The Code to Collaboration

By Ming-Lien Linsley

By 2020, it’s estimated that 20.5 billion things will be connected to the internet, making every day things like driving a car or going to the doctor, a digital experience. With each new advancement in technology, it’s easy to forget that the most valuable connections in our lives are the ones we have with other people and it’s those relationships that are the building blocks for everything from the cities we live in to the technology that drives our digital lives.

At Kenzan, those connections are the foundation of the work we do, as each project’s success is attributed not to individuals, but to the collaborative effort of Kenzan and partner teams working together, guided by a spirit of open communication, excellence and kindness.  These values have enabled longstanding, productive relationships between our partners and Kenzan, by way of open dialogue and collaboration among key stakeholders.

Looking beyond Kenzan, the tech sector is trying to break down the traditional silos that exist between teams in an effort to create more efficient environments where building, testing and releasing software can happen more frequently, rapidly and reliably. Methodologies in the software development cycle have shifted to embrace practices like DevOps and transform IT culture into one where communication and collaboration are the guiding principles of innovation and growth.


However, the formula for creating an environment where effective teamwork flourishes isn’t as simple as knocking down cubicle walls and opening up office spaces. Instead, collaboration should be thought of as a goal, never a given, supported by a company’s culture and values. For organizations that are exploring a transition to DevOps practices, the first step is understanding that the most crucial change is not in tools and technology, but in the way employees work together.

Over the last 12 years, as Kenzan has grown from a small band of contractors to more than 150 employees across 4 offices, we’ve worked hard to maintain our culture of collaboration and learned a lot along the way. Some of our keys to collaborative and successful relationships include:

Listen First.
The groundwork to success is laid from the very first conversation where a common understanding of the scope and goals of a project is established. In order to ensure no team member is working in a silo, they first need to know the why of a project, before they can work on the how, so we host an all-hands kickoff meeting for everyone from the architect responsible for the first deliverable to the final Dev Test engineer so they can ask questions or raise concerns.

Plan, then take action.
It’s easy for a solo developer to jump into a project only concerned with his or her piece and failing to see where they fall in the bigger picture. By laying out a blueprint for the full development cycle, each team member sees how they fit in the grand plan and how they can provide a strategic solution, not just a service or a piece of code.

Establish a common language.
Oftentimes, architects, developers, testers, operations and other participants speak different professional languages and operate as separate entities, which leads to inconsistencies and confusion in the way a company’s products, services, technologies and even mission are talked about both internally, and to greater extent, externally. In order to keep things consistent at Kenzan, we created an all-company guide that highlights the who, what, and why of the company to make sure everyone is delivering the same message and working towards the same goal.

Invest in tools for collaboration.
As workplaces become more distributed and more employees work remotely, it’s important to make sure that they are empowered to do their best work wherever they are.
PrintThere are a slew of tools that facilitate chat, collaborative writing, video conferencing, ticketing systems, continuous integration and continuous delivery, that make it easy for employees to quickly get feedback, bounce ideas off each other, solve problems, track progress and share documents.  Examples of the tools we use include JIRA, Hipchat, Confluence, and BlueJeans.

But value in-person time.
Success in business is due in large part to building relationships. Despite the many advancements in the quality and variety of digital tools, there is still nothing like a face-to-face meeting. In fact, a study from UCLA found that up to 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues, something you won’t get from digital communication. As a professional services firm, solid relationships with our clients are a crucial element to project success. Relationships start during the discovery phase when team members not only get to know the scope of a project, but also each other. During this time, a conversation over a conference line just doesn’t do the trick, so we send our teams onsite with clients or to our other offices to work hand-in-hand.

Establish trust.
The cornerstone of every successful collaboration is trust, which is established when teams embrace accountability, transparency, reliability and support as core principles. When these principles are embraced, everyone works together and no one person is responsible for success (or failure). Without them, all the tools, meetings and planning in the world will do nothing to improve collaboration.

Empower the team.
Micromanagement can be a poison to collaboration and is often an indicator that there is a lack of trust between employees and leadership. Giving employees autonomy means they aren’t burdened by bureaucracy, can freely approach management when they need help, and will be more open to feedback.

Encourage employee connection.
Leaders who are looking to increase collaboration among their employees should focus upon how the company’s culture fosters connections between people. By creating a work environment where relationships flourish, an environment that promotes trust, yields open feedback, and inspires innovation will emerge.  Whether it’s small changes around the office like a communal kitchen or bigger investments like sponsored company outings, encouraging positive employee relationships can mean big improvements in the way they work together.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t take a massive monetary investment to make small and meaningful changes that improve the way employees engage with each other. When employees feel connected to the company and their colleagues, no challenge is too big.

Ming Linsley is Kenzan’s EVP of program management and client solutions, based out of our Denver office. She works with teams across the organization, from our project managers and business analysts, to our engineers and architects. With over a decade and a half of experience in advertising, online marketing and client solutions, Ming ensures our client relationships are strong and growing.

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