Minnebar: How to build a kickass web development team

Now in the discussion session on “How to build a kickass web development team”.. facilitators are from Bloomington, Minnesota web development firm Sierra Bravo.

“some of our success has come about by growing the talent within…”

Star Tribune’s project manager for the internet – “my development team is moving onto another floor – how do we handle this when we’re used to just yelling over the cubicle wall?”

interesting discussions here about roles within a team – do you have dedicated project managers or not? Where should this go?

Be careful of pigeonholing people into specific roles – better to develop generalists rather than focus too much into one single area…

typical team for Sierra Bravo is 2-3 developers looking at a 400 – 1000 hour project

SB guys: “our philosophy is that collaboration is king. within the interview process we’re asking ‘if you have a really hard problem, what are the steps to solving that problem'”.

“we encourage people to get up talk each other – move about, etc”

“we encourage you to work closely together and have alot of collaboration… we want to give you power to innovate…”

innovation clearly becomes more challenging as a company grows…

in-house development teams have different priorities and roles..

U of MN Medical Education group – no web development team (formal, anyways) – team of 3 that have taken on web development but lack a project manager – just now putting some processes into place to deal with this..

discussion about how to expand teams with getting better & stronger people on the team… how do you build a cohesive & effective group.. getting bodies is a challenge…

getting out and into your local user groups is a good method for building our your teams.. if your team is happy and content then you’ll have an easier time recruiting folks…

How do you ensure a cultural fit within your corporation or team? — is it about the interview process? Formal and informal?

Do you require code samples from programmers or design samples from designers? Mix of about 50/50 in the room on this question…

Code samples do allow you to look at how the individual tries to solve the problem…

Minnebar: Distributed Teams

Sitting in on the panel discussion about Distributed Teams. I was asked to be a part of this panel and declined since my main intent here at Minnebar was to cover the vent as a blogger/journalist for The Blog Herald.

How do you build a strong distributed team for your projects(s) will be the theme here.

“Distributed ain’t all that…” says one panel member.

“Have any of you worked with a remote team that has gotten it done better, faster, and chaper because of the remote team?”

“Have you had any issues with passing the work back and forth amongst the teams”

Structure of the team will be part of your success – particularly with software projects

Is it advantageous to have a remote team or not?

Audience member: “With distributed teams, the management overhead can really become part of the problem…”

Economic value of the dollar is also impacting the ability to offshore..

24×7 reality with the right software and management solutions can make problems be solved faster – and push a product forward in a much faster timeline – but this experience is relatively rare.

Barry Hess: “I’m the small team guy here… our company is all about the people. New designer at the company is based in Portland because he was the best guy that applied…”

Cost reduction / cost savings is the driver in some companies – china/india is much cheaper than US based labor…

“How many jobs are moving overseas – is this what is driving some of this…”

U of MN CompSci Professor: “Population since 2001 here at the U of MN in computer science is way way down… the bubble had an impact…”

Some companies shift to outsourcing because they can’t manage software projects – so they outsource or offshore in order to drive down costs… and then find themselves with an even bigger issue because now they can’t manage distributed software projects…

audience member: “a distributed team is much more than just designers and programmers”

We’re finally getting to talking about tools rather than some of this philosophical stuff around whether or not this is the right thing to do…

“how do you convince your client or employer to allow you to work remotely” as your own distributed team? Rather than having to work onsite… – trust and having a personal connection is a big part.

“sometimes communication amongst distributed teams is better because in a colocated team we talk more than we document and build processes correctly from the start…”

“sometimes you have to distribute a team in order to increase productivity…”

Many tools mentioned – including most of the 37signals applications.

“is anyone using sharepoint? does anyone like it?”

Google is using high def video conferencing on all day in order to have two halves of one team work together across multiple locations (Mountain View, CA + Boulder, CO)…

I’ll be writing a follow-up post later about how to manage distributed teams along the lines that I’ve seen during my time as a blogger and blog network owner as well.

