3. About our company and its culture
3.1 Vision and mission
The following sentence contains the core of our vision and mission.
"It is our dream to create a happy and successful business, allowing us to use its success and power to make the world a better place."
Our mission is to, on the one hand, work on creating a happy organization in which we will enjoy working, and on the other to work on creating a successful company that will keep developing year after year, both in terms of increasing the number of employees and increasing revenue and profit. This may be achieved through constant work on personal development and with a positive attitude towards challenges that we come across during the course of our work, on a daily basis.
Our vision, i.e. the reason we do what we do, apart from meeting our existential needs, is a successful company, whose success and wealth allow us to make the world around us a better place to live. We start from our colleagues, through increases in wages and better living conditions for themselves and their families, as well as the local community, but we do not want to stop there.
3.2 Our values
"In an organization that truly manages by its values, there is only one boss - the company's values".
The following are our core values, which we have jointly defined and described. Dozens of people were involved in the process of selection of our common values. First, each of us wrote down our personal values, after which they were presented to one of the colleagues, and then that colleague would do the same with his/her personal values. 5 common values were selected from the mutual set of values. After that, each pair presented their values to another pair and the groups kept proliferating until there were two large groups that presented their 5 values to each other. The result of this process were our core values:
"With great power comes great responsibility. We don't make excuses, we take responsibility."
"Trust is belief and confidence in the integrity, reliability and fairness of a person or organization.... an essential human value that quantifies and defines our interdependence in relationships with others. Trust is a choice we make toward someone when we are inspired that they have either earned our confidence or are by some other means worthy of it. It is difficult to acquire, and when fractured even harder to redeem, so perhaps the lessons of trust are not how to earn it, but what it takes to keep it. And perhaps the greatest value of trust is not the accomplishments we make with it, but rather what trust accomplishes in us on our quest to become people who are worthy of receiving it."
"Always measure the quality of your service through customer satisfaction." We strive for the quality of our services, products, people, interpersonal relations and working conditions.
"Together everyone achieves more."
"If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."
3.3 Why we experiment, invest and grow?
"We cannot predict the future. But we can create it" - Jim Collins, Great by Choice.
In October 1911, two teams of adventurers were finishing up with their final preparations for departure to conquer the South Pole. For one team this would be a race towards victory and safe return home. For the other, however, this was a defeat. They reached the South Pole 34 days after the first team, being unaware of the fact that they would never return from that journey.
The winning expedition was led by Roald Amundsen and the other one by Robert Falcon Scott. They were of similar age and had similar experience before embarking on this journey. Nevertheless, their preparations and the manner they led their teams resulted in success of the first and failure of the second team.
In his late twenties, Roald was supposed to travel more than 3000 kilometers in order to reach Spain from Norway and to complete his studies. He could choose between a carriage, horse, ship or train. He decided to go by bicycle. After that, he conducted quite a lot of experiments. He ate raw dolphin meat in order to determine how much energy could be obtained from that kind of meat. He lived with the Eskimos and learned how to use sled dogs, how to dress and move so as not to sweat, but also to maintain his body temperature at atmospheric temperatures below zero. He used to practice regularly in order to be in the best possible physical shape. His philosophy was: realize that you need more strength and endurance before you find yourself in the middle of an unforeseen storm; determine whether dolphin meat is edible before you go through a shipwreck; perfect your skiing skills before you join an expedition to Antarctica; prepare yourself intensively, all the time, so that in cases when the weather turns against you, you could use your previously built strength, but also prepare yourself to take maximum advantage of good travelling conditions.
Robert Falcon Scott was a complete opposite of Amundsen. In the years prior to the race against Amundsen, he often had the opportunities to travel on skis, ride a bike for thousands of kilometers, live with Eskimos and learn from them, but he never used them.
When they set off on their expedition, Amundsen had three tons of supplies for five people. On the other hand, Scott had one ton for seventeen people. Along the way, Amundsen left supplies to be consumed on the way back, and marked them so that he could easily find them later. Upon return, Amundsen had leftover supplies, while Scott remained without food even before his journey back.
Amundsen did not know what to expect during his trip. He did not know what kind of terrain to expect, he was not familiar with the exact height of mountain passes nor the obstacles he would face. However, he planned his journey in order to systematically reduce the possibility of effects of force majeure and unfortunate events. He assumed that bad things could happen during the trip, so he prepared for them. On the other hand, Scott was unprepared and complained in his diary about the bad luck he suffered during his trip.
Amundsen and his team applied the "20-mile march" approach on a daily basis; they crossed 20 miles every day, regardless of the weather conditions. They did not give up on this approach even in the worst weather. When the weather was favorable, they would cross their 20 miles quicker, which would leave them more time to rest. Scott and his team would travel whenever the weather was nice, but would remain in their tents when the weather was harsh; they often spent several days in tents and thus consumed too many supplies, without making any progress towards their goal.
On January 25th, 1912, Amundsen and his team returned successfully to their base. In mid-March of the same year, Scott and the remaining two members of his team stopped their journey. They were found eight months later by a British expedition, frozen and far away from their base.
The winning team practiced three basic behaviors: fanatical discipline ("the 20-mile march"), empirical creativity (research and reparation before departure) and productive paranoia (quantity of supplies, base stations, physical preparation for the worst conditions they could imagine). These three behaviors resulted from Amundsen's ambition, even though they were related to something larger than just personal success.
Ever since its foundation, our Company has been proudly applying all three of the above mentioned behaviours. It was mainly our vision what motivated us to do so. To us this came almost intuitively, without any preconceived notions. It was only later that we understood that other successful companies practiced the same type of behaviours.
When it comes to us, our fanatical discipline is reflected in the constant investments we make in further development of the company. Ever since the Company was established we have had a record yearly growth of 30% and more - in terms of number of new employees, revenue but also profit. We are efficient and cost oriented, since it is pointless to wonder whether or not tough times will ever come by. Sooner or later they most certainly will. We cannot know when such a bad time might happen, but what we can do is to try and make an effort and be ready to face challenges at any given time.
We strive to be an open-minded organization, i.e. an organization that is willing to accept new ideas, but also to invest time and money into new technologies, approaches, partnerships, people... On the other hand, we do not invest too many resources in uncertain efforts, in order to avoid causing damages to parts of the company that already operate well - we never invest more than 10% of our profits in such activities. This is complemented by the "if you fail, fail fast" approach, which we use when it comes to experimenting.
