Lisa: How easy is it for you to communicate in the company? To go to the CTO or the manager, do I need to sign up?
Alexey: I can safely go to the CTO, if he is free, to discuss current issues with him. But usually I go to my supervisor.
Lisa: You worked in a large company, and you were in a startup, where, obviously, there is no hierarchy, everyone is brothers to each other. Tell me from the height of your experience: is ABBYY closer to red or turquoise?
Alexey: In my opinion, ABBYY retains a unique atmosphere. This is a really big company, we have a lot of developers and there is a good hierarchy. At the same time, there are no communication barriers. Yes, maybe interns don’t go to CTO, but they just don’t need to. Absolutely calm relationships between all levels of managers and developers in the development line. From this point of view, the atmosphere is not much different from a startup. The distance from one to the other is not very large. Taking into account the fact that ABBYY manages to combine the simplicity of communication with the effectiveness of management – this is generally fantastic, in my opinion.
Lisa: It turns out that you have a rigid hierarchy: there are managers, there are employees? No, some kind of “we are not managers, we are opinion leaders”, people-managers?
Boris: The fact is that we have a fairly flat structure in Dodo, formally my head is CTO. At the same time, there is a leadership team, which includes a product owner who is responsible for the product, as well as a technical leader.
A technical leader in Dodo is a person who does not have direct managerial functions, but monitors the quality of the product, helps, trains, advises; a person who is responsible for people, for development, atmosphere, processes. He is the eyes and hands of the CTO, because with a flat structure, each of the hundreds of developers cannot personally come to the CTO.
Do you have the same people responsible for people, development and technology, or are these two directions?
Alexey: We have a peculiar structure, it can be called a strong matrix. This is what project management systems are called when you have a fairly rigid hierarchy of line management, and project and product teams are already assembled from functional branches. The strength of such a system is that all teams gather for a fairly long time. In fact, one product is one product team.
There is a fairly common story when, in addition to the team leader, there is a technical leader in the team who takes over the part related to the technical parts of the development, and the team leader is unloaded and can calmly deal with the direct management of the team. For example, I don’t have such a high linear load, so there is no additional technical lead, and I combine the functions of development management and management of the development team.
Lisa: And how do you do it, are there any one-to-one and what techniques do you use?
Alexey: The standard set for line management is a regular one–to-one. Every two weeks I meet with my subordinates, about once a month I try to meet through one, and once every two weeks I meet with my supervisor. This is an easy way to remove the current situation in the team. It gives an understanding of what is happening and what we can do in order to somehow respond to problems or, conversely, encourage achievements. There are also team retrospectives. We try to organize ourselves in small groups once or twice a month, discuss in detail what is going on, what problems we have and choose ways to solve them.
About the development of developers and the structure of teams
Lisa: Is there any development plan, IPR, some kind of thing for human development on software, on hard drives?
Alexey: For each person, this is determined by his line manager. And so we have two components. One is ABBYY’s global developer development system. The scheme is as follows: developers have ranks and clear requirements, clear assessment methods for the transition and increase of this rank, to assess a person’s compliance with a certain level and opportunities for financial growth in the company. Like classic grades.
Then the task of the line manager is to monitor the development of his children so that they grow and develop. For example, my team leaders recently purchased licenses for online courses. All such stories are on line managers. Well, I also take care that my leads will be able to replace me in my place sooner or later.
Lisa: And how many people do you have in the development of everything and in your team in particular?
Alexey: There are 14 people in my team, I am the 15th. And I have two development teams. Usually in development groups from 3 to 7-10 people. And there are several hundred developers in the company.
Lisa: Almost like us. We have about 120 developers, and there are more than 300 people in the team. Can you tell us by what criteria you are looking at a person’s compliance with grades, are there any technical parameters, compliance with cultural values or human software?
Alexey: I do not know people who, according to soft skills, do not fit into the established criteria of the company that exist. We also conduct the selection in such a way that people fit well into the team and they were interested in us. Then the evaluation of soft skills is left to line managers. His approval in most cases is decisive when evaluating for a grade. And then the grade assessment itself is carried out exclusively on hard drives, the results of the work that the employee demonstrated during his work in the company for a specific period are evaluated. The code he wrote and the tasks he solved are evaluated. An independent anonymous assessment by experts takes place and a decision is made. A fairly standard story in IT, as far as I understand. It’s hard to come up with something different from this.
Lisa: We noticed that all companies go about the same way. When the company is smaller, everyone comes and says: we have complete agile, we do what we want. The more mature the company, the more difficult it all becomes. Without a structure, it is no longer possible to effectively develop and manage processes.
Alexey: It is really impossible to manage without a structure, because if there are no grades, then how will we assess whether a person is worthy of us raising his salary.