The Starting of Familiar
[From the Archive: Originally posted at Amplify.com Aug 16, 2010]
In an attempt to give folks some context to some of my more contentious remarks on e.g. Twitter, I reproduce here the story of how Familiar started out, and some of the things we achieved during my time on deck:
A Customer Quote
“One of the most rational and engaging organisations I have ever seen.”
~ G Shekhar, CTO, InfrasoftTech
Familiar Limited was a company that I started with a colleague upon my leaving Sun Microsystems’ UK Java Center in early 1997. We also had the delight of some ten other interested folks helping us form the company and its ethos from the outset.
Familiar was a software house specialising in delivering advanced bespoke Java web applications, that also shared its expertise on how best to manage the business of software development – in the form of consulting services – with other software development organisations. In fact, Familiar was the first 100% Agile software house in Europe.
Founded on Principles
When we set up Familiar, we had between us seen literally hundreds of development organisations, and we were convinced that it was sound business sense to found Familiar on the following core principles:
- We would run the company for the mutual benefit of all the people coming into contact with it.
- We would institute “human systems” that treated people – employees, customers and suppliers alike – like competent, rational, trustworthy adults.
- We would do everything possible to build a community for the long term. Success depends utterly on having the full commitment of well-informed people who really want to make a difference.
- Work can be the most fulfilling, exciting and absorbing activity known to Man.
- No matter how motivated, intelligent and competent people may be, they still benefit immensely from an agreed, common approach to tackling work.
- Commonly-held “management” assumptions and traditions (for example: jobs, appraisals, standard employment terms and conditions, management authority) are sometimes counter-productive and deleterious to a healthy business.
- All our business dealings would seek win-win-win-win outcomes (for us, our suppliers, our clients, and their customers)
Guided by Practices
Given the above principles, this led us to institute a number of key mechanisms to advance these principles:
- People were encouraged to participate in the community on whatever basis they felt most appropriate for their circumstances (for example, as employee, contractor, sub-contractor, apprentice, consultant, etc.).
- Equity was available to anyone that participated in the community.
- People were invited to each choose their own personal terms and conditions, including rates / salaries, working locations, hours, tools, and so on.
- People were continually encouraged to synthesise and evolve their joint working practices (with a baseline set of working practices to make this as painless as possible).
- People were invited to choose their own assignments, tasks and deliverables.
- Narrow specialisms, such as sales people, managers, and so on were conspicuous by their absence. Everyone was encouraged and supported to become so-called “Generalising specialists”.
And the product of these principles and mechanisms? A hugely engaged and participatory workforce, and a really humane community, which produced a number of essentially defect-free software products, and pushed the envelope in terms of what was possible from a software development organisation.
As an example, here’s just one quote from a continually-surprised customer:
“With INControl, Familiar gave us one of the most successful extranet application projects in CWC history.”
~ Cable & Wireless Communications