Why I Left Activemall

About a team leader without followers
Published on November 14, 2017
Agile Management People

About 6 minutes of reading.


10 things that require zero talent :

Before Activemall

It was 2015. I was leaving Altfactor because they split and in the process, they killed the most interesting project I’ve ever worked on.

That project was an awesome second screen smart TV application, that allowed the user to interact with a smart TV from a mobile device like a table or phone. It consisted of three components : a server (written in Java with Spring Boot framework), a TV application written in Javascript and was running on a Samsung TV and a Android application in Java.

The idea was to provide the end user with contextual information while knowing what’s running on the TV screen, by knowing the channel the user watched and having the TV schedule. Contextual information was in fact a micro website with elements of social networking, games and even recommendation engine.

At Activemall

A month later, I’ve joined Activemall, but first I’ve kept a presentation on Agile and SCRUM methodology in front of my future colleagues. They all seemed impressed, except one of them : speaking like a landlord he attempted to demolish progress by saying he needs no methodology or help, or whatever I was bringing to the team.

That episode didn’t discourage me : I’ve seen worst resistance to change. I’ve managed to turn people more stubborn than this.

I’ve noticed from the very beginning some sort of segregation in the team - they were actually two different teams, doing separate development without knowing the other team problems and solutions, without interacting too much, aside coffee breaks and discussions about non-work related subjects.

I thought the values were lacking and did the first steps in talking people into adopting them. Sometime later, one of the teams has created and adopted a coding convention, doing bug hunting and discussing solutions together. They probably did that before, but not in an organized and ruled matter, not having the right structure and purpose.

For almost a year and a half, not much changed - working in some sort of organized chaos, with no priorities and no dead lines. The team effort remained on the shoulders of their leader.

When the time came, I’ve asked my colleagues to keep a log file in which they would note down a task before starting to work on it. Above that, they would indicate the date. The file name was their name, and the file was stored in the git repository. The smallest, simplest and elegant way for traceability and the base for reports to the clients.

I’ve kept discovered anomalies, like the one regarding how to tackle a task : it seems that most members chose to start working on a task before talking to the team, before any kind of risk management analysis and without any kind of resistance towards client’s absurd requests. I have nothing against the client changing its mind, but when the request is absurd and will remove value or break security, it’s time to act, inform the client, and then and only then, to start working on his request.

The management and I came to the conclusion that structure is required, so - at the end of last year - we’ve hired a human resource specialist to tell us what’s wrong and how we can fix it. He came, gave us some tests, drew a few conclusions. One of them leads the way for both teams to sit in the same room (we were too many and didn’t fit inside one). We did that. We’ve created roles and rules, so team member will know exactly what to do and in which circumstance.

Later - at the beginning of this year - we’ve done sprints, releasing every three weeks a stable set of features for our client to test. Despite this success, despite the fact that I was defending the team against a difficult client, the team was not coach-able, not willing to have a good attitude and I kept receiving replies like : “you’ve complicated” rather than an open mind to what I’ve suggested as solutions.

In all this time, there was a different kind of segregation between team members. Some sort of lack of respect for new joiners, disregarding their good attitude, passion and energy. Nobody could integrate, unless they were willing to make some sort of compromise, accepting that work has to be done in the old-Activemall way.

All my efforts were put in the direction of creating a self-sufficient team, with a nice work ethic which excludes friction between members. I haven’t felt for once that the team was a team. It was rather “them” and “us”, not because we’ve chosen to do so, but because “they” never wanted to be on our point of view.

There I was, a team leader without followers. My strong beliefs prevented me to “integrate” with the non-values I was seeing everywhere. Everyone for themselves is not my motto, so I had to leave.

The End

Remember that colleague resistant to change? Well, he is doing now sort-of Agile development, not because he considers it necessary but because the client wants it. I’m not judging him - he has all my compassion, for the reason of being young and inexperienced, for choosing to do things his way rather than adopting a well-known path. The next years will probably help him discover that coaching the colleagues the way he does it will bring fatigue and boredom, while allowing the team to make small or zero effort to help. There is no “I” in “TEAM” as they say.

Besides that, being at the job on time was fixed, not because it was really important, but because it was the easiest thing to do.

As you see, I’ve managed to turn around a few things. But in the end, nothing important. Someone suggested that I could stay for three years, without a problem, without doing any kind of effort and get payed (because the funds are there). You know what? I refused - and probably will always do. I refused because I want to learn something new everyday. Because I want to be surrounded with people that have the same goals and values. Because I can’t see myself wasting another three years in an unhealthy environment where you get to doubt the things, you thought you know.

My road leads elsewhere, and yes, it will take time and effort. But I’m heading there!

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