to admit even in one-on-one conversations, much less in an almost public forum. Most company cultures frown on this sort of candor. To say something like that to your team takes maturity and accountability to your peers, especially when the team knows that the team member is taking steps to prevent it in the future. That’s an Agile culture.
- Rapid decision-making: No committees. Practically no meetings. Decisions are made on the fly, almost immediately, by the team. If the situation changes, the team chooses how to adjust priorities, in negotiation with other teams if necessary. There’s no flagpole to run things up for approval. Earlier this year a client made a big and unexpected change right in the middle of a series of sprints and the team adjusted to that change almost immediately, with no problem. Such a major shift in priorities at most companies would cause tremendous upheaval. Responding to change rapidly. That’s an Agile culture.
- Team value delivery is more important than individual output: At any given time, we might need more or less of a particular skillset. Geonetric’s team understands and works around the principle that the only output that matters is the finished product, so any individual’s role may sometimes be the critical linchpin holding a sprint together, and at other times, they’re doing work that isn’t their favorite or that they’re not the best at. It doesn’t matter: what matters is the end result. When team members do whatever needs to be done without drama. That’s an Agile culture.
- The speed of improvement: Since we do retrospectives at the end of every sprint, the entire team sits in one room for an hour discussing how to improve in the next sprint. What’s interesting about this is how fast it happens – every two to three weeks – so that’s around 15 times per year, specifically focused on improvement. The team usually picks just a handful of items to improve, but a few improvements every two to three weeks add up to tremendous improvement over time! That’s an Agile culture.
- Self-accountability for improvement: The software team at Geonetric isn’t accountable to their manager for improvement; they’re accountable to themselves! That self-accountability is a major Agile cultural marker; most teams decide to change practices or behaviors only when an outside force – such as a manager – decides it should change. At Geonetric, the vast majority of improvement happens automatically as part of the natural work process. It has shifted the accountability for improvement onto the team itself – and that’s an Agile culture!
There are many other cultural changes I’ve noticed during the last year’s transformation. I’ll be blogging about them in more detail, and showcasing other aspects of Agile as we proceed. These first steps in the shift from Agile behaviors to Agile culture have been fascinating to watch, and I’m excited to see what’s next!
We get to celebrate client website and portal launches all the time – it’s a fantastic milestone as we work together with our clients to build the best in eHealth. The vast majority of our efforts around here goes to our clients, as it should.
But yesterday, we also launched a complete overhaul of our own website, featuring a number of innovative new capabilities and tons of content useful to our industry.
- The site runs on the latest release of our award-winning VitalSite software – making it incredibly easy for our team to update and manage over time.
- The new site is a fully responsive design that beautifully adapts to any platform: desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone. Check it out!
- We’re committed to discussing and promoting innovation in the eHealth industry, so we’ve provided a plethora of resources, all available for free to our prospects and clients (or competitors) to learn from, including:
- More than 20 of our free webinars for the eHealth industry, covering topics from patient portals to search engine optimization – all in video, podcast or PDF format.
- Dozens of articles and white papers on complex topics like mobile sites, how to promote service lines online and content strategy.
- Links to all of our client sites – we’re proud of every single one, so we put them all up there – as well as success stories and testimonials.
- We’ve also added lots of new content about the amazing experts on our team and what it’s like to work here.
Take a look, and let us know what you think.
Yesterday I posted the key takeaways from our quarterly client satisfaction survey. Some questions we hear about it is: where does the data go? Who sees it? How do you use it?
It’s an interesting set of questions, because the answers have evolved a lot in the past few years.
It used to be that we’d collect the data and then just a couple of us would pick some action items to be done and distribute them through the organization. This had the advantage of letting us hide anything we didn’t want everyone to know about, or we didn’t want to deal with yet. But now it’s a bit different. We’ve matured a lot as a company, and we’ve been eschewing top-down management methods and empowering teams to solve problems. Sharing the data widely forces us to face candid feedback even if it’s uncomfortable. Therefore, we share the data very widely within the company, and only in a few cases make it anonymous when we feel it must be.
Who Sees it and Takes Action Based on it?
The data from the client satisfaction survey is:
- Viewed in its entirety, verbatim, by the entire Geonetric leadership team – 12 people – and discussed and debated for a couple of hours. We want to make sure that the team charged with guiding Geonetric forward is 100% clear on whether we’re accomplishing our mission to “Wow!” clients. We identify trends and propose possible ways to address shortcomings or pass along kudos to teams doing things right.