The three most important principles that we use, when it comes to productive paranoia, are savings (creation of inventories), growth and diversification of business.
Shortly after establishing our company, in early 2009, we were assigned our first big project. It was so big for our company that, even five years after that, we did not have any other projects of such size. This project enabled us to hire several new people, learn a lot about new technologies, but also to earn our first big money. At the end of 2009, we realized profits that had been unimaginable only a year before. We decided to keep the profits within the company (productive paranoia, i.e. savings), but invested a small part into partnerships (experimenting with EPiServer partnership).
A few months upon completion of the said project, we were in a position where we did not have enough work to do; we kept losing money every day. This period lasted for about half a year. At the time, we did not let go a single employee, and we paid each and every salary on the first day of the month. People showed up to work every day and they did their jobs (working mostly on internal projects), while we continued investing a small portion of our resources into acquiring knowledge on new technologies and into forming new partnerships. Eventually, prior investments started yielding results and our company became profitable once again. During that period, we spent most of the previously earned money, but we managed to keep the company in function and prevented negative affects on the lives of any of our colleagues and their families.
GROWTH (VERTICAL AND HORIZONTAL)
When we perform our work in a successful manner, our clients require even more services from us. This includes a larger number of projects from clients with whom we cooperate on the basis of "fixed-price" project principle, or increasing the number of team members, for clients with whom we cooperate according to the "dedicated team" principle. Such growth can be observed as vertical, by clients or by industries. It is important to note that this vertical growth is necessary; if we start rejecting requests from our clients, in terms of a greater volume of work, they will look for another supplier that will be able to meet their requirements for increased workload.
Such vertical growth brings more revenue to the company, but also increases risks in its operations. This increase in risk is reflected in the fact that the company will have major expenses when it stops working for a certain client at one point. Imagine a situation where we begin working for a client with an initial team of three people only to have such team grow to fifteen people working for the client. When the client decides to terminate our mutual contract, which can come as a consequence of a number of factors we are not even able to exercise any influence over, we are then left with fifteen people who suddenly have no work to do but they must receive their salaries. Now, let’s imagine an even more dramatic scenario where we have just one client and a large team working for them. This is the reason why we start cooperating with new clients every year, together with increasing the volume of work with existing ones.
The dramatic situation mentioned above is something we have witnessed many times happening in IT companies from Novi Sad and Belgrade. These are companies that, basically overnight, were left without any revenues upon losing their main client and so they were forced to lay off their employees.
Another reason for constant recruitment of new people is the fact that we want to reduce the need for overtime work.
Also, in order for our colleagues who have a desire to try out the team leader role to get a chance to play this new role, it is necessary to increase the number of people and create teams that will be led by new team leaders.
DIVERSIFICATION OF BUSINESS
A horizontal growth aimed at increasing the number of clients, is not enough in terms of significantly reducing our Company’s business risk. For example, if a significant number of our clients belongs to the same branch of industry, a serious crisis experienced by that branch could gravely harm our business.
This is one of the reasons why we try to have clients from different industrial branches, while working with different technologies and using varied models of cooperation with the client (fixed-price, time and material, dedicated team…). Furthermore, our client base is internationally diverse and we work for clients from different foreign markets.
3.4 Our colleagues' success stories
Ivana Miksin decided to engage in front-end development, although she had no formal IT education nor had any knowledge regarding front-end development. This represented a serious change in her work and her very life. She started doing so by learning and encountering a variety of challenges. Thanks to hard work and assistance from colleagues, she managed to become a full member of our front-end team and now works alone on her projects. Today, Ivana is one of our most notable front-end developers, receiving praise from colleagues and clients. This is just one of the examples indicating that hard work and perseverance do pay off in our organization.
We asked Ivana how she saw our company and its organizational culture, and this is what she told us:
To me, Vega IT is more than just a company; it is a way of thinking. Here you can learn how to comprehend problems and challenges and how to approach solving them. Vega IT strengthens collective consciousness and team spirit. This is the place where I create my future.
Development is an activity in which there are no boundaries, a field that stimulates creativity, inventiveness, imagination and speed. Development provides us an opportunity to become better tomorrow than we are today.
Working at Vega IT offers the possibility of continuous learning and progress in a creative atmosphere, among colleagues who are ready to cooperate at all times.
Nevena came to us for internship without adequate formal education, with no knowledge of technologies which we use and without practical experience. She was given the opportunity to learn and she accepted it readily. It was not easy for her to keep up with colleagues who had already had the appropriate knowledge and experience, but she compensated that by staying at her workplace until late on every working day and even on weekends. Nevena did not need any external motivation. Her hard work, perseverance and responsibility were rewarded eventually. She managed to master the technologies and work processes she was not familiar with at the beginning, and went even beyond that.
Here's how Nevena sees our company and herself in it:
From the very beginning of our education, we prepare ourselves for a fierce battle, hearing about how hard it is to find a proper job in our country. Towards the end of studies, the situation becomes even more uncertain and we wonder "what if I don't find a job" and "what's next?".
Before the end of my master studies, I was accepted for internship in this company. This was a challenge to me, but I must admit that the thought that I could get a job felt somewhat unreal. However, I was given the opportunity to stay and I knew I had to take advantage of it in the best possible manner. Without prior experience, I knew it would be hard and I prepared myself diligently and responsibly.
To me, the first contact with programming was terrifying, but also a great challenge. The collegiality which I encountered, infinite patience and cordiality of my mentor, colleagues and bosses were my motivation and gave me the strength to overcome something that seemed impossible at first glance.
Every progress of mine, be it small or large, was noticed and rewarded. I am grateful for all the encouragement I received and I will keep trying to justify it through commitment and further personal development.
I have been working at "Vega IT Sourcing" for nearly three years. Every day is filled with happiness, pleasure and laughter upon fulfillment of our assignments, but also due to the atmosphere that prevails in the company, which also radiates with responsibility, friendship, selflessness... and every day, on the way to my workplace, I think to myself: I could not have chosen a better company to work at!
