MakeIN – Behind the Scenes

Paweł Woźny
by: Paweł Woźny | November 30, 2016

Have you ever wondered how new projects emerge in tech companies or how a new team is formed in them? I’m taking this opportunity to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how it happened in the MakeIN project.

You’ll probably ask right away, “What’s MakeIN?”

MakeIN is an original idea of the employees of Pearson IOKI in Poznan. Quite obviously, working in the same place on a single project can be somewhat tedious, so, to meet the expectations of some people in the office, an idea was born of a project focused on entirely new challenges, creating something original, and developing people’s skills.

A new project? Oh, great!

The first time you hear about a “new project,” you have to know it’s not that new anymore. Some confidential work on the new project’s basics starts weeks, if not months, before it’s officially presented. The first thing to do is prepare the initial requirements, goals, and the timeframe later presented to the project team.

Choosing the team

Once the project outline is final, it’s time to start forming the new team. There are a number of ways to choose the team members and for MakeIN, they were chosen in a competition. Any Pearson IOKI employee could submit an idea for something for the team to work on and/or propose a change in their role. For instance, I wanted to transform from a frontend developer to team leader … and I made it!

Building the team

Once the committee managing the project has chosen the team from among the candidates, the proper team-forming process begins. In MakeIN, we were given absolute freedom in this regard in for an autonomous team to emerge. It’ a bit like learning to ride a bicycle – you won’t learn if you don’t try and you have to try it on your own! Obviously, there’s always someone around to assist. Jan, the Managing Director, and Maciej, Scrum Master and project coordinator, have been taking care of our needs while our colleagues from Pearson offices in Poland, the UK, the US, and India have been sharing knowledge and experience with us.

What’s forming the team about?

In general, it’s how the team members organize their work to achieve maximum efficiency. We determine a clear goal for the team and the rules of communication both between team members and between the team and the stakeholders. We also choose the methodology and tools for both work and communication. The management tools in MakeIN are JIRA and Kanban, and the communication tools are HipChat and Google’s Mail, Drive, Hangouts, and Calendar. The goal of the team is to create a service for the mobile version of exercises available in English teaching systems.

Problems at the team-forming stage
Problem 1: Lack of time

Forming the team is not as simple as it sounds, and even more so when you’re doing it for the first time in your life. We were given a few days in the span of six weeks to do it. In reality, it amounted to a few meetings a couple of hours long each, because every one of us is part of another team and has their responsibilities. Despite the workload, everyone worked hard to make the meeting fruitful and push the team-forming stage forward.

Problem 2: diversity among people

“I cooperate with myself best.” However, a team is a group of people with a common goal. When you work with someone over a period of time, you get used to them and your relationships develops to a different level. Yet the beginnings are always difficult and MakeIN was no different. Every one of us is from a different project, with different work and tech experience and the truth is that before we started thinking about what we want to do as a team, we had had to find some common ground. I believe you can compare it to a mechanical run-in of an engine.

Problem 3: motivation

OK, we have a team, so let’s start working. When the collaboration starts, everything looks just great. As the time goes, it turns out the project isn’t as attractive as it seems and, to make things worse, it’s way more difficult than expected. This is where the motivation of the team members starts to plummet. We did have this problem in MakeIN. When something didn’t go our way, when we didn’t understand the business requirements and couldn’t come to agreement among us, it got everyone thinking, “maybe I should just go back to my previous project? It was nice and comfortable and I didn’t have the kind of worries I have now…”

Do the problems mean we’re doing it wrong?

I say, it depends on the perspective. For instance, the lack of experience of the team members is a serious drawback but, on the other hand, it’s a fantastic chance for development. Interpersonal relations seem to work along this course, too as even though I can reach agreement with some team members in an instant, with others it may take hours. None of this means that either of us is useless for the project.

Summary of the problems

Once we make the next step and tackle the obstacles, it turns out that it’s not really that bad and working on the project is still worth the effort. Working on something for the first time – and every project is something new in a way – we never know what the results of our work will be. Any project is like climbing in that you sometimes go up, and sometimes down. Sometimes the sun is shining and sometimes you struggle in a downpour. But everyone who ever climbed anywhere knows that the best is at the end, and it’s reaching the top!

Measuring the progress

Measuring the progress is one of the key elements of the entire project. The responsibility for it is both the managing committee’s and the team’s. MakeIN holds a presentation of the progress every two weeks. The entire team prepares a review of the work, which is participated in by the possible stakeholders and the team members.

The end 🙂

As a programmer, I admit that I needed to participate in the birth of a project myself to truly realize what a complicated process it is. I wasn’t aware of the possibility of the existence of such problems as those that we faced in MakeIN when I was still a developer in my previous team. All the problems were solved for me by someone else. Now we have to deal with everything on our own and that’s the best part of the new project!

Just to finish, I’ll quote one of the team members:

When there’s a new project coming and you want to participate in it, never think that everything will be ready for you. What YOUR project will be like largely depends on you and your commitment!

Paweł Woźny

Paweł Woźny

Open minded webdeveloper. Frontend developer in Pearson IOKI and Team Leader in MakeIN project. He loves extreme mountain climbing and long walks in wild nature.
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