How we run a software company: Introduction
26 May 2011, by Chris Harris
Softwire started life in January 2000, when our directors Phil, Dan and Pete (respectively below) decided to form the kind of software house where they’d want to work themselves. This meant it needed to be fun, challenging, and profitable.
Ten years on, it looks like they’ve succeeded – we haven’t merely survived the bursting of the dotcom bubble, the credit crunch and the global recession; we’ve ended pretty much every year with healthy profits, and grown to over 60 people with a frankly ridiculous staff retention rate of over 90%.
Over the coming months, I want to analyse how they’ve achieved this, in the hope that some of the information will prove useful to others in the coding business. In a moment I’ll take you through a few of the topics I plan to cover. First, however, I think it’d be useful to outline some of the values that they’ve brought to the company.
I should point out that these are by no means an official “mission statement” – they’re just some of the things the directors would say if you asked them what Softwire’s values are. Just after they say “Er, good question…”. We don’t of course claim to be the ultimate embodiment of these values – we just try harder to adopt and promote them than most of our rivals.
- We try to put a big emphasis on quality.
- In terms of our staff, processes and output.
Meritocratic, rather than bureaucratic or political in nature
- Those who contribute the most are given responsibility and remunerated accordingly – regardless of seniority.
Libertarian, rather than authoritarian
- Employees are given a lot of flexibility and trust.
- We’re generally quite chilled out.
- Employees receive a large amount of information about the company and the management is very transparent.
- Employees also have a say in many company decisions, e.g. approving changes to the bonus algorithm, allocation of the morale budget.
- All employees, from recent recruits to senior management, share the same workspace and enjoy the same perks.
- We pay close attention to employee welfare.
- We offer our staff a great working environment and working conditions.
So how to put those values into practice? Well, first you can make your life a whole lot easier by employing the right people – so I’ll be explaining how we do that. Once you’ve got them, you need to treat them well – this probably deserves a couple of posts. Of course you also need to tell them what you want from them, and so I’ll be summarising what exactly Softwire does expect from its employees.
You also need a decent system for monitoring their progress, both on a day-to-day basis, and over their whole career – that’s a few articles right there. And possibly most importantly, progress can be accelerated with decent training – so I’ll be sharing with you some nuggets from our Training Manual. This will cover a number of tips and suggestions for how to write code, how to interact with customers, and how to manage projects.
Of course, we’re always looking to improve so if you work for a small software house or more generally in the software industry, please make liberal use of the comment box over my next twelve (or so) posts to let us know how your experiences compare to ours.
p.s. thanks to my colleague Tej Birdi for these caricatures of our directors. From left to right: Phil (sorting out the network), Dan (playing Micro Machines) and Pete (probably having a bad experience with a spreadsheet). The framed originals currently hang in our chill-out room.