Boban is the true embodiment of our corporate values. Ever since his first day he has been an utterly responsible person; he is a person trusted wholeheartedly by the entire company, a developer and architect who puts quality of service in the first place, knows how to create a team and maintain its positive spirit even in the most difficult situations. He balances skillfully between work and private life and motivates his associates every day during the performance of his work. Boban timely finishes his assignments and tries to provide high-quality and easily maintained solutions, for the benefit of clients, who never cease to be thrilled by our services and the company as a whole. When it is necessary to work late into the night, even on weekends, for several weeks or even months, Boban does not wait for someone to suggest overtime work or ask any questions regarding the same - he simply understands when it is time to "bite the bullet" and gets right to it. In addition, he works continuously on his personal development and shares his knowledge and experience with other colleagues at the company and beyond. Therefore, Boban has been awarded ownership interest in the company. For the company, this was an investment that paid off quite well over the years that followed.
Boban says the following about the company:
To me, Vega IT is more than just a company, it is a synergy of satisfaction, good atmosphere, fulfillment, creativity, interesting projects...
I observe development as a primary discipline that makes it possible to implement ideas into action and whose result is not software but a possibility that makes people's lives easier.
Vega IT enables personal fulfillment; it is an oasis of peace and pleasant atmosphere, creative people, whose knowledge is shared generously, a place where the latest technologies and methodology of work are used. Even though we are in Serbia, the commitment and responsibility of the company towards its employees and clients give the impression that we are somewhere beyond.
3.5 Calculation of wages and awarding raises
This is a frequently asked question, one generally difficult to answer exactly due to the activities that must be performed in order to get to a certain amount of wages and/or raises.
These are some of the main criteria taken into account when considering raises:
1. KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE.
How complex and valuable are tasks you are working on; how important/critical problem can you be left alone to work on.
2. EFFICIENT AND EFFECTIVE WORK.
Are you focused on work or create additional/unnecessary pauses (social networks, chat etc.) during working hours? Is the number of working hours that you spend during the day equivalent to your productivity? (Some people work productively nearly 8 hours per day and do a lot more work than those who make plenty of pauses during working hours and then stay for a few hours overtime).
3. COMMENTS OF TEAMMATES REGARDING YOUR WORK ON PROJECTS.
Here we take into account the comments in relation to productivity, responsibility, seriousness, quality of work etc.
4. COMMENTS OF SUPERVISORS AND/OR SUBORDINATES
(regarding the same criteria as under point "2")
5. FEEDBACK RECEIVED FROM CLIENTS.
Negative comments by clients are checked with the particular colleague and other team members.
6. MARKET SITUATION, I.E. AMOUNTS OF WAGES IN OTHER IT COMPANIES IN THE AREA AROUND US.
7. CURRENT ABILITIES AND PROJECTIONS OF PROFITABILITY OF THE COMPANY
(taking into account the "productive paranoia" principles as described in one of the previous chapters.)
8. SUBJECTIVE FEELING OF PARTICIPANTS IN THE PROCESS OF CALCULATION OF WAGES.
Regarding how much a certain person currently contributes to the success of the company.
9. PARTICIPATION IN CONFERENCES, MEETUPS AND OTHER PUBLIC EVENTS
(at which our colleagues represent the company and promote it in a positive manner.)
10. ORGANIZATION AND PARTICIPATION IN INTERNAL TRAININGS (SOFT SKILLS AND TECH) AND LECTURES
(as well as other ways of sharing knowledge and experience with colleagues.)
11. HELPING COLLEAGUES FROM THE COMPANY TO DO THEIR WORK FASTER AND BETTER.
(but also to advance professionally.)
12. CONTRIBUTION TO COMPANY DEVELOPMENT IN VARIOUS WAYS:
(design of work processes, employment, integration etc.)
13. WORK ON IMPROVEMENT OUTSIDE OF WORKING HOURS.
At least once every two months, we compare the current wages of all people in the company in relation to the abovementioned factors and carry out assessments regarding the increases in wages. In our company there are no rules about how often someone can be awarded a raise; there were cases when people got three raises within six months, but also when someone got no raise for several years.
3.6 The structure of our organisation
From its very establishment, our company represents a good example of an organization with a flat i.e. horizontal structure. The definition of such structure, taken from Wikipedia, is as follows:
"A flat organization (also known as horizontal organization or delayering) has an organizational structure with few or no levels of middle management between staff and executives."
The main reason for maintaining such a structure, even after we expanded the number of people, lies in the fact that in our business it is very important that each team member performs his/her work maximally responsibly (responsibility is one of our core values) and be adequately rewarded for his/her work.
Such horizontal structure provides that every team member assumes full responsibility, as opposed to hierarchical (vertical) structure, where responsibility is transferred to the management. Horizontal structure also allows people who make decisions on coaching and rewarding to be closer to all the people in the company in order to easily obtain information on their work.
What makes our company so special are the various roles we perform. Some of them are:
- "Developer" (depending on the type of work, a developer can be mobile, back-end, front-end...)
- "Team Lead"
- "Quality Assurance Tester"
- "Product owner"
- "Project Manager"
- "Marketing Manager"
- "Human Value Manager"
- "Office Assistant" / "Operations Manager"
- "Account Manager"
A structure like this one can seem somewhat problematic to those expecting to be promoted as part of their career development. This is due to the fact that a horizontal structure does not allow for advancements to high-ranking positions. On the other hand, this structure allows for alternative pathways in vocation development, such as improving technical skills, improving communication skills, improving leadership skills, improving work efficiency etc. which in turn enables the conduct of work in other roles, but also an increase in wages. This structure also allows us to gain more diverse experience, since we do not have any limitations that exist in fixed positions in organizations with hierarchical organizations.
It is important to note that one person can perform different roles depending on the nature of work. For example, one of the developers can be a Team Leader or Project Manager on one project, a developer on the next one and then a Team Leader on the third again.
One person can also perform multiple roles at once. For example, he/she can play only one developer role, such as a mobile developer, but also can play only one developer role, as well as some administrative tasks, if he/she has knowledge and experience in working with different technologies and has appropriate organizational/administrative skills.
