Holacracy is yet another buzzword in technology. The idea is that the people best equipped to make decisions about work are the ones doing the work–not managers. Holacracy gives that power to the right people, within a pretty rigid structure of meetings and processes.

There’s a lot of controversy around it, of course. When Zappos’ CEO offered severance for employees not on board with the system, 6% of the company took it because of holacracy. Like every other type of work, it’s not right for everyone or every company.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we transitioned a year ago. Holacracy has a steep learning curve, and learning to make decisions together took effort. And, you know, we have a business to run.

But, a year later, it’s safe to say the move was the right one. And not just for us. For our clients as well.

Holacracy Improves Software Development

Zappos adopted holacracy a few years ago, so many people associate it with Tony Hsieh. In reality, a developer created holacracy. Brian Robertson conquered software development early in life, but he felt stunted by management decisions and bureaucracy. Self-management for himself and his employees was the goal when he started his own development firm.

During that time, though, Robertson learned that culture can’t solve all business challenges, and many flat structures didn’t have the processes in place to run efficiently. Over the years, he developed holacracy to meet those needs.

Because the system was developed at a software company, it is uniquely designed for the work we do at Centresource. Holacracy works well with agile development, which we use in a modified way to tackle complicated projects.

In general, the decisions you make are only as good as the information you have. Holacracy empowers our team (and our clients) to see all of the information, instead of only what a manager deems necessary. This allows our developers and clients to make better decisions and build software more efficiently.

Holacracy Improves Client Experience

One criticism of holacracy is that it is self-focused–inward, instead of customer-centric. It’s true that we spend a lot of time thinking about how our business runs, and that was especially true during the learning phase.

But, we’ve also realized that holacracy has made us all better business owners and consultants.

Everyone at Centresource is personally invested in and responsible for their work and client success. Over time, we’ve developed better intuition about what could help our clients. Developers don’t think in a silo of code. They also think about the best solutions for the business problems facing clients.

We build software. But, we actually strive to be a business partner with our clients. What’s the difference? We use technology to solve business problems like driving revenue, conversion, and operational efficiency. In the last year, we’ve discovered that holacracy empowers our team to more efficiently serve our customers in these efforts.

Holacracy As A Tool–Not A Golden Ticket

Some people see holacracy as a “no authority” model, but that’s simply not true. Rather, holacracy is “distributed authority.” Everyone is charged with responsibility for meeting client needs. More importantly, they’re empowered to do so without red tape.

We see holacracy as an operating system. What started as a quest for individual autonomy has actually become the most valuable way we can serve our clients. If it ever stops being valuable for the partners we work with, we have the authority to change the system.

On February 29th, the Centresource team was honored to participate in the first LEAP Day Event, organized by our friends at the Nashville Technology Council. It was a celebration of the one year anniversary of the LEAP grant, which stands for Labor Education Agreement Program. Over 350 students from the Nashville area went on 16 field trips, to 23 companies and universities, learning about technology careers in Nashville and being exposed to the great tech work happening in our town.

A class of high schoolers from Franklin High School spent their lunch with our team, learning about our work, education and passions.  Over many, many pieces of pizza, our team and the students had a great time getting to know each other and talking shop.

Members of our strategy, project management, design, front-end development, back-end development and marketing teams walked the students through the life-cycle of a current project we are working on. Not only did we talk about the actual software development portion of the project, but we introduced the team to things like project strategy, market research, user testing, prototyping and taking a product to market.

The students had great questions around what classes they should take, how we hire and the culture of our organization. Not only did the students walk away with a better understanding of what all software development and technology careers can be, but our team walked away motivated by the desire to learn and grow the students showed us.

Thanks to the fine folks at the NTC, the LEAP team, Franklin High School, Stacey Kizer and all the other companies, schools and organizations that helped make this first LEAP day event such a great success. The Centresource Team is so proud to be part of such a thriving and dedicated technology community. And watch out world- there are some smart, talented students in Middle Tennessee that are destined to do great things!

Centresource has long prided itself on being an active and invested member of Nashville. Whether we’re out on the town or welcoming the tech community into our house, we love any opportunity to see familiar faces and make new friends.

Here are just some of the events and organizations you can find us at throughout 2016.