- Client-by-client scores and most client comments are shared with the Account Managers and Project Managers to give them feedback on areas they’re excelling or failing to meet expectations. AMs and PMs tend to have the closest relationships with clients and often can best address issues. In almost every case, the surveys are confirming what the AMs and PMs already know, but the survey helps us stay focused on resolving any outstanding issues, or illuminating exceptional work that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
- Teams, like our software development team or design team, are given the scores for their respective areas of influence through the company meetings, where we present the aggregate scores in each of 12 categories in front of everyone. Depending on the feedback, they might choose to take action within their realm of control.
- The monthly company meeting after the survey closes includes a discussion and rank of every client from best-scoring to lowest scoring: everyone knows where every client stands at that point.
Geonetric has been building some of the most advanced websites and digital campaigns in the healthcare industry for over a decade. We’ve done all kinds of neat things for our community, and this year, we made community involvement one of our highest-priority company goals.
But what’s the best way for a bunch of software engineers and strategists and designers and project managers to give back to our community?
We first considered doing something like Habitat for Humanity to build a house for someone in need, but a quick review of the typical construction skillset of our team made it clear that we’re not ready for something like that. Here’s an example of a toothpick-and-marshmallow bridge constructed by one of us* at Bring Your Kid to Work Day, slowly falling over:
No, we should not build a house.
Instead, we figured the best use of our talents would be to do what we do every day – build incredible websites, deploy amazing social media tools, or develop an aggressive guerilla marketing campaign. And we would do it for a non-profit with a mission focused on improving our local community.
So, we established Operation Overnight. In 24 hours we will deliver (at no cost) a fully-functioning website, online marketing campaign and/or social media plan to a Cedar Rapids-based non-profit organization.
As of August 13th, more than half of Geonetric has volunteered to contribute, and we’re accepting applications from non-profits in need of our expertise. The overnight volunteers will vote on the non-profit that we think can best be helped by our team, from those that apply.
Do you know of a deserving Cedar Rapids-based non-profit in need of help? Check out our Operation Overnight page and get an application in by September 14th!
* the builder’s name need not be disclosed here, but I heard it rhymes with “Shmingleman”.
We’ve been having a great year at Geonetric and we’re making huge strides in a number of areas. One thing we hold constant is our focus on client satisfaction. In fact, though we’ve consistently surveyed clients every quarter for about five years, we recently updated our mission statement to include “To ‘Wow!’ our clients.” So as you can imagine, we don’t just strive for average. Mediocre survey results simply won’t do.
We share the compiled results every quarter with our entire team. We pat each other on the back for successes and talk candidly about opportunities for improvement. We also share the results with our clients – especially in instances where we changed a process or enhanced a feature due to their direct feedback.
We don’t always post the scores publicly. But every once in a while something interesting comes out of the survey that makes me think… this is blog worthy. This is one of those times.
The primary measure we watch is the overall satisfaction score. This quarter’s overall average client satisfaction improved slightly over last quarter, with score of 5.06, up from 5.00 in Q1. This is on a scale of 1.0-6.0, and our goal is to be at 5.0 or better – intentionally a difficult measure to achieve. For example, we need to be getting a bunch of 6.0s – perfect scores – to keep ahead of our 5.0 mark in the event any individual client ranks us less than 5.0.
In short, the Geonetric team has been working exceptionally hard this year to ‘Wow!’ clients, and the scores reflect that, overall, we’re doing very well by our clients.
Areas Where We Excelled
In addition to the overall scores, we ask clients for their ratings in 11 other categories. The highest areas of satisfaction were with the relationships they have with individuals – the Project Managers (5.22) and Account Managers (5.15). It’s not surprising that we scored highest here, since we focus tremendous energy on the depth of the relationships we have with clients. Some of the ways we do that include:
- Weekly or biweekly status calls with almost every single client to keep projects flowing smoothly.
- Clients generally keep the same Project Manager and Account Manager before and after launch – in many cases for years at a time. Clients don’t get passed off to a help desk. Ever.
- Quarterly calls to evaluate performance, track ROI, and benchmark against peer groups.
For our clients who have come over from competitors, where they often haven’t talked to anyone except the help desk for months or years, the depth of these relationships is a shocking change!
Here are some actual comments from our amazing clients:
- “My experience with account and project management is always superb.”
- “You have excellent, hard-working employees, an ace of a system in VitalSite, excellent account and project management, amazing follow up and support and you are all so nice!”
- “My team is extremely pleased with how things went [with the new site launch]. I am pleased with the overall relationship, the attention to detail, and the on-time delivery of a great new site.”
- “I think, overall, very highly of Geonetric’s people, processes and technology and recommend them to others.”