The role of Project Manager (PM) might seem a bit confusing when encountered in an organization with a horizontal structure. However, this role is certainly necessary in our organization since certain types of projects demand more administrative work and because some clients expect/demand a specific person to formally perform the role of PM. On the other hand, where there is a person performing as PM on the project, he or she is liable for the success of such project while the developers and other team members are also equally held responsible for their performance just as if there was no PM. A PM in our organization does not necessarily have to have technical knowledge, but needs to comprehend the project from the functional point of view and take care of the budget and deadlines. A PM can independently conduct discussions with clients, but is obliged to include one or more developers from the team in communication with clients, when it comes to discussions concerning functional or technical requirements. A PM also verifies implementation prior to notifying the client that the job has been completed; he/she does not perform complete testing but goes through all the changes in order to make sure that there are no evident flaws. At the User Acceptance Testing (UAT) stage, the PM checks reported bugs and, in case that something is unclear or that there is a Request for Change (RFC), he/she concludes the necessary discussions with the client with the assistance of a developer.
A Team Leader is not a traditional kind of manager. Developers playing this role usually have knowledge of the entire project and are able to respond to most questions from other team members. A Team Leader is often the Single Point of Contact for the client, i.e. Team Leader is the person who will ask questions to the client and who will be contacted by the client when the client has any questions or comments. Team Leaders serve the team and represent its core. They do not have to have the largest technical knowledge and experience in the team, but need to have good communication skills and be "emotionally literate". These are some of the quotes that every Team Leader in our organization has to grasp and follow:
- "Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge."
- "A star wants to see herself rise to the top. A leader wants to see those around her rise to the top."
- "We won't have work-life balance until we feel safe in the place that we live and safe in the place that we work."
- "We can be impressed by one who does something big for themselves. But we can only be inspired by one who does something big for another."
- "If you want to feel happy, do something for yourself. If you want to feel fulfilled, do something for someone else."
- "The goal of life is not to have our lives mean something to ourselves. The goal of life is to have our lives mean something to others."
- "Leadership is neither a rank nor a title. It is a choice. It is the choice to provide care and protection for those whom we are responsible."
- "Great leaders don't see themselves as great; they see themselves as human."
- "A poor leader will tell you how many people work for them. A great leader will tell you how many people they work for."
- "A leader must be inspired by the people before a leader can inspire the people."
- "Authorities act with themselves in mind. Leaders act with others in mind. Authorities take. Leaders give. Authorities die. Leaders live on."
-"Let us all be the leaders we wish we had." Quotes by Simon Sinek.
When it comes to executive roles, the circumstances are as follows: the company formally has a director, but other members of the company performing executive roles may take over his/her role at any time, or correct or advise him/her on their own initiative when they notice he/she made a mistake.
3.7 Is the client always right?
The slogans of our organization are as follows:
- "Always measure the quality of your service through customer satisfaction."
- "The client is the business."
- "The client has the last word."
- "The customer is boss."
Does this mean that the client is always right? Not in our organization. Furthermore, when working with us, our clients expect us to engage in critical thinking regarding the opinions and inputs they convey to us. They expect us at least to talk about something that we have heard or read but feel that it makes no sense.
Our clients could hire companies that offer cheaper services, in countries where the client is always right, but there is a purpose why they do not do so.
Does this mean that our clients will always accept our arguments? They will, in most cases, but sometimes the opposite happens as well. The reasons for this are various. For example, we may not grasp the bigger picture about something, meaning that a thing that makes no sense for us, does for our client. It may also occur that our client, i.e. the company we work for, expects critical thoughts on a certain issue from us, but an employee of our client assesses at some point that this is not useful (for example, if it is necessary to urgently deliver an update of a software product, even at the cost of quality of the thing to be delivered). It is certainly up to us to always ask questions and give argumented suggestions, but also to accept the ultimate decision of the client.
Our goal is to finish our projects in a timely and successful manner, in order for our clients to feel safe and feel enough trust to return to us again. If our clients believe that we will use our best efforts for their projects to be successful and make sure that we have a critical attitude towards their requirements, our clients will respect us and consider us their equals.
The very concept of "critical" does not always imply a negative attitude. We give our suggestions in a decent and friendly manner. We also try to find balance between critical attitude and pragmatism in any situation. Sometimes it is better for the project, the client and us not to carry out certain things in the best way possible. For example, in order to complete the project on time and within the agreed budget, we may decide not to use all the principles and technologies we would otherwise apply to such a project, if we had more time.
3.8 Communication with clients and approach to projects
WRITTEN OR ORAL COMMUNICATION AND INTERRUPTIONS
For communication with clients, one should use e-mails or some of the services that permanently keep all written communication, excluding instant messaging (IM) tools. For example, a good alternative to e-mail is BaseCamp, and bad ones are Skype, Slack, Hangouts and similar IM tools. The two main reasons for this are interruptions and lack of conversation history. IM tools are bad because IM messages cause too many brief interruptions and thus interrupt our concentration and make us less effective in our work. The following figure shows the effect of (brief) interruptions:
As far as conversation history is concerned, the problem occurs when we arrange something with the client orally or using any IM tool, and the client later forgets it or a misunderstanding occurs due to bad connection, poor language skills or for any other reason. In this case, we may find ourselves in an awkward situation which could cost us time and stress at the very least. In some cases, calls or chats (Skype, phone...) are necessary. This usually happens when a client wishes to talk to us in order to explain something to us or to ask us something, but also when we need some urgent information from him/her, without losing too much time on discussions via e-mail, or when we notice that there have been certain misunderstandings in our e-mails, and that an oral conversation could make amends with the client in a better way. In such cases, when we have to call or IM the client, it is best to do the following:
-If possible, establish the exact time of conversation at some point - after the completion of work, towards the end of working hours, before a lunch break and the like.
- Take notes during the conversation.
- After the conversation, we send an e-mail to the client, containing all that has been agreed during the talk. At the end of this e-mail, we ask the client to correct anything we did not understand properly during the conversation. In this way we can keep written records of what has been agreed with the client orally or via IM chat. This type of e-mail is called "Meeting Minutes" and you can see examples of such e-mails throughout the Internet.
NB: if we spoke to the client but did not make any decisions concerning the project, it is not necessary to send him/her the Meeting Minutes e-mail. For example, you should not send the Meeting Minutes e-mail if we received a request from the client to demonstrate certain functionality or just provide insight into the current status of the project.