Meetups

Meetups are a great opportunity for people to learn, network and enjoy some healthy, professional commiseration. We co-organize, speak and (enthusiastically) attend several meetups around town. Tomiko Peirano is heavily invested in the two meetups, below. If you attend either, be on the lookout for her red glasses!

  • The Nashville UX Meetup — This is a great place to find fellow UX practitioners (both seasoned and just getting started) to discuss everything from designing for a global audience to dissecting popular UX resources. You can always expect lively conversation, informative speakers…and tasty snacks and beer.
  • The Nashville Product Meetup — This meetup covers a lot of territory due to most folks’ broad definition of ‘product owner’…but that just means it’s always interesting. 2015 saw a great array of speakers and topics. We got a chance to talk with the team behind Artiphon (Kickstarter’s most successful musical instrument campaigns) and had the founders of Juice walk us through big data visualization. 2016 is already shaping up to be yet another great year of events.

The Nashville American Marketing Association

NAMA is a powerful networking engine for Nashville professionals, with a terrific roster of events. NAMA also has some amazing Centresource talent working behind the scenes. Ann Howard is the Programming Chair, in charge of developing the speakers and content for the monthly NAMA Meetings. Rami Perry is the Volunteer Chair. She works with NAMA members to plug them into the greater NAMA organization, finding ways to deepen their involvement and relationships with NAMA.

The NAMA calendar is packed with events such as evening mixers and power lunches, so be sure to check out what’s coming up — and say “Hello” to Ann and Rami!

Nashville Software School

Centresource and the NSS go way back. Our Managing Development Partner, Brandon Valentine, is a founding board member and mentor. Centresource’s development team has mentored several NSS students and hired many graduates, with great success. Something we’re extremely proud of is the work acceleration of the junior-level developers we’ve hired out of NSS, helping them get professionally established and ready for the next stage of their careers.

Nashville Technology Council

Ann Howard serves on a small committee for NTC to help improve communication between tech people and non-tech people — something most of us can agree is very important. The NTC is always hosting fantastic workshops and events, be sure to check out their calendar to see what might interest you in 2016!

CS Mixer

This is the big one. The Centresource mixers have been recognized again and again as one of the top networking events for Nashville’s tech community…and we think the honor is very well-deserved. We put a lot of attention and energy into making these near-quarterly events big successes. Great food, live music, free-flowing beverages, and general shenanigans make our mixers one of Nashville’s favorite events…and definitely our most-beloved.

Conferences/Camps

Centresource has sponsored, spoken at and attended a lot of great conferences over the years, both here in Nashville and around the country. Robby Clements, one of our fearless Rails developers, spoke at  about creating a visual programming language and rules engine. We relish any opportunity to connect with other professionals, learn something new or share a little bit of our technical smarts. We’re already looking ahead to what 2016 will hold for us this front. Be sure to check out our blog to find updates on conferences we’ll be participating in or attending.

Personal Community Outreach

Apart from the industry activities folks at Centresource take part in, there are also a lot of personal commitments to community outreach. We are lucky to work with truly dedicated folks with very big hearts.

  • Corner to Corner — Corner to Corner is a wonderful non-profit focused on breaking “the cycle of despair often caused by high-rates of incarceration”. Founded by Centresource’s Will Acuff and his wife, Tiffany, Corner to Corner gets a lot of volunteer support from Rami Perry and Janet Timmons. We’ve also occasionally collected donations for Corner to Corner’s reading program at McCarren Park Community Center at our mixers.
  • Room in the Inn — Ann Howard volunteers for Room in the Inn, a local non-profit “serving Nashville’s homeless community with an experience of spirituality, love, hospitality, respect, hope, community, and non-violence.”
  • Reboot Combat Recovery — Founded by former Centresourcer Evan Owens, Reboot Combat Recovery is dedicated to trauma healing for US veterans and their families. Our own Robbie Hall does a lot of volunteer work for Reboot, helping with web design and event support.

As you can see, we like to keep our schedules full! The dedication of time and energy to these outputs is a small investment compared to the satisfaction and education that is returned to us. Come on out and find us in 2016!

 

Having worked in the agency world close to a decade now, I have seen both successes and failures when it comes to client relationships. If you’ve had experience in this space yourself, you too have probably heard your share of horror stories, whether it be agency staff talking about clients or clients talking about agencies. Sadly, I’ve seen it leave more than a few folks disheartened on both sides.

