Author: Máté Hidvégi, Head of IT Development, ApPello
What is the approach/methodology used to implement development projects at ApPello?
Naturally, we have been working in line with the agile methodology for close on a decade, implementing a version of this that places the emphasis on extremely rapid client communication. The foundations of our operation are the classical two-week sprints. Our projects are broken down into four stages:
- and testing
However, we start incorporating continuous feedback from clients as early as the analysis phase and trigger implementation of the specific solution very quickly, we place great emphasis on letting the client see the actual software as soon as possible and not getting feedback from specifications, presentations or monitor designs. For example, in the case of a project planned for nine months we realize a basic Proof of Conceptafter just four to six weeks, following which, and in coordination with the client, from sprint to sprint we develop it as a function package right up to the start of UAT.
Typically, what size are the teams working on any given project?
At ApPello, the smallest squad is 4-member (analyst /business or UX/, developer, tester and project manager), but we rarely work with such a small team and when we do, every colleague has to be a senior. In our general operations we organize squads of 5-7, this is the ideal size for handling daily stand-ups and end-of-sprint demos. In large projects, colleagues can work in parallel in even 4-5 squads under three technical managers (analyst manager, IT development manager and testing manager).
Even in the case of large projects, we never arrange 24-30-person mega-meetings or giant demos, on the one hand because we have a great deal of respect for our colleagues’ and clients’ time, and on the other hand we believe that the effectiveness of agile devices is very low when trying to accommodate them to too large a group.
What aspects are taken into consideration when selecting team members?
ApPello separates its product development and delivery projects: even though the size of the teams is similar and within a few months we allow everyone to switch between product development and client projects, the two cases have slightly different roles and compositions – from the first minute, the role of designers and the UX are important when it comes to the development of a product; high-volume tasks spanning several sprints have to be handled and efforts must be made to pinpoint the ideal development solution.
In the case of an implementation project, the project manager and analysts break down the work into smaller tasks, client communication is far more intensive, here, too, testing has to be based on client feedback and it is vital that progress can be demonstrated from sprint to sprint.
The common factor is that there should always be a clear-cut person responsible for the business aspect of projects, irrespective of whether we are talking development or client project, who accounts not only for the business objectives but human resources, too. In the resource organization due every few weeks, we deal with it so that, as far as possible, there is no ‘in-house unemployment’ and key people on other projects do not suffer burn out with overwork. As such, the size of projects changes relatively dynamically depending on which phase the given project is in at the time.
In your experience, aside from expertise, what additional abilities/soft skills are most helpful in the successful realization of projects? How much attention is given to ensuring that these, too, are available in teams?
Speaking generally, the most important soft skills are in fact patience and openness. Not only are they necessary in-house, but a good personal relationship with clients will result in an improved working environment and, ultimately, a better product. First and foremost, however, I would note that respect within any team can only ever be earned, never demanded from colleagues by command: all managerial and key positions within ApPello are the result of at least several months, but much more likely a few years of constant good performance and we only look for managerial roles from those colleagues who are themselves open to this. We never immediately force colleagues into key posts ‘straight from the street’, so to speak; in any given case, if someone comes to us from a higher managerial level, then they, too, will first have to prove themselves as a developer or analyst in the initial quarters. However, if someone finds themselves in a key post, then we give them full support, whether this is in-house training or access to information. Thanks to our matrix system operation, feedback about colleagues arrives not only via their own manager but their project manager, their own professional manager and the professional manager of the co-field can also see everyone’s work and development (there is feedback on everyone’s work from the project, business and IT development lines as well).
Colleagues as well profit from the operation of the matrix and the flat organization; everyone in company management is always available and they look on the provision of assistance and coaching of colleagues to be integral elements of their duties. Any analyst or developer can make direct contact at any time with managers of development, testing, UX, analysis or even project management, and they will receive help.
According to your experience, what sort of personalities are called for when putting together teams and when does a given team work best?
It is only possible for a team to perform well in the long term if there is a good atmosphere within that team, that there is harmony, when colleagues can process stress situations together and when their successes are shared jointly.
Sweeping a team’s problems under the carpet is detrimental in the short term, but in a tense situation one should never look for a scapegoat, rather the team as a whole must find a quick and acceptable solution to the given problem. This is why the role of project manager is extremely important: it is our own experience that besides him/her being an excellent work organizer, he/she must also listen to colleagues on a daily basis and know intimately every single detail of the product.
Colleagues need to receive continuous feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, they must be able to talk to their managers and each other honestly and openly, and they have to support each other’s goals. Last but by no means least: they must be able to take pleasure in the performance and success of others. Here at ApPello, we place great emphasis on the fact that everyone is able to develop in their own coordinate system, a senior developer receives the same respect as a technician or a business manager, and vice versa.
To reinforce this, a squad or squads working on joint projects receive a ‘little something’ from the company even after the most minor milestone: a joint team building programme or a dinner or just a personal ‘thank you for the project’ from the CEO-owner. Prior to COVID, there was at least one collective event every quarter where we could meet in person the entire company and colleagues working abroad, and everyone could get to know the company’s policies and goals – keeping in constant touch with everyone during home office is a serious challenge for us, but so far we have managed effectively. Last year, virtually nobody quit from our senior ranks while we were able to strengthen the group with quality people brought in from outside.
Introducing ApPello: what exactly are you dealing with, who are your clients, what results did you achieve last year, how did COVID influence your operation and projects.
ApPello has been delivering digital lending solutions to financial institutions since 1998. The product portfolio covers all phases of digital lending: from customer acquisition through the customer and back-office side of loan applications and repayments all the way to digital receivables management, and we place great emphasis on developing essential products for the lending area, for example, our parametric decision-support system (Decision Engine) and our AI-based scoring solution.
Our clients include the largest banks in Central-Eastern Europe (KBC, Komerční Banka, Erste Bank) as well as fintechs and local banks.
In 2020, our company registered steady revenues despite the COVID situation. We were and are able to work on our Hungarian and foreign projects continuously and we have maintained the scheduled milestones even in the face of the strictest travel restrictions and local quarantine regulations.