Upon receipt of the client's e-mail, it should be responded to as soon as possible. It is deemed most acceptable to respond to clients within an hour, since a longer time to respond could leave a bad impression and could make the client wonder if we've received their e-mail at all. On the other hand, this does not mean that the client should always be assisted within an hour. Sometimes we need more time to carry out the necessary analysis, in order to give a proper answer. Sometimes the thing that needs to be done for the client requires several days of work, but the client does not need it to be done urgently. In any case, we need to send a reply to the client stating that we have received his/her e-mail and that we are willing to do something in relation to what has been requested from us. It is enough to write that we have received the e-mail and indicate when our assistance/answer can be expected.
One exception to the above rule would be a situation when we expressly tell the client that we are unavailable for a certain period or when we agree with the client that he/she should contact our team leader, and not send e-mails directly to us.
The basic rule of e-mail conversations says that everyone should receive a reply in a timely manner. There are different tools and approaches that can help us not to forget any unanswered e-mail. If you are uncertain which tool should you use, in which way and for this purpose, you can get a piece of advice from Sasa Popovic.
Preparation of estimates and/or offers is what we do on a daily basis for fixed-price projects (before we obtain a project, but also during the work on it, in terms of Requests for Change or RFCs).
When we prepare an estimate for a new client, we use our experience gained from previous projects. The odds that we will make a good estimate for the first project that we are working on for the new client are smaller than when we do so for some of the following projects of the same client. This is expected and should not jeopardize our business to a larger extent, given that this is just one of many projects that we could carry out for the same client. It is also possible that we could require less time for the same project to be completed for one client than for another one. Some of the reasons for that are: different expectations of clients in terms of how our application should behave in various (older) environments (operating system, browser...), how easily we can clarify the specifications given by the client, how much time we spend on correspondence with the client when we are at the stage of solving identified problems (bugs) etc. It is therefore important that, in preparing estimates for future projects of the same client, we always take into account how much time we spent on previous projects for the same client - primarily on the fact how much time was spent on activities that do not represent pure development. In preparations of assessments for projects that follow the completion of the first project, it is essential that we try to approximately equalize the total time spent on the project and estimated time.
In the process of preparation of estimates, it is important to realistically assess the time necessary for development. If we opt for too little time, the project could be unprofitable. If, however, we make an estimate that is longer than what is really needed, the client could drop out of the deal, or even worse, lose trust in us.
INTERNAL TESTING, UAT AND BUG FIXING
When we work on implementing a certain functionality, we treat this process as if no one but us will test our work before this functionality is put into use (before the end clients start to use it), i.e. we do not rely on the possibility that someone may test our work, spot the bugs and report them to us.
On the other hand, whenever it is possible, we will engage colleagues who deal with testing in order to increase the quality of what we deliver to the clients (to reduce the possibility of omissions in implementation).
When our clients report any spotted bugs to us, we start with bug fixing. What is important at this stage is that every correction and the entire application with all completed corrections must be tested before we deliver it to the clients, in order to make sure that the changes we implemented do not affect any other functionality in an adverse way. In some cases, it is difficult and unnecessary to test the entire application, so we focus ourselves on the part of the application which could be affected by our changes.
3.9 "A learning organisation"
In one of the previous chapters, we explained why it is necessary for our company to continue to develop (both quantitatively and qualitatively), and in order to achieve that people who work in it make everyday progress on a personal level as well.
We operate in an industry in which changes occur quite rapidly. It is very likely that, in just a few years' time, we will work with programming languages and devices that do not exist today. Various frameworks and libraries appear every month, and we have to follow them in order to remain competitive in the market. This applies to our company, but also to each of us individually. For the same reasons, we want to keep improving our services day by day, and doing so requires that we work on ourselves.
Our company organizes different lectures and training, funds programs such as "Vega IT MVPs" provides books and resources for learning in digital form, provides support to those who attend professional meetings, conferences and the like. More on this topic can be found in the "Vega IT values you" chapter.
One of the events we are especially proud of is our “Star” Conference. This conference is organised once a year and it is aimed at our colleagues and the members of our Alumni club. What makes this conference even more interesting is the fact that the organisers and the speakers are also our colleagues. The first Star Conference was organised in 2017 as an all-day event. In 2018 we organised the second Star Conference in a row on two parallel tracks. We will continue this tradition in the coming years.
Apart from organising the Conference, our colleagues from many different teams organised smaller events in the form of “meetups”. At this very moment, while this book is being written, one of our front-end teams and a group of colleagues who are working on mobile development are taking part in a small meetup where they are exchanging their experiences. As a matter of fact, this meetup is held regularly every day before our colleagues start their work.
More about this you can read in our "Vega IT values you" section.
3.10 Supporting the local IT community
One of the activities of our company, which complements what we described in the previous chapter, is supporting the local IT community.
During our many years of experience in working with clients from the West, we have come to the conclusion that it is not enough to work just on our own development in order for the clients to appreciate us as much as we want. It is also necessary that other companies in our environment be recognized as companies with top quality solutions and services, so that our clients and prospective clients from the West appreciate us to a greater extent. In that case we would be able to charge more for our work, and also help the country we live in to raise the living standards of people outside the IT industry as well. Therefore, we have decided to support (and even to establish some) organizations engaged in promoting education, investing in personal development, sharing of ideas and experiences, promoting entrepreneurship and the like.
The first activities of this kind were performed through .NET User Group which we have been supporting and organizing from the very establishment of our company. This discussion group later evolved into the Geekstone organization which, at the time of writing this, consists of 1200 registered members and has had a dozen of monthly gatherings and one successfully organized conference. The vision we had when we founded the Geekstone organization was: "Serbia in 10 years' time as a synonym for a country providing top quality IT solutions". This vision is exactly what we want to achieve through all the activities mentioned above in this chapter. The mission of the Geekstone organization is: "Raising the awareness of developers in Serbia regarding the significance of continuous improvement, exchanging experiences, quality of work on projects by organizing lectures, workshops, trainings and conferences." and this is what we will work on in the forthcoming period.
