In Yeti’s decade-long existence we’ve continuously iterated on the ways in which we run our company. Our quest to optimize our business operations and processes has led us to experiment with many ideas and methods - many successful, some not.
When we first began as an agency our sole focus was on our ability to run projects effectively - but as the years went by it became clear that our narrow project focus was really just one piece of the puzzle that makes up our company - it was time for us to focus on Yeti as a whole.
Early on I heard a question that stuck with me: “How much do you work for your company rather than on your company?”. I found that for the majority of Yeti’s first several years my work consisted of mostly working for the company - whether it was working on projects, managing team members, or managing finances.
How are you supposed to grow and evolve your business if you don’t spend any time considering the vision, goals, and work to get you there, outside of your company’s day to day work?
In this article I’ll be outlining the operations and processes we’ve established that allow Yeti to continuously grow and evolve as a company. As mentioned, these processes are the result of continuous iteration and experimentation, and early this year, as the Yeti team unexpectedly became remote due to COVID-19, we were once again compelled to assess how we could optimally function as a newly distributed team.
Over the years we’ve found that almost anything we’ve set out to do has likely already been done by someone, somewhere - and realized it was often in our best interest to avoid reinventing the wheel, no matter how tempting it might be.
Traction is part of the larger EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) framework and largely talks about concrete processes you can follow to structure your business in a cyclical pattern of improvement.
Meetings Suck struck a chord with us since, as developers and creatives at heart, we struggled with the number of meetings we were having in order to try to run our business more effectively.
The processes we’ve adopted, and will outline here, have mostly been lifted from Traction and Meetings Suck. We’ve iterated on these over several years and continue to tweak them often.
A foundational part of our company that affects many other areas of our operations are our Core Values. There are plenty of resources on how to craft core values, so I won’t expand on that too much here, but our original process for creating ours involved picking some of our best team members, distilling the attributes that made them great Yetis, and grouping the similarities.
Once we had our core values in places we spread them everywhere. They’re on our website, we created large wooden signs emblazoned with them during a team day activity, and they were mentioned at every monthly all-hands meeting.
We created a slack channel integrated with our HR tool, Lattice, that allows team members to give shout outs to teammates they felt were exhibiting core values, and our 360 reviews used our core values as a focal point to base questions around for feedback.
We also started using core values when interviewing potential new team members which provided a more concrete way to hire for “culture fit” that is not as subject to bias.
There are a lot of benefits to be reaped by putting core values in place at your company, but by and far the greatest benefit is providing a foundation for your company culture and what makes a “great” team member.
If you are trying to change your company culture, this could be a place to start - but remember that companies change and so should your core values. They should be revisited and updated regularly.
After a couple of years we saw that our core values began to stagnate and it was necessary to do an overhaul as they were no longer representative of the team and the company.
Every Quarter the Yeti team comes together for a Team Day during which we recap the past quarter and look forward to the next quarter. At the beginning of the year we also include a recap of the entire year previous and look forward to the year to come.
During our team days we discuss overarching company goals, company finances and big changes with the team.
We then break down our yearly goals into quarterly goals that we call Rocks. If you’d like to watch a corny video on the concept, I’ve got a great one for you:
The general idea is that if you don’t focus on large initiatives that will move your company forward then you’ll end filling your time with the small tasks of day to day life and never make progress on those larger goals.
During team day we discuss Rocks goals with the team, run exercises around brainstorming how we might accomplish these goals, decide which ones the full team feels are the highest priority and ultimately split up into Rocks Teams, who over the course of the next quarter will be following through on completing that Rock.
Work on Rocks goals can often fall outside of team members normal day to day responsibilities, so throughout the quarter we designate “Rock Days” to encourage people to set aside time to meet with their Teams and get some work accomplished.
As an example, one recent Rock that the team found to be meaningful was setting up 401ks as a benefit for Yetis. Someone on the team felt strongly about the goal and championed the rock, while myself and a few others joined the rock team.
Over the quarter we researched different solutions, met on the pros/cons of different services, and by the end we engaged a company called Guideline to get them setup.
At Yeti we like to end our team day with a fun activity that allows everyone to unwind, have fun and bond. Some notable team day activities have included taking a woodworking class, going to a Giants game, and going on a guided city hike.
Since becoming a distributed team due to COVID-19, we’ve held two quarterly team days remotely. We found that tools such as Miro, Stickies.io and Remo have allowed us to brainstorm and ideate in much the same way we would have in person. Our afternoon activity was a bit trickier to re-create, but we ended up doing an amazing virtual scavenger hunt that the entire team loved.
Every month we hold an hour long all hands meeting that we call “Council of Yeti”. We begin this meeting with an icebreaker (lately it’s been Yoga with Adrienne), and then provide an overview of how the company did in the month previous, check-in on Rocks progress, and open up the floor for discussion.
In the case that there are no topics that team members would like to bring up for discussion, we often have an activity of exercise planned. Examples run the gamut from brainstorming creative marketing ideas, re-imagining our sales process, to team bonding activities like two truths and one lie.
I won’t go too in depth in our project management process, but it is important to mention it as it feeds into the company’s larger operations.
