How does Facebook maximize development efficiency and minimize risk? In the past eight years, it has built a technological infrastructure that is both complex and rapidly changing. Their rapid growth depends on a highly efficient development process.
Key to their success is the Facebook Bootcamp, a six-week program for all new employees. At Bootcamp, they learn all the different components, the infrastructure and the history of their software platform. It is claimed that their impressive time-to-market and minimal production flaws can be attributed to a trained staff that understands the overall "workflow" of Facebook. To paraphrase Facebook's note explaining their Bootcamp:
Facebook Bootcamp can help everyone, from the most senior director or VP to the newest college grad. Incoming engineers often express concerns that Bootcamp isn't right for them. The entire engineering organization all the way up to (Mark) Zuck(erberg) believes that it really does help everyone.
Bootcamp is not meant to make people comfortable. It should push people beyond their limits and encourage them to explore technologies outside their area of expertise.
People building front-end software need to understand the stack upon which their software runs. People writing backend software need to understand the clients they will be supporting.
Successful organizations today recognize that they have to think like technology companies. They need to optimize their personnel as technology leaders do. If Bootcamp works for the world's fastest-growing corporation, it will work for us as well.
Facebook found that when you train people on core technologies and processes, they are more confident in their decisions and more empowered to quickly create the correct thing.
In our customer communications world, a firm found that its trained customer support reps were much more productive at handling customer issues. They sent fewer problems to second-level support. Customers were also very impressed by the "improved professionalism." For example, one rep had an ongoing problem at the inserting line. They realized it could be fixed with a small change in the composition program.
By training project managers and business analysts, a development executive has seen a dramatic increase in the quality and thoroughness of customer business requirements documents, leading to crisper functional specifications.
Unique to transaction document production is the need for development and operation personnel to understand each other. The workflow is still highly dependent on manual procedures. If developers don't understand the manufacturing processes, they can't identify all the exposures. If operations doesn't understand what software can do, they can't communicate their needs.
A top-10 bank found that a major part of the success of their Bootcamp was having customer service, development and operations personnel trained together. They heard each other's problems and saw how they were affecting the other person's activities.
A senior executive at another organization discovered that when employees and their customers train together, they can cut the time to document their statements of work by 50% and decrease re-work dramatically. Additionally, suppliers are much more definitive when they work with trained personnel, again cutting supplier product and professional services cost.
"Imagine you provide output services for your customer. They don't know why you are asking a specific question during business requirements gathering. They don't know why it could be critical to the production of their product. However, without that information, a product can make it into production before an error is detected. Fixing the problem later is much more expensive."
How to implement Bootcamp training
Finding the money: Aggressive technology companies, like Facebook, know that they need to invest in employee training if they are to maintain momentum and retain people. Many people that Facebook has recently hired came from companies like Google and Yahoo!; their reasons for joining were in part because of the culture epitomized by the Bootcamp. Unfortunately, few of us have Mark Zuckerberg at the helm. For us mortals, we need to find the money within traditional budgets.
Corporations or government agencies usually have a technical training budget held by a "professional development" department in Human Resources. It might be part of the CIO's operating budget.
Recent studies suggest that corporate IT organizations budget approximately $2,000 per person each year. However, organizations allocate the money based on need. Much of it is used to train for risk mitigation (SOX, HIPAA, PIPEDA, PCI-DSS). Most successful executives in our industry have secured budget money for risk mitigation. They identified the enormous risks in our process. They showed how training helps staff identify where to avoid risks and how.
Mail Service Providers don't usually have technical training budgets. However, they do have other sources. Many MSPs use a portion of their re-work contingency to fund operations and customer support staff training. They price the cost of development staff training into major customer projects. In both cases, the cost of Bootcamp is paid back very quickly. They see large savings in contingency costs or in project over-runs. For example, you immediately recover an employee's cost of training if they avoid a single re-run through new-found knowledge.
Developing the right curriculum: To create the optimal Bootcamp, you need to cover the entire process for both day-to-day production and for the development and long-term management of products. The training material should be created in a way that is understandable to anyone involved with the process.
The training material should incorporate common industry terminology and follow industry recognized processes and practices. Remember, enough time must be allowed for students to learn and understand each process.
Ensuring that employees learn: All effective learning programs focus on "measured learning outcome." Did the student actual learn the material presented? We have found two things that ensure this happens: developing material that bridges the organization's process to the industry norms and having the students pass written examinations at the end of each process discussion. The examination process motivates students to focus on course material, avoid interruptions and not play with their smartphones. The students know the consequences of failure and give the training their highest priority.
Employers also use industry accreditation as a motivational carrot. Students who pass the exams qualify for this accreditation (which employers fund as part of the program).
Measuring the results: Most of us are skeptical of programs that promise massive benefits with relatively little work. Too many "soft skills" training programs have promised the world but have led to little long-term improvement. Bootcamps that focus on process and technology education are different.
To properly evaluate any results from a Bootcamp program, you must first measure the baseline:
- How many days or weeks does the average statement of work take to finalize? What is the typical contingency for error?
- How many production errors over $10,000 took place last year? How many were caused by employee error?
- How long does it take a new employee to be fully productive? What is the cost of a semi-productive employee?
- Although not easy to measure, what is the cost associated with competitive hires? How many bad habits will they bring with them? Will they learn your process, or will they try to impose previous habits within your environment?
Most employers find that all of the above measurements improve dramatically within months of implementing their Bootcamp.
Facebook's recent success is driven by a large group of technical people that work as a team. They understand the technology, the process and the culture. However, they are only the most recent technology powerhouse to adopt a strong business culture through Bootcamp-style training. We both started our careers at separate companies in our industry that were known for this. One of us trained for several weeks at Xerox in Leesburg, Virginia and many more weeks in the field; the other spent 22 weeks in IBM Basic Systems Training. What we learned in those intensive weeks made us extremely productive in our many years with our employers, and stays with us today.
Note: For more information on our own Bootcamp programs for employers called Transaction Document Specialist School, please feel to contact us to find out how you can develop your own in-house program.
WILLIAM BRODDY is president and co-founder of acadami, the pre-eminent transaction document education development and delivery. He has been supporting mail-owners, producers and suppliers for over 30 years. Mr. Broddy is one of the nine Master Electronic Document Professionals worldwide. For more, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
REBECCA RODGERS is director of Canadian Business Development and an educator at acadami. She has spent more than 25 years in the industry supporting document owners and service providers. Ms. Rodgers is a recognized professional and EDP.