You Can’t Lead Without The “-ship”

Written by Chris Byers on August 8, 2012

Posted in Human Resources

At Formstack we work in sprints. What does that mean? It comes from a concept in software where a group of people gather to work on a given development task with greater focus. A sprint (for us) is two weeks in length and begins with a defined outcome due at the end of that two week period. At Formstack, the marketing and development teams both plan using sprints, and that soon will be implemented within our Customer Experience team.

Just recently (last Friday) we completed an all-company sprint. This is a task we only take on a few times each year. The purpose behind the sprint was to build energy, cohesiveness, momentum and excitement  across all teams. In addition, twelve out of twenty team members have been at Formstack for less than a year. It was vital to introduce them to our culture and show how these all-company sprints are a part of our DNA. So, how did we accomplish this? It’s all about -shipping.

Each group was focused on shipping something high impact at the end of the two week period. Developers needed to ship a product, designers needed to ship high-end UI and front-end design, marketing needed to ship a cohesive, clear and compelling message, and customer experience members needed to ship informative materials to guide customers through the new development.

So, why is the -ship required?

What could have happened during the sprint is that I could have delivered a rousing message about team work, getting to know others in the office, being faster, communicating better…but…I don’t think that would have made two cents of difference to the team.

So what did happen?

Instead of the rousing speech, we did a reality-show style project where fresh ideas and energy were key. A defined deadline and a “rise to the occasion” vision was thrown down. At the end, each team had to present their work. However, we did not close with firing anyone on public television.

A few of the requirements for the sprint:

1. Everyone was asked to learn something outside their typical department.
2. Teams were assigned specifically to bring different personalities together.
3. Team leaders were pre-selected and were team members who hadn’t been at Formstack all that long (7 and 9 months respectively)
4. The teams had to select a product which they would be required to develop from scratch and have ready to launch and bring to market at the end of the two weeks.

Last Friday, I got to see the final products in action. They blew me away. It’s so awesome to step back and get out of the way. These are often the times that teams shine. My expectations were high, but both teams exceeded anything I had imagined. I’m so excited for you to see these products in action later in the year.

I think our team learned more, worked harder, accepted a bigger challenge, and stepped up into greater personal leadership because we asked them to SHIP. Get it done, get it done fast, maintain high expectations, and have an awesome time along the journey.

Leadership can’t just be words, it needs to bring about results.

When have you used shipping to bring your organization to a new level?