I am Walter. When I was a young boy back in the late eighties, I thought that studying languages and journalism was a good idea. But look––now I find myself somewhere in the middle of my career in IT. I have been able to taste from most of the slices of the IT pizza: supporting and training end users, programming, business and process analysis. On the other side, I have been in the insurance business for a year or two and have also worn a quality assurance hat in my day. I consider myself really lucky to always find myself in jobs where I can talk to people and explore how they work and how they manage their challenges. Thanks to all that, I got the chance to join the Atlassian POD of ACA IT-Solutions, the Belgian IT company, that I've worked for since 2011. Since the start of this year, I have become the POD lead.
What are your responsibilities as POD lead for Atlassian business?
Most of the time, people start by asking what on earth a "POD" actually is. Our company has been a pioneer in agile methodologies since its inception in the late 1990's. When Dave Gray published "The Connected Company" on the future of work in 2014, we were very quick to try and adopt the principles in our own organization. Explained in a few words, a POD is a semi-autonomous team that is, to a large extent, responsible for its own destiny within the larger company, sharing a common vision and purpose. Our company offers a wide range of IT Services that are complementary to one another but that also evolve at a different pace. They have to be able to respond differently to customer needs and service requests. So, we are in charge of our own strategy, hiring, customer service and so on, but work closely with the other PODs and a platform of common services (HR, marketing, sales, invoicing and so on) to better serve our customers.
My duties as a POD lead come close to what a business unit manager does: take care of the business unit. But in a connected company, the network within the company is probably even more important. I have an amazing team that is really capable of self-organizing daily operations, so I can focus on working together with our other PODs and supporting services.
What is your #1 piece of advice for those looking to unleash the power of their team?
Talking about a team...becoming a team lead is a relatively new thing for me too. There's a lot of things I could, would and should recommend. But the absolute number 1 piece of advice I would give is to take a minute to stop, think and become aware of the fact that you and your team are effectively a team. Acknowledge that. You might have come together by accident or luck (good or bad), but share a common interest and a purpose. There is something common that has brought you together in the same place.
But apart from that, every single member of your team has a personality, something that drives and motivates her or him. Respect that, listen to that and try to create an environment where everyone has the room to grow, to express and to contribute.
Atlassian has some great tools and this thing called the Team Playbook that help your team communicate, collaborate and improve. But as a foundation for those tools and practices, you need trust within your team. This comes with an openness to share, so the inner drive of your people can really flourish and support your common goals.
What are a few of your philosophies on business/process?
It's a small step to get from goals to vision, to principles and how I see business. I could quickly and easily kick off some buzzword bingo here: "Think big, start small", "start with why", "agree on the problem before discussing over the solution", any Atlassian company value, etc. And you know what? All of those tropes are true.
If I consider how we see our business, we are really committed to providing our customers with advice and solutions that really fit their needs. And every now and then it happens that they don't have a clear picture up front of what those needs might be. In today's crazy spinning world where everything needs to go faster all the time, it takes courage to say "stop", take a step back first and look at the situation from just the right angle.
When working together, finding the right perspective and bringing all the actors in exactly the right position can make magic happen. We try to apply the same strategy when we help our customers implement Atlassian tools. Because let's be honest––as good as the tool definitely is––customers never have the goal to do a kick-ass Jira implementation. They just want to get a business problem solved!
To illustrate with an example: over the past year or so we have helped several non-software teams implement Jira to organize their team's work. There is no clear manual on how you do that, but Jira has a powerful workflow engine to design a solid process, cool dashboard and work visualization capabilities out of the box. On top of that, (literally), thousands of Marketplace apps help fill in some of the gaps those kinds of teams might typically face. By combining the business knowledge of the customer, our knowledge of the Atlassian ecosystem and the experience in the field, real solutions take shape.
What Atlassian product has the biggest impact on your day to day (or is simply your favorite) and why?
In my example above, I mentioned Jira already. I still find myself calling it just Jira, forgetting that by now you have Service Desk and Core as well. But anyway, I virtually live my professional life inside both Jira Software and Service Desk. I am still frequently involved in implementing both for customers and we use them internally as the backbone of our daily operations. We even designed a cross-functional service platform for our own company during our first Ship-It last year with it.
But if I am truly honest, I must say that Atlassian products for me really come to life when they are used together. I am really looking forward to Stride's ability to nicely integrate with the other tools. And I especially like how powerful Jira and Confluence are when they get nicely aligned.
What are your main takeaways from the Jira Software Cloud on-boarding guide?
First of all, I was really proud that I could participate in reviewing the Jira Software Cloud onboarding guide. Being able to see and participate in content that is not live and open to the public yet gives you this feeling of being special, in a way. To set the scene a bit: I think we reviewed the initial draft of the guide with a group of 10 people. We had the draft on a Confluence space and used inline comments for feedback.
In terms of takeaways, there's a few. When you are working in and with Jira every day, you tend to forget how much is in the product in terms of settings, features, and practices. It took an entire week to review the guide, so imagine the effort that has gone into writing and collecting all the information. Just the volume of the content shows how much possibilities Jira has to offer and how extensive the challenge of a new Jira Administrator is as a newbie. And to be honest, both I and the rest of the review team mainly added missing pieces rather than marking pieces of content to be left out.
With that comes a second thing that struck me. The quality of the people involved in the review. It's interesting to see the comments of other people on the same content. We have never met in person but had complete visibility into each other's comments. Seeing the insights of other experts sharing their views on both the tool and the processes it supports was a really valuable learning experience. Hats off to everyone who contributed to the content itself, by the way!
When we left off, it was with a ton of new input for the Atlassian team to incorporate into the final version of the content. After that, it should also pass through the hands of design to add the right visuals to it. So, I am really looking forward to the final version. I really enjoyed connecting with people from all over the world to collaborate on a project with huge global reach. I'd participate in again if the opportunity came along!
What is your biggest goal in 2018 (either professionally or personal)
This question, especially, has taken me some time to think through. Traditionally, like 95% of us probably do, I had my new year's resolutions ready. I definitely wanted to go running more often to lose a couple of pounds. But what I would really love is to find the right balance between my professional and personal lives.
What do you do for fun?
I try to have as much fun as I possibly can during work. Really. But when I'm not working, I love to spend time with the wife and kids. They are my biggest treasure, no doubt about that. During the holidays we travel––in winter we go skiing, in summer we usually take the car out to explore large parts of Europe. It's on our trips that I can also find the occasion to pick up my camera and enjoy my photography hobby. Only realizing afterward that I have too little time afterward for all the post-processing...
Finally, I really love food. Both eating and preparing it myself. Because of that, I found myself more or less by accident participating in the BBQ World Championship in 2004 in Germany. We participated with a team from the cooking lessons I was following at that time. And with the same team had the winning fish course at the Belgian BBQ Championship later that same year. Ever since, I get invited all the time to BBQ events all over the place, where I honestly really enjoy being amongst the people with a beer and a filled plate rather than behind the grill all night
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