Making our team more scalable

We are rolling out one of the biggest changes in Skyscrapers since some time. We call it the Skyscrapers Boatworks. It will make us more scalable as a team, make people feel more relaxed and deepen further our cooperation with you.

Written by @fdenkens Posted on September 10th 2021

We are rolling out one of the biggest changes in Skyscrapers since some time. We call it the Skyscrapers Boatworks. The primary goals are to become more scalable as a team, make people feel more relaxed and deepen further our cooperation with you.

Forming an essential part of our customer’s DevOps practices, we have to tread carefully. In the coming weeks there will be some changes to the cooperation model that could affect you, our customer, more. We wrote this post for you to better understand what’s coming.
Before we dive in: transparency is a core value of ours and we want to open up more. So while this post is primarily for our existing SRE-as-a-Service customers, we also want to share it with the world. We intend to do that more from now on.

Ps: Now that we are scalable again, we are looking for new colleagues!. Interested?

Background

Beginning this year, the sea seemed calm and we made plans to sail to a bigger ocean. Plans were made and started: let’s scale this company! But something was off. While new customers joined, the existing team got increasingly stressed. New colleagues (like Daniel ) had a tough time fitting into the processes. It became clear that our ‘boat’ was not ready for the plans we had. The decision was made to bring the boat in and completely refactor how the team works (can a boat even be refactored?). The Skyscrapers Boatworks project was started.

An amazing picture

We took a deep dive into team organisation, processes and personal workloads. Shortly after we uncovered some problems that we needed to fix. The fixes range from refreshing our self-managing principles (based on Sociocracy) to redefining our aims and decision-domains, to increase efficiency and clarity.

A more practical fix is about how we work with customers. We completely took apart our customer facing team (not literally of course). Looking at commitments, current activities and customer needs we rebuilt it completely from the ground up. That is what we want to dive into further in this post.

What will change

In the ‘old’ way of working developers and CTO’s interacted almost daily with their assigned Customer Lead. This person covered a lot of ground:

  • Liaison with the customer, be the virtual DevOps colleague
  • Provide ad-hoc in-depth expertise and advice
  • Roll-out components/tech, both standard and custom
  • Provide first-line developer support
  • Track and coordinate the work delivered
  • Participate in technical pre-sales, consulting, etc

This was just too much for a single person. It led to stress, difficulty bringing new colleagues on-board and concerns about the quality. The Boatworks took that all apart and led to the following improvements that will affect regular SRE-as-a-Service cooperations:

  • A newly founded Customer Success circle (= Sociocracy term, similar to a ‘team’) will focus on building and maintaining a working relationship with our customers, understanding their context, to allow us to successfully put to work everything Skyscrapers has to offer.
  • In this Customer Success team there will still be a Customer Lead who acts as the main human face in the cooperation. We reduced this role to its essence: this person will no longer do any operational or deep technical (consultation) work. Rather this role focuses on the technical relationship, context and needs. However, it is a role with DevOps-super-powers 🏋️‍♀️. The Customer Lead can bring in the whole Skyscrapers team depending on what is needed at any point: technology, advice, expertise, etc.
  • The evolved engineering circle, now called the Platform Circle, will handle all roll-outs, customisations and other technical work for the environments we manage. This circle focuses on building, maintaining, supporting and operating reusable and high-quality cloud components (open source or cloud) for the customer development teams to use.
  • And last but not least, the newly created Experts Circle will be delivering and championing all expertise, best-practices and applied knowledge that we have in the team. As part of our SRE-as-a-Service, customers can engage with them in sparring sessions, reviews, etc in an all-you-can-eat fashion.

How this affects you

In the coming weeks we will raise the proverbial anchor. We will transition all customers from the old to the new way of working. We’ll carefully reshape the touchpoint we have. The most immediate changes you will notice are:

  • You will be introduced to a new Customer Lead, probably Daniel for now (want to help him? check out our open positions here) who will focus more on the liaison part.
  • (bi-)weekly status calls will be refocused on what they should be: aligning on status. We are considering replacing them with a more efficient, async process combined with monthly in-depth calls and ad-hoc meetings.
  • Requests for expertise, sparring or in general exchanging thoughts from now on will be handled by the Experts Circle (requested through GitHub, just like the other requests).

With most of our customers we have a long-term working relationship where certain habits were formed. To make this work, we might have to break some of those habits by understanding the deeper need.

Most operational and technical aspects of our work (maintenance, roll-outs, operations, monitoring, 24/7, etc) are stable, so nothing to worry about there. On the contrary: those aspects will also improve quite a bit due to the Boatworks.

The people you were used to to talk are still there, just in different, more focused roles. You will still talk to them in Zoom calls, GitHub issues and Slack.

What if we drop the ball?

Like with any change, how carefully planned and how sensitive you might be about rolling it out, we can still drop the ball. If that happens, please don’t hesitate to let us know right away: what went wrong, and what is your need or expectation. That will be useful to help us iron out the final kinks and get you back on track as quickly as possible.

The future

More and more small to medium size SaaS companies are discovering that doing DevOps yourself up to a certain point just slows them down. They find their way to Skyscrapers with our SRE-as-a-Service offering and we need to scale to cover this. These changes enable us to scale the team, increase the quality of our work and offer more services and expertise.

Do you have any concerns, questions or remarks? As usual talk to Frederik or your Customer Lead.

Note: as we can scale again, we are now looking for new colleagues. Interested?

Headerphoto by Phil Kiel on Unsplash