I'm conscious that work-life and play-life have kept me quite busy recently - though happily, neither to the exclusion of the other. As a result this blog has degenerated into a series of deli.cio.us posts, lists of links, which some people seem to find handy but which I feel don't really give as much as well-thought out posts. Sorry if you're bothered by this: I've been spending less of my time in NetNewsWire and more of it doing stuff over recent months. That's a good thing :)
That said, one experience I do feel I could cogently write more about is the growth we're going through at FP. During 2006 we hovered pretty closely around 8 permanent staff and no regular contractors, and over the last 2 months we've added 5 new regulars to the team in order to cope with a mounting workload: Mr Falletti has been doing an excellent job on the business development front :)
This, as I've posted before, has put stresses on the way that we do things: we know we need to grow up, and in the immediate future we're working out how to do this without losing the collegiate (near-family) atmosphere that we've enjoyed over the last 3-4 years. I was secretly very chuffed when one of our new folks confided in me last week that we have better interpersonal relationships than other similar companies they've worked at in the past.
So I want to write about this, about the pain of growing a business like FP, the things that go wrong, and the lessons learned the hard way. Inclined to cynicism personally, I've always found negative stories incredibly helpful, and more honest than the near-press-release style of communication that members of our industry often use when wearing Business Faces. In this everything-is-perfect style we pretend we suffer no problems, that things are always going well, that we know exactly what's going to happen and how we're going to deal with it. If someone gives you this impression, I think they're either lying or incompetent: if I write about us I'd like to be more honest.
Obviously at the same time I need to avoid giving away anything confidential about the work we carry out (most of which is obscured behind NDAs it seems), or the folks who do it. But there's a line to be found and walked along here...
The first thing we know we need is more structure. We've just split the company across 2 rooms by taking on some much-needed additional space, and this raised problems: who lives where? How do we get people who spend most of their time apart communicating, sharing the contents of their heads and collaborating towards a common aim? So far we've put about half the company - who happening to be working on a single project for a Big Name - into the new dedicated space, leaving the other guys (most of whom are working on smaller 1 or 2-person projects) in our older dot-com style loft conversion. We'll see how that goes, but I desperately want to avoid a them-and-us culture developing, whether it be between disciplines (design and technology need to be tightly integrated), teams (we need to share tools, knowledge, processes, and even - spank me hard for writing this - a common vision for where we're going), or levels.
Oh yes: levels. Flat structure and no hierarchies sounds great, but I feel it's unrealistic: we're at the point where we need to scale up and put structure in place, so over the coming months we need to find a model for the company which lets us do this without killing our culture.
And personally, I've noticed my own role change massively in the last 4 weeks: I'm doing little coding nowadays, instead spending my days in planning meetings, doing Scrum-style daily stand-ups for larger projects, providing oversight at the technical end of product development, chatting to clients, doing bits of project management here and there, the inevitable dull business administration, and generally rushing in when something's going, or has gone, wrong. A part of me enjoys this, but another part of me finds this frustrating: I'm not *building anything* goddammit, I can't point to something and say "that's what I made". Coming from a development background, that smarts.
But then I look around at the guys we have at FP and - pardon my cheesiness, but I mean this - they're much better at this stuff than I am. We have some frighteningly skilled people working for us now, in a variety of disciplines. Perhaps my job *should* be learning to get out of the way and supporting them where I can...