But there’s good news. I’ve realized over the years that there are some characteristics that all good agencies share, and they are as follows:

Focus on Long-Term Project Success

Sounds obvious, right? But this may come with some surprising characteristics. It means that the agency will be constantly looking for and communicating the weak spots in your project. Whether it be your marketing plan, your app/website or your long-term goals, this agency is focused on making sure the success of it all is priority #1. That means they will put your long-term success above selling you something, because they know that the best relationships form around this successful product.

Honest about Their Strengths/Weaknesses

Similar to a job candidate, you want someone who is honest about their strengths and weaknesses because it means they know themselves. They should be able to speak confidently about what is in their wheelhouse and be clear about alternatives if what your project needs is outside of that. They would rather be a part of a larger collaboration working on a project’s success than try to force a less than superior solution through their own process.

Good Listeners

Most of us love talking about ourselves. And a good agency should be able to talk eloquently about why they are relevant for your project. But most importantly, they should constantly be listening. While we have deep experience in our industry, often we have very little direct experience in yours. That business knowledge is priceless to the project’s success, so it’s absolutely necessary to have it be heard and understood throughout the entire process.

Can Pivot Quickly

I was in my son’s first grade classroom the other day, and I saw a very simple breakdown of the engineering design process on the wall.

Notice how simply it distills down the process involved in creating a new product? I particularly loved seeing the Improve section, because the only guarantee in the fast-paced technology space is that things change quickly. Regardless of how meticulous the planning phase is, important changes can occur even during the project’s development phase. The agency should prepare for this and know how to pivot whenever needed – even in later phases of the process – in order to keep the project’s success in mind.

Flexible Toolset

Like many agencies, we at Centresource have our preferred tools. But the conversation should never start with those. Using the wrong tool for the job is just as bad in development as it is when you’re building a house. The tool should clearly solve the problem, and the fit should feel natural for the product and for your organization internally.

Referable Talent

Our industry is very competitive and developers are constantly looking for the next challenge, so it’s not really possibly to have all the talent in a single area at one agency. With that said though, you should be able to vet the senior talent at the agency. Your product deserves people with deep experience in the technology behind it, and a good agency expects to brag about their senior development staff.

Keep these characteristics above in mind as you’re vetting an agency, and I believe you will be poised to make a good decision.

This morning we announced some exciting organizational changes to Centresource. Below, Senior Consultant Ann Howard shares her thoughts on the opportunity in front of us.

This is a milestone celebration for Centresource.

This company is more than a decade strong, and in this rapidly-changing industry, that’s saying something. We’ve evolved over that time in order to better serve our clients – not just delivering what they want, but also expanding their view of what’s possible.

What has made Centresource great is what we understand about the nuanced relationship between technology and business goals.  It’s not enough to have the tools and the goals; it’s really about understanding how the sum of all the parts will ultimately serve the end user.

Practicing Product Management has taught us the necessity of a clear, visible purpose as the driving focus for the work we do. We’ve learned to work lean, smart, and in rapid iterations. We’ve learned to work within constraints. We know that our work isn’t precious, it’s not done in a vacuum, and it is best when we take off the kid gloves and make it visible.

We’re applying all the foundational knowledge we’ve gained through working in self-managing product teams and taking the next natural step – becoming a fully employee-owned and employee-managed firm.

We will continue to build and launch innovative products.

We will continue to give our all to our clients and our work.

We will continue to invest in our Nashville community to help make this a place where technology thrives.

We will continue to do these things because it’s in our DNA.

It’s to that foundation that I would like to propose a toast:

Here’s to our founders and to all the leaders who have come through this house and offered their best. You haven’t gone anywhere, you’ve just left the building. It’s YOUR hard work that has created a great company to work in and for.

Here’s to our clients who are on the constant quest to find better ways to solve problems and who continue to choose us as their trusted ally.

Here’s to this. amazing. team. (this is the part where I tear up) Even with all the money and time in the world, it would be difficult to pull together a team with more smarts, wit, dedication and integrity. We are more than the sum of our parts…kind of like a great product.

Cheers to each of you. If this is what it looks like when a company grows up, then here’s to growing up.