3 Reasons to Use Disqus

The Disqus blog commenting service is catching on – with many popular blogs such as Scripting News signing on to use the service.

VC Fred Wilson talks about three reasons to use Disqus in a recent post:

2a) Email Replies – Disqus emails every comment to the blogger. If the blogger wants to reply to the comment, he/she simply replies to the email and it is posted as a reply (with the indent described above). This feature, which I requested the day I met/saw Disqus for the first time, is the single best thing about Disqus and has transformed my blog comments because I can now participate in them in real time throughout the day as the conversation develops. This is a BIG DEAL.

Minnebar: State of Technology in Minnesota

Now in the panel discussion on State of the Technology in Minnesota with speakers from Microsoft, Split Rock Partners, Dow Jones, Geek Squad, and elsewhere…

Discussion around the level of talent in Minnesota – and seeing more folks moving back to Minnesota from silicon valley in order to work for some organizations here. Adobe has had an office here since 1995 in Arden Hills, MN, for example.

Split Rock Partners – big booster of talent locally – more than $200m invested in local tech startups and in the area of healthcare as well… but don’t kid yourself – it’s a brutal competitive marketplace.. we just believe that this standard is being hit on a regular basis here in Minnesota – but there does happen to be more density of that sort of activity in Boston, Austin, and elsewhere..

“we need more of… people who get the business of software” – Dan Grigsby

“it’s about leadership – great leadership is hard to find, they don’t grow on trees… U of MN is not a top Computer Science School.. it’s not a top school for business”… This is interesting since Carlson School of Business is a Top 25 business school

Geek Squad founder: “so when geek squad acquired best buy… ;)… my dream is to turn the death star into a theme park, not to blow it up… no one is trying out the $500 idea within best buy because is costs us $100k to get the $500 idea through the theme park…”

Robert / Geek Squad: “Maybe we could get an API that would cause the IT department to calm down…”

“How do we knock down this barrier to risk… with open source, there’s nothing holding you back…”

Concept of Silicon Prairie as a nickname for the midwestern technology centers, like Minnesota….

“doesn’t take alot of money to write software.. it takes guts.. be bold and do what you think is right.. especially in corporations, it’s appreciated much more than you might think it is…”

“great example of big large successful companies like Skype.. rumor is that no two developers live in the same city.. we do not have to look at geography as a huge limiter…”

If You Were in Charge of the Social Networking Industry…

If you were in charge of the social networking industry, what social product or service would you offer?

has always been defined as “social” when it comes to creating an online presence and community, after all, a blog is all about community building, which differentiated it from a static HTML site.

I see many of today’s social networking services as accessories to your blog. No matter where you go around the web, you can always point to your blog like a virtual business card and resume. “Check out my blog! See what I can do!”

However, Matt Mullenweg and others want to really push the limits of what social means in social networking and put WordPress at the center of your social experience online. Their first steps came with the release of the Prologue WordPress Theme and the incorporation of BuddyPress. They are hard at work to make it even more “social”, though what that means is my question.

Let’s brainstorm. What would that look like? If you were in charge of social networking around the world, what would you want on your blog to make it more social and connect all the online social with your blog as the center focal piece?

Minnebar: Enterprise Data Mashups Session

U of MN professor teaching the session – also works at IBM.

First mashup – Mapdanjo. In the words of one participant “most crap thrown up in one place”

Again, audio/visual problems in this session (same room as last session).

Some of the mashups allow for integration of behind the firewall information as well – he’s referring to Google though as “the google” which is entertaining… Google Maps can also be brought inside the firewall completely through some of their licensing options…

IBM has an internal Map Analytics ‘2008’ application with a whole ton of options – but unfortunately it appears to be internal only at the current time… The capabilities are pretty impressive though…

Solutions could look like: Trusted secure reusable information services + web 2.0 + data visualization. Everything from metadata and web 2.0 information merged with various business problems to create unique internal mashups…

Minnebar: Social Search in the Corporate Environment

Now in the 10am session on Social Search in the Corporate Environment here at Minnebar.

