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Improving Work Life with Organizational Hacks

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Visualize everything, pair up, open Friday, and no training budget; these are some of the "organizational hacks" that have improved work life at Sipgate. Corinna Baldauf, developer at Sipgate, spoke about 12 Work Hacks at TopConf Linz 2017.

Sipgate is a telephone provider based in Germany who has been using Scrum since 2010. There are about 120 people employed, most of them working in teams.

Sipgate has cross functional teams which are tailored to the goal that they want to achieve. If a team is developing new product features, then they will have customer support on board. The reason for that is that you don’t want teams to have external dependencies, said Baldauf. A drawback of this approach is that teams can get too large.

Baldauf suggested to visualize everything. At Sipgate they use Scrum boards in the teams. There is also information visualized on boards hanging on corridors, for example the company strategy, bug board, etc. A benefit of visualization is that people can walk past a board with information and see what is happening. For instance, people give each other ideas when they see that someone is working on something.

At Sipgate we don’t tell people what to publish; they are free to share what they want. This requires trust, said Baldauf, especially if using a metric that is currently not useful and you want to improve.

Retrospectives are the build in improvement engine, argued Baldauf. Teams decide what they want to try. You need a good facilitator for the retrospective. It can be the Scrum master, but when (s)he is away you can ask someone who you trust, or rotate the facilitator role in the team and have someone else leading the retrospective.

At Sipgate we regularly do retrospectives, said Baldauf. The changes coming out might be small, but they are baby steps that add up. You have to think of it as compound interest which can grow significantly over time, said Baldauf.

Baldauf mentioned that pairing is commonly done at Sipgate in order to share knowledge. She said that pairing can be done anywhere, e.g. in teams, accounting, across roles or with mob programming.

Eating alone at your desk is not effective if you want to get things done, argued Baldauf. At Sipgate, a lot of information flows during lunch. She suggested having lunch with people other than your teammates- even just once a week helps already.

Every other week, there’s Open Friday at Sipgate. People are free to do whatever they think is most valuable for Sipgate, and they can join the open space. Bring up topics and people will come, said Baldauf. Of course, there can also be coding; just propose what you think will make people will join.

Sipgate gives leeway to their employees. Baldauf gave an example by saying, "You can easily help another team for two hours if that saves them 16 hours."

Peer recruiting at Sipgate means that teams are involved when writing job descriptions, viewing applications and doing interviews, or deciding to hire or fire team members.

Peer feedback was originally developed to support new hires during the probation period. From there it developed into a valuable feedback loop for every employee. The topics for feedback are keeps, ideas, and highlights. Every week five people receive an email to sign up for feedback. They can select from whom they want feedback. Feedback is for personal development only, said Baldauf, it is not an administrative act. By doing it often people learn how to give and receive feedback.

For good decisions you need numbers, argued Baldauf. At Sipgate data is collected and made transparent by the analytics team. All product related data is available to employees.

Sipgate employees do not have a training budget. If they want to go to a training or conference, they discuss whether the dates work out with their team and their motivation to go there. There are also internal workshops, and there’s a library with books which people can read at work or on their own time.

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