We are very excited to announce that we recently won three 2015 W3 Awards! The W3 Awards recognize creative excellence on the web, honoring outstanding websites, web marketing, web video, social content, and mobile sites and applications. These awards are sanctioned and judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts, a body consisting of top-tier professionals from acclaimed interactive, advertising, marketing and media firms.

Of the over 4,800 entries, only 10% were selected as gold winners, with other outstanding entries receiving silver accolades. We were awarded gold honors for our web work with The Seed Company, as well as silver honors for our work with both Christ College and Your Leadership Edge. Congratulations to our teams who worked on these projects and to all of the other outstanding project winners!

Life at Centresource is nothing if not dynamic. We have to be spry enough to seamlessly jump from project to project, and resourceful enough to proactively fill our day when work slows down. The latter can be hard for some folks to do. Here are some thoughts on good ways to utilize downtime.

Audit Your Tools

With so many project management, prototyping and design tools out there, there’s a good chance your team has a few accounts that have gone untouched for a while. Take a look at all the paid, active accounts you have and ask your team if they’re using all of them on a regular basis — “regular” being a relative term, of course.

On the flipside, ask people what tools they’re using in general, both at the office and in their own freelance work. Maybe someone on your team has found a great time-tracking app or a free conferencing tool that can add value to your team’s processes.

It’s a good idea, in general, to task yourself and your company with regular tool review intervals. Maybe every three to six months you look at what’s caught on and what’s withered on the vine. It’s also a good opportunity to assign folks to vet free trial accounts.

Be Your Own Client

If you work in a consultancy or an agency, chances are you have a fair number of formal processes you take your clients through on a regular basis — but do you have a feedback loop in place?

Any legacy process probably needs a review and refresh, while any brand new practices or tools will need a test run. The fastest way to uncover any inefficiencies or oversights is to place your own company in the seat of “the client” and take things for a spin.

For example, we created a proprietary tool to help clients prioritize initiatives into a 6-month roadmap. After going through ideation, planning and execution, we walked our own organization through the steps. We found ways to improve the content and architecture, while also giving ourselves a chance to see what implementation would be like.

Network

Whatever industry you’re in, being present in the local scene cannot be undervalued. Networking is an immediate and effective way to get you and your company in front of your fellow practitioners and potential clients.

If you’re not already doing some professional outreach, take the lull at work to see what’s happening in your community. Not sure where to start? Check out your Chamber of Commerce’s website or meetup.com.

Review & Update Job Descriptions

For folks working in smaller, nimbler organizations, chances are you wear a lot of hats — most of which represent duties you were not hired to do. This occupational scope creep can happen slowly and subtly (usually), so much so that you don’t even realize you’re the content strategist AND the social media manager AND project manager on that thing you thought you were just consulting on and so on…

Taking stock of all the things you do on a daily basis is a great way to keep yourself and your colleagues aware of how much is actually on each other’s plates, as well as the value people provide. An obvious angle for this assessment is to ask for a raise, which is all well and good, but it can also be used to justify an alleviation — whether that takes the form of new software, more resources, or another team member.

While at times it can be difficult to use downtime at work effectively, free time in the office does not need to be time wasted. Utilize lulls between tasks to audit, reflect and improve your processes — both you and your company will benefit as future projects will move along much smoother and more efficiently.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment across all IT jobs is expected to grow by 22% through 2020. Despite this steady increase of openings in the technology industry, competition for talented individuals in the tech industry is at unprecedented levels, which raises the question- how does a company successful recruit the best developers and tech talent as competition continues to grow? Here are 10 key tips to keep in mind:

  1. Keep an ongoing relationship with potential hires. Even if there is not an open position for them at the time, it is well worth establishing a relationship with talented individuals for future open positions. You want to make sure you are pursuing the person, not the slot you want to fill
  2. Be sure to ease into a relationship. There’s a lot of middle ground between no relationship and a full-time salaried hire. People are freelancing more and more, so be open to arrangements that let you both test the waters to see if you’re compatible — sometimes you need to date before you marry. Conversely, don’t drag things on forever. If you’re in a part-time/contractor relationship with someone that is clearly looking for a full-time gig, and you have any hesitation, don’t string them along.
  3. Be honest and transparent. Try to avoid wasting time by promising decisions or deadlines for hires if you’re not ready to commit. Pull the trigger or move on.
  4. Avoid sounding like a recruiter. When you’re looking for new hires in the tech industry, be sure to avoid sounding like a recruiter in any correspondences (people hate recruiters).
  5. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. Do your best to avoid waiting until you are in dire need of a certain role or position to begin looking – this may lead you to have to make unideal hiring decisions and settle for someone who is not a perfect fit within your business.
  6. Hit up user groups and meetups. Tech events such as user groups and meetups can be a great place to meet and establish relationships with talented tech individuals. They also can be an ideal place to see and converse with other industry professionals who may have a great reference for a potential hire.
  7. If you’re not technical, don’t try to be. Nothing is a quicker turn off than someone trying to fake expertise. If you’re not technical, focus on what you do know and why you’re recruiting that person.
  8. Cast a wide net and you’ll catch a lot of fish … crappy fish. Trolling for keyword matches and bulk e-mailing will waste the time of everyone involved (including your own). Long gone are the days of resume databases and keyword indexing. The best hires come from networking and reputation.
  9. Respect preferred modes of communication. Potential hires probably aren’t going to want to field a phone right off the bat, be sure to pay attention to utilizing preferred means of communicating to make the hiring process as seamless and comfortable as possible.
  10. Know the market — skills have increasingly diversified and stratified. Long gone are the days when you can go out and simply hire a “web developer” (pour one out for the webmasters of the world). Do you want a frontend programmer? UX? Backend? Rails? .NET? Are you looking for a DBA? devops? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you’re not ready to recruit.

Two videos that Centresource created were selected as winners in the 2015 36th Annual Telly Awards.

The Silver Award, the highest possible honor, was awarded to Centresource for a client’s private video. Sometimes we are asked by our clients to create private videos to be used internally or for their sales staff to share directly with customers. We work a lot in the B2B arena and we’re seeing this type of project come up more and more. The same creative forces go into every video, regardless of if they are for private use or for a public forum. As much as we’d love to show you this one, we can’t! (But trust us, it’s bad ass!)

The Bronze Award was awarded for a collaboration with Georgia-Pacific and UNICEF. This video was a unique challenge in that we had to produce and direct it in the US while it was being filmed in remote villages in China. The video highlights the partnership between GP and UNICEF called The GreenHands Project where they work to bring clean water and sanitation to 250 rural schools across China. Centresource created a storyboard and detailed shot list for a videographer in China, collaborated with them via Skype each day, and created the edit. Check it out below:

The Telly Awards exist to honor the best in commercial, TV, and non-broadcast video production. The first awards were given in 1979, and this year they received over 13,000 entries. Less than 10% were selected for the Silver Award. The judging is done by a group of over 500 industry professionals.

“You can learn more about a person in an hour of play than you can from a lifetime of conversation.” – Plato

The Nashville Technology Council and Centresource are teaming up to present an event that aims to improve communication between technologists and marketers.

This event is for any team who has ever had miscommunication about technical specs and how they link to the marketing goal… basically, most of us.

This is a hands-on, minds-on, problem-solving workshop – not a presentation. It will be a professionally-facilitated process using a tested concept: LEGO Serious Play.

The LEGO Serious Play methodology has been used around the world for a huge range of applications including M&A, strategic planning, and other complex problem-solving in organizations.

Our facilitator, Jody Lentz, has worked for LEGO and used LEGO Serious Play with over 6,000 people around the world from Stockholm to Sacramento.

He says, “Communication is abstract and ephemeral.  But when you build it out of LEGO and make a story out of it, it has some heft to it.  It allows you to pick apart the meanings, and reassemble – like a good LEGO set.”

Just getting Nashville teams around a table to share about their perspectives is going to be valuable.  But there is an output – not just LEGO models – but also rubric, guiding principles, rules of engagement… things that will help us create better products AND avoid train wrecks that are almost always caused by lack of clarity.

“It’s an incredibly useful tool to get people to understand more about themselves, the people they work with, and the problem they’re trying to solve…and it’s fun!!”

How do you prepare for the event?

This is a 2-hour workshop, followed by a cocktail hour to debrief.

Bring your imagination.  You could come individually, or even better, bring 6 or 7 people from your team who often work together. If they can build together, your organization will get more out of it.

May 13, 2015
3-6 pm (2 hour workshop followed by cocktail hour)
Emma Bistro
Free as a member of the NTC, $10 for non-members
Register