Presenter is Rich from Honeywell Labs – he built the first websites for Honeywell back before the graphical website days when most folks were browsing using Lynx and other text online web browsers.

Original blogging platform at Honeywell was Movable Type under their commercial license approach – we’ll find out in a bit if he’s still using that internally. Session will be focused on social media and search within a large corporation.

Honeywell using alot of open source based software within the firewall for social media and social work.

Appears that they are using Connectbeam for social media search inside the firewall – and also using a Google Search Appliance for internal search. Mmm, I’d love one of those at some of my clients.

Connectbeam integrates with Exchange Server, if that’s your poison, and integrates with internal Google search appliances as well as external Google searches as well. It’s not an issue integrating services like LinkedIn, Facebook, and others into the Connectbeam platform. Interesting..

Unfortunately, his projector is not working so we may go without any live examples…

<5 minutes later> PROJECTOR IS NOW BACK UP. Yay

Connectbeam appears to integrate directly into Google Search and other search engines – displays bar on the right with related internal content and tags…

10 licenses for $1k – rather cheaper than what I would have probably expected.. upcoming versions will have RSS feeds and an API…

Confluence is their wiki platform – $3k for a license… 16,000+ users are contributing to their wiki..

Wiki has a tag cloud already associated with it – plus can be tagged for use within ConnectBeam..also has a Sharepoint 07 tie-in.. very semantic web connections here… looks like the goal is to provide discovery within the enterprise..

Honeywell has tried for years to build a skills database to let folks connect with each other – the tagging within Connectbeam has really fulfilled that function.. Senior leaders (direct reports of CEO) are using the system to some extent – and want to foster more connectivity amongst individual contributors throughout the company…

Using some simple windows based feed readers inside the firewall – doing this to read competitive intelligence feeds and other RSS feeds within the corporation…

technical library showing information on various pre-built RSS feeds on key topics for research to keep team members and employees informed on their competition, etc.. using Compendex Plus for some of this (license fee involved)…

Honeywell running daily rss searches/google searches on the names of key engineers at their competitors

Rich’s blog is at eContent.

Minnebar: Small Teams, Big Results Session


Sitting here at Minnebar in the session on “Small Teams, Big Results” along with the guys from August Ash, Inc., a web design firm here in Minneapolis.

The session is being led by Ben Edwards of Refractr. Ben happens to also be the co-organizer of Minnebar.

Ben’s key point here is that small teams can be as highly effective as large teams – and often without alot of the administrative overhead that large organizations bring with them. Being small allows many teams to simply “be nimble” – able to move with extreme agility as needed.

Should development teams be co-located with the business teams in larger organizations? Ben recommends that even if you can’t co-locate then try to find ways to incorporate the teams together through effective meetings… not just meetings to have meetings.

Small teams often have more accountability – “one’s ass can really be on the line”.

Many references made to later session on Distributed Teams which I’ll also be liveblogging this afternoon.

Audience is now stepping up and participating…

“Small Teams need smart generalists” that are good at a number of things – agile, self-curious, self-driven are all attributes that will be critical for success in this environment.

“Hire passionate and curious creators” – people who do creative things… and do so with passion.

Book references – “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman.. “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink – both excellent books.

“Ensure that team members can manage themselves…”

“Fire prima donnas and complainers” – great advice – the highest maintenance bloggers that I’ve had on small teams have been poisonous – I was happy when they chose to move on…

Asking audience for thoughts now… on how to build small teams

“Look for people that dabble in alot of different areas…” – look for who is building something and are naturally curious..

“Most business side folks don’t understand the soft fuzzy side of software project management estimation…”

Lots of discussion around firing prima donnas – some are saying they’re the best people on the team – others saying that they are poison…

“don’t overdo your processes” – empower your team to make decisions.. i.e. “empower or take power”

“do, don’t document”

“use unobtrusive tools” – best question so far today “Has anyone found an actual job for Microsoft Project?” hahaha… I am personally not a fan of MS Project – simple tools like BaseCamp is much easier to use..