If you are involved in product development you will likely already understand the basis of agile development, which involves having sprints. Inside of those sprints are tickets with points that track the team’s progress from sprint to sprint.
These ticket points help establish a velocity and general metric to help estimate how long work might take, prioritize what to work on next and manage shipping products.
Generally, a team is supposed to take on a number of points worth of tasks for a sprint that is based on an average number of points they have historically gotten done. At Yeti we use tickets, our backlog, and velocity to manage client expectations on deliverables, timelines and milestones.
If you want to read a bit more on our flavor of agile development, Applied Agile, check out our Guide.
At Yeti we have a daily huddle meeting that we call Adrenaline. This meeting is intended to be 6 minutes long with three 2 minute segments.
Good News - Team members have the opportunity to bring up good news - whether it be about a project they’re working on, a cool lead we got, something personal, or anything in between. This helps keep everyone connected and brings positive energy to the day.
Numbers - Based on the previous Applied Agile section, every person on the team has a sprint, tickets, and points that they’re working on for the week. We record everyone’s goal for the week and each day they update on progress.
This is done not just for the project teams but also for sales, marketing, management, etc. At the end of a month we have “party parrots” which is a quick meeting where people get to win a prize based on how many weeks during the month they got all of their points done.
This whole process helps us have some accountability, monitor when teams or people are stuck, and celebrate wins.
Team Update - Every day a different team or person from a rotating list gives a quick update. They’re encouraged to share a demo, designs, spreadsheets, slideshow, or just verbally give an update about what they’ve been working on since the last time they presented.
When we became a remote team, Adrenaline became more important than ever. The daily meeting now serves as a touchstone for the team, providing an opportunity to catch up and interact on a more natural level. We've even tacked an optional 10 minute of socialization to the beginning of Adrenaline so that the team doesn't loose out on their normal office camraderie.
Coming from EOS, we have a meeting every other week called Production Level 10. Depending on the size of your company this may be a meeting that just happens with your leadership team, potentially your whole team, or many different teams within your company may have their own separate meetings.
Let’s walk through each section of our version of the PL10 meeting:
Best Piece of Personal or Business News (5 minutes)
To open up the meeting with an icebreaker with positive energy everyone shares something good that has happened for them either within the company or for them personally.
Rock Review (5 minutes)
We talk through the list of rocks for the quarter and rock team members give updates on if they’re on track or off track and why. This helps provide a regular check-in on rocks and prompts people to consider next steps if they’re off track.
Headlines (5 minutes)
Next the floor is open for anyone to give core value shoutouts to another team member. For example thanking someone for help with something or acknowledging that someone has really stepped up on a responsibility.
This time can also be used to talk about clients or other people in our network. For example if one of our clients got some press for the app we built with them.
TODOs Recap (5 minutes)
The next section of the meeting helps produce action items and todos. Before we dive into the meat of the meeting we quickly review the open action items and ensure they were either done or will get done soon.
IDS (Identify Discuss Solve) (45 minutes)
The majority of the meeting is spent working through the Issue List. This is a spreadsheet with a list of issues happening within the company that anyone in the meeting can contribute to.
Issues can be related to any facet of the company, but it must always be framed as a question. For example one we’ve tackled in the past was: “How do we encourage people to use their continued education budget to further their personal career growth and Yeti's services?”
As you’re discussing issues in the Issue List, you should timebox discussions to 10 - 12 minutes. First the reporter of the issue should give context about what they wrote and further identify the problem. Next the group should discuss the issue, provide more context and ensure everyone understands what the issue is.
Finally the group should try to solve the issue by identifying the smallest next step the team could take to improve whatever the issue is. Sometimes this is as simple as scheduling a meeting, buying a service or a product, or deciding not to do something anymore.
Sometimes this can be a lot more involved and potentially requires someone to do research and send the team their results. Any action items here should be jotted down on the TODO List.
Conclude (5 minutes)
At the end of the meeting we review the new TODO list to remind people what they may need to get done by the next meeting as well as vote 1 - 10 on how effective the meeting was.
Every once in a while we have a low energy meeting or some gnarly issue doesn’t feel any more resolved and the meeting feels a bit less productive so it gets a lower rating.
I find this healthy and a good check-in to make sure we experiment and ensure the next meeting has value for everyone.
If you’ve made it this far, you may be wondering how we used “Meetings Suck” as an inspiration and still have so many meetings!
This is an understandable point and, really, Meetings Suck is about making sure that the meetings you are having are efficient and effective.
This article covers most of our meetings outside of one's related specifically to projects and clients. We are always experimenting, tweaking, and improving our process just as we would in our product development work.
I hope something here sparks some ideas for your business and you try to do your own experimenting on working on your company, not just for your company.
At Yeti, we know the value of a great project manager, and have worked hard to develop a project management toolkit that keeps us on the road to success. Take a look at a few of our favorite PM tools and strategies!
For many in the typical office setting, the pandemic has forever changed the way people work. While it's certainly been an adjustment period, and there are pros and cons to any new situation, there are huge opportunities for professional service firms in the current workforce landscape.
In an article on Innovation Enterprise, we discuss how Applied Agile can help product development, yes, but also other problems across the company.