Another organization which originated within our own is DaFED, and it was conceived and organized by our colleague Sladja Milovanovic and former colleague Danilo Novakovic. They wanted to create the first group that would address designers and those working on front-end development, and they succeeded in doing so. The first couple of the group’s gatherings were organized within our Company, but later on they continued to meet outside our premises. We have supported and sponsored this organization from its very beginnings and we will continue to do so in the future, even though DaFED is now a completely independent and separate organisation led by our former colleague Danilo Novakovic.
Some of the organizations we support and which we have sponsored on several occasions are: Startit, Coding Serbia, together with various groups and activities organized at the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Novi Sad and more.
3.11 Overtime work
Overtime work is something we do not like in this company, but it's also something that is inevitable in certain situations during the course of our business.
Therefore, it is necessary in order to meet the deadlines that cannot be postponed, in situations where we encounter challenges which require additional time.
Another factor that influences the occasional need for overtime work is that we sometimes work on projects in which we cannot influence the duration of testing and bug fixing stages. If the bug fixing stage of a certain project takes longer than planned, and we start working on the next project in the meantime, then overtime work becomes inevitable in order to complete everything on schedule.
In our organization, overtime work is recorded and paid. In order to record work after working hours as overtime, and to be paid as such, it has to be approved by the person leading the project or by the client, if we work directly with him. Overtime work can also be self-initiated if we realize that a certain task cannot be completed during normal working hours; in this case, the person leading the project or the client has to give consent. If someone remains longer at work voluntarily (to study, for example), such work is not deemed as overtime and will not be paid.
Overtime work over a longer period of time may have an adverse effect on our efficiency and effectiveness, but also on our health. The alternative to this, which can help us reduce the need for overtime work, is focusing on a healthy life with plenty of sleep, coming to work on time and leaving after 8 hours of work, but also responsibility and productivity during working hours. If we make an effort to have fewer interruptions we can influence, i.e. less unproductive activities such as time spent on social networks, chat groups etc. we can do a lot more quality work during working hours and thus reduce the need for overtime work. Our collective goal should be the establishment of balance between work and private life, with less overtime work.
3.12 Offices, seating, meetings
Our work space is divided into several floors, offices and meeting rooms. The arrangement and zoning of space are adapted to working conditions in order to avoid noise and increase our focus on work that we perform.
Due to the previously mentioned horizontal structure of our organization, we do not have better and worse offices and do not have separate offices for the management, company owners or any other role within our organization. When we plan where any of our new colleagues will sit or when we think about reallocating anyone who is already an employee of the company, we take the following criteria into account:
- people working together on a project communicate more easily if they sit in the same office space
- those who use the same or similar technologies may exchange knowledge and experience more easily if they sit in the same office space
- people who have just joined us may grasp our business in an easier and faster way if they are close to those from whom they could learn the most
There are situations when we decide to move someone to another office because he/she hinders the work of colleagues around him/her, which directly affects quality (of working conditions and services we provide to clients), which is one of our core values. For example, if this is a person who talks too much about topics that have nothing to do with work and thus hinders the colleagues in the office, we will talk with that person and explain why he/she is being reallocated and will reallocate him/her next to someone who will monitor the progress of such person on a daily basis. We are not happy when we have to resort to this solution, but it is something that resulted in a good way in the past and helped several colleagues to focus on work and thrive after that (in terms of quality of work, productivity and wages).
If someone notices that reallocation of any colleague could be of use, he/she may contact Maja Neducic or Sasa Popovic. If this is not possible, he/she will be given an explanation.
Although we do not work in an "open space" area, but in smaller offices, we can easily encounter a situation with too much noise which disturbs our focus on work, thus reducing the quality of any conversation. To reduce noise in offices, we should adhere to the following:
- If we want to take a break and talk with a colleague/colleagues from the office, it is better to leave the room with that colleague or colleagues so as not to disturb others,
- If we go to a colleague to talk about work, it is best to go outside the office or go to any meeting room and talk there.
It may occur that two or more persons who intend to have a talk with people who work there come into the office; everyone starts talking quietly and after a while the volume increases and they start talking louder than the others. We want to avoid such a situation.
- When we receive calls coming from outside, we use headsets and still try not to be too loud, so as not to disturb those around us.
3.13 "Vega IT values you"
Vega IT appreciates the commitment and devotion of our employees, in a very transparent manner:
- We reward our colleagues for 5 years of work at our company by organizing a wellness weekend trip for two persons, in some of the most attractive destinations; and not only that. They are also granted a day off (Friday or Monday);
- We also reward colleagues who have placed their trust and stayed loyal to our company for 10 years of work
We share our colleague's personal happiness by:
-awarding gift vouchers to the families of our colleagues whose home was enriched by another family member;
-awarding gift vouchers to those who "tied the knot".
Also, for International Women's Day, we organize trips and gifts for the ladies.
For traveling to conferences, scientific meetings and certain trainings and education, we provide support to certain team members by covering the costs incurred, for the sake of their personal and professional development. Sometimes this is an opportunity to additionally reward some of our colleagues, and sometimes it is an opportunity for some colleagues to learn something new.
Vega IT MVPs
How did a proposal of one of the colleagues, Nemanja Malocic, become one of the "Vega IT values you" programs?
Transparency and openness towards new ideas are nourished and appreciated by Vega IT. We welcome every proposal and suggestion, which must be presented to the founders of the Company (Sasa should be contacted, either verbally or via email). Eventually, it will be decided whether or not a specific proposal will be implemented or not.
Nemanja Malocic took advantage of this opportunity; he contacted Sasa, explained the idea and the Vega IT MVPs ("Most Valuable Professionals") program was established in 2015.
This program is called „Most Valuable Professionals“ and the accent is on the word "valuable" which equally involves both work on personal development as well as the work on the promotion of the company. The activities connected to this program should be reported to Maja Nedučić (email@example.com) in order to be rewarded by assigning specific points as follows:
- For reading technical literature and writing an article for website on that specific topic: 6
- For writing a technical article for the website: 4
- For writing a non-technical article for the website: 1
- For holding a lecture at the conference: 10
- For holding a lecture at Meet-up: 6
- For holding lectures at colleges and schools where the company is promoted: 5
- For internal lecture (points are assigned only if the lecture was visited by, at least 10 people, regardless of the duration of the lecture): 4
- For writing a "coding tip": 3
- For writing "coding tip" and blog post: 5
Minimal threshold: 25 points
Both the author of the technical article for the website and other colleagues as well are given the possibility to suggest that a certain article deserves more points than the above mentioned because it has a bigger value. In such cases, we will gather the commission which will consist of the current MVP winners who will then discuss the possibility of assigning additional points to that specific article. Given that this activity is done on request, it is necessary that the colleagues interested in this activity address Maja Nedučić via email.
