At Automation Logic we put the needs of our customers at the front and centre of everything that we do. But, everyone says that, don’t they?
To us teamwork isn’t theoretical it’s what we practice every day. When our engineers are on client site they are typically working as part of multidisciplinary, multi-vendor teams, collaborating with the client’s internal teams and other 3rd party service providers to get the job done.
We decided to get together with Nick Barton, our lead engineer managing the AL team at one of our biggest projects, to hear a little more about how he manages relationships at work, always keeping the customer front and centre.
So Nick, how would you describe a good relationship in the workplace?
I think it’s got to be open, with good communication. It helps to have well-defined roles and responsibilities when two or more people know what they’re supposed to be doing and what each party is responsible for, they’re usually more efficient.
When you understand someone’s motivations and priorities your job becomes easier, so to have a good working relationship it’s really just all about openness.
How did you find the communication and relationships to be when you first started on your latest project?
When I first started, most of my communications were with the director. We definitely had a reasonably good relationship. It was more about breaking down siloed working and improving communication across the whole company.
What did you do to address that?
Talking directly to the right people so that we could help them, and they could help us to help them. There is a lot of patience involved. You can’t expect a company to accept new people straight away. It’s all about proving yourself useful. It goes back to all the things that make a good work relationship, you can’t just come in with your own motivations.
What, in your opinion, makes a great team player?
Someone who listens is probably the most important thing. Openness with the team in general, it can’t be one person trying to control everything themselves. Also being able to accept and understand other people’s points of view, it’s not about being right, you just need to get the job done for the client.
In your role – how do you enable effective collaboration across different disciplines?
By involving everyone in all agile ceremonies, standups, retrospectives and sprint plannings. Agile working is good for that, it encourages people to work together.
Sometimes it involves arbitrating decisions, competing technical views and needing to get both the pros and the cons from people that are helping to make the final decisions. This can include other 3rd parties as well as our people.
Interestingly, I’ve seen more competitiveness between roles than between competing companies, like between architecture and security for example.
The best way that I’ve seen to make sure that we as a company help aid collaboration is to embed ourselves across every team and become a part of the company culture, whilst bringing our own values of collaboration at all times. Once one of our guys is on the other team, we can build those relationships, and we’ve proved that quite a few times.
I guess the final thing would be that we try to remain as open and honest as possible, we invite everyone to our meetings, from standups, to show and tells of what we’ve been working on. This is to let people know what we’re doing and seek their input if they want.
How do you maintain integrity when working with organisations who may be considered competitors?
There is one competitor we’ve worked alongside on a few projects now, including this current one. We see it as a partnership, where we happily help them with their work and they do the same. Even though sometimes it may be easier to manage ourselves as separate companies, we work as one team to perform at the highest level possible. Putting the client first means understanding what is best for the programme.
It obviously helps when the objectives are clear and others share their plans, good communication within a team is the equivalent of a robust delivery plan, which obviously you need as well.
How can technology aid collaboration?
Well, it doesn’t always. I mean things like slack are quite good in terms of tech discussions and communications that are visible to other people and not hidden. That comes with its own issues though, written communication can often be open to interpretation.
Things like Jira and Trello, where you can create a ticket for each story, makes everything you’re working on visible. It’s just a way of recording things for everyone to see, and a way of looking at what other individuals are doing as well as really aiding collaboration. If you see someone working on something that you understand, you can offer help and work towards solutions faster.
If there’s a ticket for each ‘thing’ for example one for design, automation, deploy, you can link all of that together to show a flow of work between disciplines.
Has DevOps truly changed the way devs and ops work together in practice?
Overall, though it’s not as simple as you might think. It can’t work without everyone getting on board. It’s more than the people who ‘do DevOps’, have more experience and a deeper understanding of what Dev and Ops need.
I’d say the answer is probably that it doesn’t help if you still consider them to be separate things. So DevOps embedded in a Dev team, or DevOps in infrastructure or Operations defeats the point. You need to completely consolidate it into one team.
It’s good to have a name for the role, and it’s clearly in demand, but it’s applying the same principles I’ve always applied over the years as an engineer, and that’s what makes you good really – good principles, like strong communication, mutual respect for each others roles, that sort of thing.
Can you think of a recent situation which has helped demonstrate the value of teamwork?
I’ve taken time to get to know the key stakeholders of the project that have helped us get involved with more strategic projects with the client. Relationship building gives us a chance to influence.
I’ve probably formed the best relationships by just being honest. Being willing to speak out when things could be done better or if there are issues, but in a way that’s constructive.
That’s good and bad in a way, with our way of working there’s nowhere to hide if you haven’t done something, so if people listen to what you need, you’ve got absolutely no excuse if it doesn’t get done. But being accountable is the best way in the long run.
So, that’s it. Everything comes back to communication, and although it sounds simple, it’s something we’ve perfected through our experience delivering over 55 cloud and automation projects for organisations with complex needs. Effective communication in an enterprise environment can be difficult, but our team are experts. That’s why we choose to live our values.