MOVE: Our internal kickoff event at Haus73 in Hamburg

Introducing: MOVE

Our own organizational model for speed & flexibility

ABOUT YOU just turned three last week and the past years have been overwhelming, considering our fast growth. With a team size increasing from 15 to 130 developers, it was time to think about new structures in order to stay fast and flexible — this is how we came up with MOVE. Here, I would like to explain what MOVE means and why we created this organizational concept for ABOUT YOU.

We started with the internal implementation of MOVE three months ago and the first results are looking very promising.

When ABOUT YOU was launched in 2014, we started with 15 developers. We were focused on getting things out quickly and in a pragmatic way. It was a great time, because the whole development process was extremely easy. At this point, we had just 4–5 git repositories. All projects were developed using the same programming language, database, and framework. The only task for these applications was to handle requests and process them, so the complexity as a whole was really low. But after a while the applications became more complex and more scalable. The team size grew from 15, up to 30 or 40 developers.

It was then that we decided to completely adopt agile development processes like Scrum and Kanban. We also added a new management level, with one product lead and one tech lead per team.

We took this step, because we realized we needed scalable internal processes as well as lean and flexible structures to stay fast and practical in the future. So, our organizational model changed into a structured, lightweight, but very empowering development structure. This was instrumental in building a growth-driven infrastructure and a great product. As a result, ABOUT YOU grew from 0 to > 100.000.000 € in net revenue per year, in just three years!

Within these three years, we spent a lot of time building better processes and optimizing our applications. Right now we are roughly 130 tech employees, and within the next 12 months, we are planning to hire 30–40 more new colleagues. In thinking about our future structure, we came to the following conclusions:

  1. Just adding new developers to a team does not increase its speed automatically. Brooks’s Law described this issue by referencing the added complexity within larger teams.
  2. Adapting given processes and team structures to new market opportunities like the shift from desktop to mobile is a big challenge.
  3. We’ve experienced that some developers get bored pretty fast and want to continuously learn, e.g new frameworks, soft skills, and business processes. But we did not have a process in place for that demand.

In order to tackle these issues, we developed our own new organizational model, which we coined as MOVE.

Sebastian Betz, CTO of ABOUT YOU — Introducing MOVE at our kickoff event.

MOVE is based on three pillars:

  1. Open Structure

Our goal is to develop an organizational model which gives every developer a structure in which the application and tasks are interesting to work with, the development process lean and lightweight, and the communication personal.

Additionally, we believe in small and fast teams. The number of people working cooperatively on the same project at the same time should not exceed 8. This makes the communication and development process more quick and efficient.

We also believe that the teams should work within an agile process like Scrum or Kanban to improve transparency and ensure continuous improvement of teamwork and processes.

Another idea is that there are no longer departments or teams in the classic sense. There are units, with one technical and one product lead. These units are representing a specific domain like „Checkout & Order handling“, „Core Processes“, or „Mobile App“.

Within every unit, there are 1 — n circles. Circles are teams as we all know them. Every circle has its own prioritized backlog, team board, and development process.

Furthermore, every circle has two predefined roles:

  • Circle Manager
  • Lead Developer

The Circle Manager is responsible for stakeholder and requirement management, and is the first point of contact for the developers when it comes to non-technical questions.

The Lead Developer is responsible for fielding technical questions for all developers within one circle.

Both the lead and circle manager work within established processes and roles together with the product and tech lead of the whole unit.

One other important aspect of the unit and circle model is that every 9 months the structure of the circles can be redefined in terms of circle size and area of particular focus.

2. Striving for excellence

Our goal is to foster an environment which offers every developer several different opportunities.

Developers have the ability to switch between circles. There are only a few inherent requirements, such as having to remain within one circle for a minimum of 6 months, or that one may only change to an open position / circle if their skill set fits the requirements of the role. Overall, this ensures developers will have the opportunity to decide on which technologies or topics they want to work.

Above, I mentioned the „Lead Developer“ role. This role is special, because it can be filled in temporarily by every developer from a circle. This gives everyone a lot of freedom and new experiences within the same company.

In addition, we believe in clear role descriptions to have everyone on the same page regarding expectations. Therefore, we created clear definitions for all roles such as lead developer, circle manager, tech and product lead.

We also set up an engineering board consisting of all tech unit leads to define the priority of open positions and spend time on improving our coding guidelines, as they apply to our development process and infrastructure. Having a unified board is also helpful when it comes to making large architectural decisions.

We believe requirements are really important. With that in mind, we are also taking a lot of time to improve the requirement writing and presentation process. Our goal is for every developer to know what their stakeholders want and how they can get there.

3. Clarity is king

Our third fundamental idea about MOVE is „Clarity is King“.

We believe that it’s extremely important to have open and transparent processes, clear roles, and honest communication. So, we decided to develop our own MOVE tool, which gives everyone within our tech department the ability to see open positions, the current and planned feature backlog of each team, as well as their reached milestones / topics. The whole internal role and team switch application process is also covered by our MOVE tool.

„Clarity is king“ covers one final topic, which is from our perspective, very important:

It’s the fact that we are opinionated about our tech-stack.

What we mean by this is relatively easy:

We believe that it is important to have an easy to understand, easy to work with tech-stack and architecture. Thus, we will not use new technologies simply based on the fact that they are new or solving one specific issue which we may be working on. In the past, we had the experience that sometimes, new technology can of course help you to solve a specific issue, but most of the time other issues will appear which had already been solved with tried and true technologies.

Being opinionated will have a direct influence on the complexity of logging, monitoring and maintenance of the application in general. Therefore, we as a company believe that we should only use other technologies if there is no way to solve a specific issue with our current tech-stack. This also makes it easier for people to switch teams because we are sharing a lot of the same technologies throughout the company.

By implementing MOVE during the last three months, we’re seeing great results in terms of performance and flexibility. We were also able to give our team members new opportunities. They can either become an expert on a specific topic, or they can decide to work on other applications and topics. Finally, we’ve drastically reduced the amount of context switches by having smaller teams and are able to set the priority of new topics in an easier way.

In conclusion, we believe MOVE will enable us to grow to the next level as a Tech Company and only time will show if it works for us — but we are all looking forward to working with MOVE and we’ll keep you posted!

Want to know more ABOUT TECH? Who the tech people are behind ABOUT YOU? What we’re developing? Which technologies we’re using? Pay us a visit!