Development Bootcamps: Operation Innovate

August 20, 2020

noun: bootcamp

  • a military training camp for new recruits, with very harsh discipline.
  • a prison for young offenders, run on military lines.
  • a short, intensive, and rigorous course of training.

Neither ‘harsh’ nor ‘militaristic’ (we hope), our recent software development bootcamps mark a major step towards instilling a new legendary technology culture at Capital.

Innovation is essential, not just to our business but any business. Those who fail to innovate have a management culture that is happy to kick the can down the road and forego the opportunity to unlock future efficiencies because they perceive the short-term disruption as too inconvenient. For technology companies, this kind of ‘better the devil you know’ approach guarantees one thing: failure.

How to encourage innovation

Accepting that ‘thinking outside the box’ is key to innovation, how do you foster this within a delivery team?

With plans to open the Isle of Man’s first ever digital bank, the stakes are high and deadlines tight for our tech teams, but our innovation culture demands that we do things differently.

Instead of pressing harder on the management of deadlines, we decided to call a halt to ‘business as usual’ for a full 2-week sprint which included a series of ‘bootcamp’ events. These short, intensive, and rigorous sessions forced everyone involved with the delivery, including third party partners, to take time to reflect on and consider new ways of working which will be tested in the second half of the year.

Our bootcamp sessions covered a mix of topics from across the delivery lifecycle and were designed to get people to take stock of where we are and challenge how we can improve moving forward. The sessions covered:

  • Change Requests: Reviewing all upcoming project change requests.
  • Tech Scoping: Predetermining the work involved in a project and the associated timescales.
  • Dev Stack 101: Developing our applications (docker fundamentals, databases, files, VPN, API services).
  • Debugging 101: Finding and resolving bugs in the frontend, backend, logs and tools.
  • Workflow Deep Dive: Discussing the value of workflows, workflow designs, navigation and storage.
  • Lessons Learned: Opportunity to feedback on what is and isn’t working.
  • What’s Left to Do: Reassessment workshop and tech debt discussion.
  • Release Roadmap: Setting out priorities & proposed “Plan of Attack”.
  • Voice of the Customer: How we will utilise customer feedback to continually improve our customer experience?
  • Testing strategy: Reviewing test types (exploratory, edge-cases), automation, unit testing and how to improve our coding.

The sessions proved to be an extremely worthwhile exercise for us but what are the key benefits of this way of working?

Avoiding Technical Debt

As with all forms of innovation, the critical thing is to embrace the fact that there is a cost to breaking away from normal behaviours. Companies that take the easy route, and churn out quick-fix code that isn’t scalable, risk building up ‘technical debt’. This terminology refers to the inevitable consequences these companies will face further down the line for their shortcuts and makeshift solutions. The cost of rectifying a botch job in the future is inevitably greater than if the job was done properly in the first place. Our desire to get things right first time, based as much as possible on frameworks that promote reuse and thereby minimise technical debt, was one of the key drivers behind our bootcamps.

A Chance to Speak up

Problems were raised in an open culture without blame. This has helped us to identify solutions that will unlock efficiencies, reduce project risks and ultimately improve product quality. It’s amazing that ‘the devil you know’ isn’t even seen as being a problem until you deliberately force people to rethink how they function and give them time to experiment.

Building Stronger Teams

Relieved of their usual day to day responsibilities, our teams had the time to work closely with our technology partners to dissect, discuss and work through issues together. The bootcamps left us feeling united. We came away energised and our process improvements have already started to be rolled out. This positive action has helped build confidence with business stakeholders, reassuring them that, despite the break, the ultimate bank launch date has not been put at risk.

How to Run a Bootcamp

  • Plan on there being a disruption to business as usual and communicate this to business stakeholders.
  • Prepare for a negative impact on future sprints as changes are implemented.
  • Get as many outside or independent perspectives as possible and be inclusive with whom you invite.
  • Give presenters adequate time to prepare.
  • Follow meeting best practises and be respectful of people’s time by publishing an agenda and sticking to it.
  • Record the sessions as these provide a valuable resource.
  • Document and share the list of recommendations.
  • Reinforce that there are no stupid questions and every idea is welcome.
  • Be quick to implement the easy improvements, showing stakeholders just how worthwhile a bootcamp can be.
  • Make it fun - use it as an opportunity for people to get to know each other outside of the usual work routines.

There’s no quick fix to creating great development organisations. For leaders, the only advice is to be committed to doing things differently and, no matter how high the stakes, accept that there has to be short-term pain to deliver long-term gain. Breaking teams out of their daily grind to reflect on the lessons learnt is a ‘must have’ at the end of every release, but doing this on a larger scale with more stakeholders present is a valuable exercise.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts and opinions expressed within this article are those of the author, and not those of any company within the Capital International Group (CIG) and as such are neither given nor endorsed by CIG. Information in this article does not constitute investment advice or an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of any company within the Capital International Group of companies to buy or sell any product or security.

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