With each phase of growth and especially over the past three years, shifts in Dyn’s tides occurred due to a variety of factors, many times related to the number of people we’ve hired and other times due to the physical geography of our office.
One of the monumental shifts I’ve noticed recently (and likely took too long to reflect upon and realize) is that it has become harder for our teams to relay onward bad news to each other as soon as it is realized. Examples of this kind of bad news: “the schedule is going to slip” or “the scope needs to be reduced” or “we’re not going to win the deal we thought we would”.
When I started at Dyn in 2001, we had just four employees and we all sat at a bunch of desks in one room with all critical business functions occurring within a 100 foot square area. I was helping with customer support and system administration and occasionally dabbling in software development. CEO Jeremy Hitchcock was watching over the finances, writing some code and also keeping an eye on customers. Others were building software and scaling systems.
Fast forward to 2004: there were 10 of us, but we all still sat together, albeit in a slightly larger room. Soon, we grew to 18 employees in two rooms and then to 45 with a new office that had more nooks and crannies. As I type this today, there are over 140 of us spread out over 30,000 square feet in our Manchester, NH, headquarters and offices in Brighton, UK and San Francisco, CA.
At each phase of growth, the teams became larger, the work and responsibility more distributed and functions more isolated physically and socially. All the ‘experienced’ people that gave us advice said we wouldn’t be able to scale our culture. We thought we could, but knew we’d have to work harder and harder to maintain the level of communication between teams we had always enjoyed in our smaller office environments.
To date, we are proud of how we have done with this scaling. We’re in the Business NH Hall of Fame for Best Small Company to Work For and we’ve been named along with Zappos as one of WorldBlu’s Top Democratic Workplaces — both things we take on as a company to keep ourselves honest.
However, looking back upon the aforementioned rapid growth over the past 18 months, one place where we missed the mark was ensuring that individuals and teams understood just how important it is to recognize and communicate “bad news” quickly.
When working in small teams, it’s easy to keep everyone up to speed. Changing course and re-planning a project on the fly is something we were able to do day in and day out. Breaking out what we called the 48 Hour Hammer (aka the all nighter) to get the job done worked well because we could get everyone involved synced up relatively quickly. But it suddenly stopped working for teams and we all were perplexed as to why.
For a long time, we could pull off amazing things by closing big end of month deals, pulling together marketing campaigns and putting the finishing touches on pieces of code right before they went live. As the size of Dyn grew, using the Hammer to rally people together to finish up an objective shifted from “getting it done” to “not messing up other team’s schedules.” But eventually, the Hammer breaks and the impact is felt throughout the organization in a not so positive way.
This is why we’re throwing away our 48 Hour Hammers and replacing them with a “Bad News First” environment.
This mantra is one I’ve recently been talking about a lot with COO Gray Chynoweth who says he actually likes hearing bad news more than good news. Why? Because hearing bad news first means that teams now have more time on their side to react to a change in timeline, scope, budget, staff resources or deadline. By revealing the changing conditions earlier and more often, teams are focused on evaluating their progress on an ongoing basis which leads to growing confidence in forthcoming delivery dates with each iteration of the plan.
We think that a “Bad News First” environment encourages teams to identify and raise red flags in their projects sooner and the subsequent re-forecasting effort yields far better results from the perspective of team dynamics and the overall quality of future effort forecasting.
Have you experienced this at your business in the past? Did you solve the problem effectively? I’d love to learn how. Drop me a line, hit me on Twitter or comment below. All ideas and input are welcome!