Activities which are assigned the points to should be connected to work, that is, a certain job position in the company.
Each one of us can always check how many points they have earned. The only thing they need to do is open the Timesheet and, in the upper right corner, click on their name and choose the option "My MVP activities". In that way, each colleague can only see their points, and not the points of other colleagues because we don’t want this programme to turn into a competition.
The program lasts from January to December, that is, since the announcement of the winner (usually the announcement happens at the New Year’s party) for the current year, until the announcement of the winner for the following year.
The top 10 winners of the program are awarded cash prizes, diplomas and Vega IT MVP shirts.
The most inspiring act of kindness
One of your colleagues has done something that has left an impression on you. You would like to thank them for this and you would love for others to hear about it, too. This can be done by nominating a said colleague for the “The most inspiring act of kindness.”
What is important to understand here is that this is not an “Employee of the month” program, like those practiced by MacDonald's and similar companies, where those nominated for the position are people who have been the best at performing their duties on a monthly bases. The purpose of our “The most inspiring act of kindness” program is to praise the good deeds of our colleagues aimed at other colleagues. Essentially, this could be a commendation of a colleague who has helped you personally with something, or the commendation of someone's kind gesture towards somebody else. For example, someone noticed that a colleague was having a tough time with a work-related task and they decided to stay with this person, after hours, in order to try and help. Or, perhaps, you have noticed that one of your colleagues is being attentive and making the office atmosphere more pleasurable through small gestures and surprises.
These are the instances when you can nominate a colleague at any time, by sending an e-mail to Maja Neducic and Sasa Popovic. In this e-mail, you must explain, in one or more sentences, what has prompted you to propose the nomination. You can propose multiple colleagues throughout a one month period. The nomination must include the description of the colleague’s behavior which they are being nominated for.
At the end of the month, an anonymous voting procedure for the nominated colleagues is organized. The survey does not show who suggested the nomination nor the names of the nominated ones, but everyone can see the reason why that specific person was nominated. In this way, we vote for the good deed and not for the individual. The winner announcement, the announcement of the colleague who won the most votes, is made at the next Happy Hour or via notice received by all team members in the Google+ group “Vega IT - Internal”.
After the election, the person whose deed was nominated for “The most inspiring act of kindness”, will be promoted on Company's social media and the company's website.
Totem:“R2-D2” and “YODA”
Good deeds and good people are easily noticeable and should be praised. One of the ways to do so, which we have adopted in our company and which is in relation to the application and nurturing our values, embodied in the "team work/spirit in the act" motto, is awarding the same with the totem "R2-D2" and "Yoda".
Each of us may, at any time, give the totem to any colleague for proper work done. Totem awarding expresses gratitude and thus respect and admiration to those who deserved it.
The process of totem awarding is very simple. It is enough to have a reason why you'll take it, and it is located at the Lyra office on the ninth floor, and bring it to one of the colleagues and put it on his/her desk. It is important to communicate why we do so and leave without feedback. The totem is sufficiently large and noticeable, so anyone who enters the office can see it and, if interested, find out why the person who holds it has been rewarded. When we notice the totem on someone's desk, we can talk about it and find out what that person did in order to deserve such recognition.
The person who got the totem should return it after 24 hours to its place so that others could award it to someone else from the following day.
This is also one of the steps of creating a Happy workplace and one of the "Vega IT values you" programs.
Vega IT provides all team members with conditions for a healthy life, which is reflected in the following:
- Everyday consummation of seasonal fruit that can be found in every office;
- Use of bottled water (Rosa and Prolom) within easy reach;
- Participation in training (Crossfit, gym, and Yoga);
- Use of private health insurance;
- Paid private medical examinations;
- Eye examinations;
- Insurance against accidents etc.
During the month we can attend Crossfit training (club Crossfit, Danila Kiša 3), or to the gym E fitness centar (Novosadskog sajma 2, 11th floor). Crossfit training takes place on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 7:30 (the arrival is obligatory twice a week). Going to the gym is obligatory twice a week, but, depending on the membership card, that number can be increased.
In the both mentioned clubs, there are towels which can be used when having a shower after the finished training session in order to come to work as early as possible.
The novelty we introduced in our fit life program is yoga at work. Yoga takes place on Mondays and Thursdays from 8h until 8.45 on the ninth floor. The company provided all of us with yoga mats, and since this type of yoga does not require sweating and straining, it is not necessary to have a shower afterward, and, therefore, it is perfect for the beginning of the day. Colleagues who still want to take the shower after the training can use the room with the shower, cosmetics and our towels which is on the 10th floor.
In order to promote a healthy lifestyle, we have developed our own platform called Fitlife.
Each of us is provided an opportunity to design a lecture within the company, lasting between 45 and 60 minutes if we want to. To do so, it is necessary to figure out a title and determine the place and time of holding the lecture together with Maja Neducic.
Maja Neducic, our "Chief People Officer", organizes experiential - educational workshops on various topics, aimed at the personal development of all colleagues. These workshops are not compulsory and every colleague has the freedom to choose the workshop he/she wants to attend. They are held after working hours (starting from 17:30) or on Saturday mornings. For further details, please contact Maja Neducic.
The company hires external consultants as well who hold training, workshops or training courses on various topics which are, also, aimed at both personal and professional development of all of us. In this regard, we are currently having English classes in our offices.
We believe that knowledge is the greatest wealth and we strive to invest in it continuously. The library holds a special place in our company. The bought books are free for all of us to use them.
Everyone at Vega IT can borrow the books by going to the address: https://books.vegait.rs/
The list of books can be found at the same address, and, apart from that, we can suggest buying a new book, which is not in the library.
Apart from expert books, we have also provided tutorials that can be found on our network drive, which we can access via the following address: \\vega-nas-001.
Given that the Company is constantly investing in the knowledge and development of its team members, and due to the license restrictions of paid tutorials, we are obliged not to distribute the available materials outside the Company, meaning that none of us are allowed to share internally available material with any outside party (e.g. colleagues and friends who are not employed at Vega IT).
