Agile - The Xtreme Labs Way


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At Xtreme Labs, Agile is not an engineering process, it's a way of life. Not only do they practice agile engineering - an iterative process that uses pair programming - they also have a flat management hierarchy and employ a 'Do-ocracy' mantra. Beginning as a start-up and growing to a 200+ employee company in under five years, Xtreme Labs owes its success in part to their ability to move quickly and deliver products in an efficient manner. In his talk, Farhan will address how Xtreme's development processes, company structure and policies have enabled them to grow rapidly and produce quality products in tandem.

Farhan has been named one of “Toronto’s Top 25 Most Powerful People In 2010”, and is a well-known and respected figure in Toronto’s tech community. Before joining the Xtreme team, Farhan held the positions of Chief Software Architect at I Love Rewards, Head of Search & MSN Platform for Microsoft Canada and Technical Lead at Trilogy Software. In addition to being a programming and engineering guru, Farhan also uses his wealth of industry and mobile expertise to mentor aspiring mobile and tech startups.

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Agile - The Xtreme Labs Way

  1. 1. AchieversFarhan Thawar, VP EngineeringJanuary 23rd, 2013@fnthawar @xtremelabs
  2. 2. 300 -> 436
  3. 3. The world’s top brandspartner with us toprototype and developoutstanding mobile, tabletand smart TVexperiences@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  4. 4. @fnthawar@xtremelabs
  5. 5. @fnthawar@xtremelabs
  6. 6. @fnthawar@xtremelabs
  7. 7. @fnthawar@xtremelabs
  8. 8. Background• Waterloo Comp Sci/Elec Eng• U of T MBA – Financial Engineering• Trilogy• Celestica• Microsoft• Achievers (!)@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  9. 9. Agenda• Freedom vs. Frameworks• How to work• Career advice@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  10. 10. DisclaimerSource: The Black Swan@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  11. 11. Freedom vs. Frameworks• But first, a story…..@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  12. 12. • ROWE@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  13. 13. Multitasking is a fail@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  14. 14. Parkinson’s Law rules@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  15. 15. • Daily standups (company, platform, team)• Pivotal tracker• DLAgile@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  16. 16. Ship every week@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  17. 17. Map• Mastery–pairing• Autonomy–No micro managing• Purpose–Working on stuff being used by millions of people@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  18. 18. Physical Space• In-office vs. WFH–Breakfast hacks• Sit close together vs. offices (Joel and37Signals)• Great machines + fast internet• Location@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  19. 19. 4a) Means as:Formulation vs. ImplementationRank & File•Implement decisions•Arms and legs•Work in hierarchy•Get “bought-in”•Get controlledLeaders•Formulate decisions•Brain•Head up hierarchy•Sell to get “buy-in”•Create control proceduresLower-orderChoicesHigher-orderChoices@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  20. 20. Freedom vs. Frameworks• Flat hierarchy–Well not that flat now…..but, few approvals• Responsibility not accountability–“Accountability is what’s left once responsibility hasbeen subtracted” – Pasi Sahlberg–“Tight controls cause blowups” – Nasim Taleb@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  21. 21. Freedom vs. Frameworks• Approvals– “You should feel the dangers and stressors” –Nasim Taleb@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  22. 22. How to work@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  23. 23. At a high level• “Managers create work for each other” – TimBurns• No Policies (rework)• 1:1’s• Faster to talk to someone thanemail/phone/IM@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  24. 24. Socials• Wed social• 3:3 lunches• Friday social• Team events–Batman!• Interns@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  25. 25. Pairing (2:1 Ratio)• Agile everything• Pairing all the time@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  26. 26. • “Being busy is a form of laziness”@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  27. 27. 1. Consider options and make decision, informingother party subsequently2. Provide options to other party along with ownrecommendation on choice3. Generate options for other party and ask otherparty to make choice4. Describe a problem to other party and ask forspecific help in structuring it5. Ask other party to solve problem, but make itclear you will watch and learn for next time6. Drop problem on other party’s desk and signalhelplessness@fnthawar@xtremelabsResponsibility Ladder
  28. 28. • Democracy vs. dooacracy or decisions overdeliberation@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  29. 29. How to Work• Remove processes–“Let process be implemented by those whopractice it” – Yishan Wong, first Facebook EngManager• The great decider!• Fight fires/sales calls/unblock engineers (oranyone else)@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  30. 30. Career Advice@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  31. 31. Career Imprinting• “Where you work early in your career shapesthe kind of leader you become later on” -HBR@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  32. 32. Deep over broad@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  33. 33. Strengths over Weaknesses@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  34. 34. Smart over dumb@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  35. 35. Low-information diet• Stop reading temporal information (HBR stillrelevant)• Reading hierarchy@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  36. 36. Air traffic control• I know less than you do@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  37. 37. Does it work?@fnthawar@xtremelabs0204060801001201402007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012Full Time Employees
  38. 38. Span of control• Average is 8• 150 engineers@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  39. 39. Stats• Can hire 60+ coops from Waterloo in firstround (get more resumes than FB, MSFT,Twitter, Apple, Square, Yelp, Foursquare)• Low attrition• Always outrun other teams• Less hero syndrome• More female engineers (17%)• Happy people@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  40. 40. Quotes• “You guys are doing something amazing” –Fred Wilson• “I’ve never seen this before in the valley” –Yogen Dalal• “Uh… wow?” – Brad Feld@fnthawar@xtremelabs
  41. 41. Ask me anything:@fnthwar / you and we’re hiring 
  42. 42. Work at