I may be being unfair comparing the UK to countries that have affluent economies that can spend money on infrastructure such as Paraguay and Indonesia for example, however, all of our travels for our Agile Around The World study had gone well in comparison to trying to get around in the UK. Within a few days of returning home, we had an appointment in London at 101 Ways to see Founder and CEO Kelly Waters, and Director Emma Hopkinson-Spark. Our train was around 15 minutes late, not atypical given that the latest performance report of London Northwestern Railways showed that 12% of planned journeys were at least 5 minutes behind schedule. Our journey could not begin to be compared to that of Emma though; hers was a 2-hour train ride from her home on the western side of the country.
Once we all got our breath back from our respective journeys, we sat down to hear about 101 Ways, and Kelly’s and Emma’s perspective on Agile in the UK. One of our areas of interest is understanding what motivates people in different parts of the world. From our own experience, and as confirmed by Kelly and Emma, location is a big motivator in the UK – unsurprising in a country where roads are congested, public transport unreliable, expensive and overcrowded. However, given their reputation and rapid growth we knew that 101 Ways must have something special to offer since people and clients were willing to come from afar to work with them, Emma being just one example of this.
101 Ways is so named because, as Kelly says on the company website, “there are 101 ways to do anything, so sometimes you just need some expert help.” They are a technology consultancy, and they believe that success is built by focusing on the product itself, the technology used and the regular delivery of product increments, with an Agile state of mind at the centre of everything they do. 101 Ways provides clients with stand-alone cross functional teams (which they term as ‘pop-up teams’) made up of highly experienced and highly skilled people. Sometimes, when a client engagement ends, pop-up teams are able to stay together and hit the ground running with the next client, in a model similar to that which we first saw at Palo IT. 101 Ways can also provide clients with expert people to lead their teams.
Recruitment is something that 101 Ways work very hard at, utilising their expertise and taking great care in finding people that are not only technically very strong, but will fit in with their beliefs, values and ways of working. They have four full-time recruitment experts that really understand what to look for. Companies of similar sizes or even bigger than 101 Ways commonly only have one generalist recruiter. A big part of the strategy has been to build a culture that good people want to be part of in order to attract the top talent they need. In the UK, contractors are a big part of the market, and 101 Ways hire a lot of these people. One of the strengths of UK contractors can be their openness. “There is never a shortage of people willing to speak their mind,” Emma said, an indication perhaps of the confidence that the people that work with 101 Ways have. This can only be good for the creation of the collaborative environments they strive for. The attraction of being freelance includes having flexibility and autonomy, however many contractors can feel isolated and on their own. All starters at 101 Ways are given an in-depth induction and made to feel part of a supportive and inclusive environment, yet contractors are still able to maintain their independence. This is one of the ways that sets 101 Ways apart.
As 101 Ways has grown, so has their reputation. Technical professionals are attracted to working on interesting work, and working with talented peers of a similar mindset to themselves. The result of all this is that 101 Ways have doubled the number of people working with them in a little over 1 year, this growth barely keeping pace with the client demand for their services. The 101st person to join the company was recently reached, the milestone celebrated as part of the company’s summer party on a Thames river boat. This was not a one off; a party to celebrate and thank everyone is planned every quarter, part of a wider social scene that includes other events and clubs.
When partnering with 101 Ways clients are partnering with experts in the field, the key word being “partnering”. 101 Ways do not see themselves as a software vendor. They are unwilling to enter tender processes to win projects. They instead want to build partnerships based on trust from regular deliveries of product increments. Kelly told us that most of 101 Ways clients have been doing Agile for some time, which we would expect in the UK where Agile ways of working have been around for a number of years. 101 Ways do not really talk about “Agile”, instead they discuss how they can help with delivery – it just so happens that their means for doing this are rooted in the Agile Principles.
101 Ways clients are usually big FTSE companies, ranging from those turning over £5 million to those in the region of £5 billion. In companies of such scale, a common problem is for leaders and managers to have visibility of what is going on. In such circumstances it is tempting to turn to project plans and metrics to measure progress. This is where the 101 Ways belief in building trust by frequent delivery comes into play. Kelly told us that he discourages the use of metrics to measure output, such as story points burned or number of features delivered. Story points and velocity can be a useful tool for planning purposes when the team is mature and the work involved is well understood by the team, but can be misleading when projects are more experimental. Instead, Kelly advises focus on measurement of outcomes. For example feature releases that increase revenue, or reduction of customer service calls. This thinking can change people’s approach and mindset, “measuring outcomes stops people from trying to measuring output,” Kelly said.
Supporting people and providing a great service to the client seem like simple things, but 101 Ways have worked really hard to cultivate both and are now reaping the rewards with people that are motivated by far more than the location of the workplace, and clients that work with them in collaborative partnerships. Before we finished our chat, we asked about the social initiatives that 101 Ways were involved with. Emma told us about the Women’s Tech Focus (WTF) which is an initiative to encourage women into technology careers, and the CTO Zone, organised talks with CTOs to inspire people in the IT industry. Both Kelly and Emma reflected for a moment when we asked what the motivation was for doing things like this. There is no financial gain, and its not about brand building as there isn’t really the promotion of the 101 Ways name. “We just want to give something back,” Kelly concluded.
We could see that 101 Ways is a special company for many reasons, one that both technology professionals and clients go out of their way to work with – even if it means having to use a British train. Many thanks to Kelly and Emma for sharing their journey with us.