3.14 Environment and recycling as part of our organizational culture
"It is our dream to make a happy and a successful business, allowing us to use its success and power to make the world a better place."
A part of our vision refers to the environment and positive influence on it through activities aimed at sustainable development.
Ever since the first days of founding of the company, we collect waste for recycling in order to contribute to environmental protection. Our offices contain special bins for PVC waste, aluminum cans and containers for plastic caps.
When it comes to electronic waste, we cooperate with companies that deal with its recycling and/or safe destruction and storage and such waste is handed over to them in its entirety.
Consumables from printers are delivered to companies dealing with its recycling.
We have electric hand dryers in every restroom and we completely abandon the use of paper towels for drying hands. We try to print as less as possible and keep most of the documents in electronic form.
Garbage bags, which are located in offices, are completely biodegradable. We use biodegradable liquid soap for washing hands and also biodegradable detergents.
Our contribution to sustainable development is quite small at the moment, but we will not stop here - we will try to make small steps in order to do a lot more for our environment.
3.15 Chief Happiness Officer
Bearing in mind that today one spends one-third of his/her life at the workplace, it is very important to create a pleasant working environment in order for employees to be happy. We believe that happiness of all of us individually is an important factor for a successful business, as it directly affects the productivity, innovativeness, motivation, optimism and energy.
In order to continue to promote the creation of a happy workplace, we have become partners of the company Woohoo.inc and gained access to all of its materials that we can use for the purpose of creating a happier organization. At the end of 2015, we had the opportunity to name those colleagues who we thought were perfect for the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) role; after anonymous voting, we elected Sasa Novakovic as our CHO.
He also spreads his happiness to others through work and play, channeling his energy, since the day one, towards the prospect of life’s joy to the benefit of us all.
At the same time, he has brought up a variety of initiatives that make us happy at work, and therefore receives support from Sasa, Vladan, Boban and our "Culture Committee".
"Culture Committee" includes all the colleagues nominated for CHO who initially helped Saša Novaković with some of the activities:
- studying the "Happiness at work" materials,
- participating in the creation of our company culture,
- creating and maintaining a happy workplace,
- motivating and involvement in the process of creating of a happy workplace,
- writing texts for the Vega IT blog on topics that bring happiness at work.
In addition to the foregoing, our CHO is a person who notices when some of us need help, and also points to some solutions in our company operations, talks to people who take care about business and tries to find the best solutions for perceived challenges together with them.
Since the future belongs to the happy ones, feel free to read "The Happy at Work Manifesto", that is the declaration about the things that can make us happier at work:
3.17 Additional information about our company
Our company was established in mid 2008. It was founded by Vladan Ostojic and Sasa Popovic using their own funds ("self funded").
In mid 2012 we bought our first business premises at Danila Kisa street.
In early 2013, Boban Miksin joined as co-owner of our company. He was awarded ownership interest in the company due to his outstanding and dedicated work over the past years. In this way, our company became significantly richer.
At the end of 2015, we bought a new office space in the "Aleksandar Bulevar Centar" building.
By the end of 2015, we had already been given the offer to sell our business four times. The last offer was particularly interesting in financial terms, but even then, we decided not to sell it. The main reason for that was our wish to have the freedom to shape our company and its processes so as to have a “happy organisation” and to focus our efforts on accomplishing our mission together with people we work with.
We wanted to work freely on the development of the entire company without thinking about quarterly financial goals, which would follow after the sale of the company.
In the mid-2016 we opened a new office in Zrenjanin. Our idea was to enable talented programmers from Zrenjanin who would rather stay in their hometown than move to one of the big cities to work in their field of expertise and further develop professionally.
At the same time, we wanted to expand our team with hard-working people who will work on the development of a successful company with their colleagues from Novi Sad, be happy and together improve the environment they live in.
At the beginning of 2018, we established Vega IT Nordic together with a few partners from Denmark and Island.
At the same time, we bought two additional floors in the building where Vega IT headquarters is. At this very moment, we own 5 floors of the building.
At the end of 2018, we opened a small office in Belgrade with the aim to enable colleagues from Belgrade to work from their own city. Also, each of our colleagues can work one or more days in our offices in Belgrade, Zrenjanin and Novi Sad.
3.18 Things that we are not so good at
Unfortunately, there are some fields in which we're still not as successful as we would like to be.
Some of our most important shortcomings are:
- Mentorship: this is a field in which we are still in pursuit. We have teams which include mentorship but also those in which this is completely neglected.
- Introduction of new people to our way of working and functioning: this book is one of the tools that we hope would be of assistance in this process of operating in the forthcoming period, but it is certainly not enough.
- Lack of frequent discussions between company owners and other employees.
- Code reviews are not practiced often enough.
The good thing is that we are aware of many of our shortcomings and that we want to work on ourselves in order to improve such shortcomings.
One of the ways to be even better at what we do is the program called “We need your help to become better!”. This program started in 2017 as a “company retreat” event.
The founders of our company spoke and wrote a few times about how they had always wanted to be surrounded by people who are smarter than they are, who help them be even more successful at the job they do and contribute to the entire company.
At the time, they listened to their colleagues’ suggestions, questions, and feedback in various informal ways, but then they decided to try to do something concrete in order to get additional help from their colleagues. The purpose of the program described below was to start a discussion which will result in us becoming more successful and feeling better and more comfortable at work.
The entire program consists of a few steps:
- First, we ask our colleagues to send us (anonymously) the topics they would like us to discuss. Some of the topics from the first event were: working overtime, questions regarding whether the company with more than 100 employees can function with a “flat structure”, how to decrease the number of colleagues who decide to leave the company, etc.
- We give our colleagues the chance to vote for the topics they will talk about
- We gather together at the weekend in the company or somewhere outside of the office. Then, first we start discussing a particular issue and repeat this process until we cover as many topics as possible (this usually lasts for one or two days of the weekend). Usually around 20 colleagues chosen by Vladan, Boban and Saša participate in these discussions.
- After some time, we invite all the colleagues to one or more reunions where we present the conclusions we have reached during this process and the actions we plan to take in the following period in order to improve our business and make our work and life in this company more pleasant for all of us.