Is Agile Development Only for Nerds?

Eskander Matta

Eskander Matta

This man says, “No.” So what? He may look a little nerdy but he is a Senior Vice President at Wells Fargo Bank and using agile development techniques, he has dramatically reduced the time to develop new products for Wells Fargo’s online business.

What’s the big deal? Eskander Matta is not a software developer, and he is not in the IT department. Eskander is a banking executive, with a Harvard MBA, who thinks traditional development methodologies are impediments to building new online products faster and better. Eskander believes, “There is so much innovation in Financial Services that speed to market is critical. A lengthy linear process inhibits one’s ability to compete.”

Eighteen months ago, Eskander got a group of bank employees together to take a meat cleaver to a development cycle that had 26 artifacts (think: pieces of documentation). His goal was to remove all artifacts that had no downstream consumer. “If no one is going to read it, then get rid of it”, he asked the team. The team whacked the process down to 5 artifacts. Then equally important, all this was enabled with a wiki.

As is most often the case, Eskander, the business guy, asked the IT dept what wiki to use. The IT guys told him to use Confluence.

By underpinning everything with the wiki, communication and interaction between people was enabled. “If the wiki was a static word document, it wouldn’t have worked”, Eskander points out. The wiki enabled collaboration in a more formal sense.

What’s so interesting is…

  • A business executive took the leadership to streamline development using Agile Development concepts.
  • The outcome was fantastic: 26 development artifacts reduced to 5.
  • The result ended up on one collaborative work space on a wiki.
  • All this was in service of a major bank producing new online products faster.

Granted, Financial Services is largely an information business, this sector is the biggest spender on IT, and in this instance, the product was the Internet. Yet, this story is compelling evidence that there are other executives out there who understand what technology can do, who seek best practices like Agile Development, and who seek out the newest collaborative technologies.

I Remember Hayward

I never thought I would write an obituary on my blog, but then I never thought I would write about cancer. Last week, my dear friend since 1964, Buzz, or formally, Hayward Sylvester Blackledge III died at 56. This is my eulogy for the wake today. In tribute to Hayward, I have interspersed album covers I made up to honor this wonderful jazz musician.

I remember my first impression of this skinny, tall kid in 1964 from the West side of Providence. He seemed so young at 13 but so self-assured, particularly about girls. I had a dance party that year at my house and I knew then that Buzzy had something special with the girls, and I should pay very, very close attention.

When I remember Buzz, I think of when we played with the Fowler brothers band, the Soul Sounds and wore matching blue satin shirts, and did steps. We practiced in the Baptist church on the West side of Providence. It was 1966. The black kids in the neighborhood would come into the church and ask, “Why is that white guy playing in this band?” and Buzz would always defend me. Buzzy’s favorite tune was “Cold Sweat” because it was all about the drum part.

I remember when he came into my house on Olney Street one day so excited to play a new record, something he did very frequently, but this time was special. He put a new album on my record player, and he played “Fire” off the first album of Jimi Hendrix. I keenly remember he did not play “Purple Haze”, because “Fire” was a drummer’s tune. He announced we were going to see Hendrix at Brown University, which we did March 8, 1968.

When I remember Buzz, I remember all the times we would stay up until the morning listening to music. Hayward introduced me to jazz, and we would listen to Roland Kirk and Ahmad Jamal and Horace Silver all night long. We would want to play and I would take out my guitar, and Hayward would get some pots out of the kitchen and use them as bongos. We played until we were so sore.

When I remember Buzz, I think of all the concerts and music we took each other to over the years. He took me to all three Hendrix concerts in Providence – once with counterfeit tickets that cost $8 – but we got in. I remember all the music at the Newport Jazz festival we went to. I remember going to the old Jazz Workshop in Boston with him. But then I remember when he played the Jazz workshop with Victor Brasil and Buzzy was playing at an incredible level. I was so proud of Buzz.

When I remember Buzz, I remember living with him in 1981. He let me move in for several months when I was having girlfriend problems, about which he was much wiser. I remember his cooking. His signature dish was a slow cooked lamb with allspice. I had never seen someone be so patient to cook something for so long, and then when he ate it, he ate it slowly. I gobbled it up, it was so good. But Hayward could out-slow-eat anyone on the planet. He would push his dish away half eaten and you would find him at one in the morning nibbling on a few more spoonfuls.

When I remember Buzz, I remember his years obsessed with clothes. So many clothes, his closets were full and he had racks of them hanging in his Cambridge apartment. He took me shopping for platform shoes and flowered shirts, and he convinced me to buy platform sandals with 4-inch heels and a pair of High black boots with 3-inch yellow heels and a yellow stripe up the side. Hayward, I still have those boots, but I will never ever be as cool or as hip as you were then.

When I remember Hayward, I remember my best man. I think of him playing at my wedding, and coming together with my musician friends from college and later in life. He looked so handsome. He played with finesse. He was so excited about playing with my accomplished friend Dan Siegel. I will cherish that last time I played with Hayward forever.

When I remember Hayward, I think of all the times we never thought Hayward would live to be 56. Hayward lived on the edge, and he scared us many times. But then something happened. What changed everything was this woman Angela came into his life. For the first time Hayward settled down. For the first Hayward had peace. Hayward adored Angela and was enveloped by this incredible, warm, wonderful woman who had so much love for him. Angela is why Hayward made it so far and had a great life, a life we can all honor now.

I remember Hayward.

Starting a New Chapter in Atlassian History: Amsterdam

The new Limited Edition Atlassian Old Dutch bicycle seen on the canals of Amsterdam this week.

The new Limited Edition Atlassian Old Dutch bicycle seen on the canals of Amsterdam this week.

Opening a new office in our business is a special moment. It’s that chance to relive a start-up and the Primal Basics. Atlassian B.V. is official. We have leased an incredible new office on the Herengracht (Gentlemen’s canal) in Amsterdam. Just last year I snapped a picture of Herengracht the day of our first Amsterdam User Group a few meters from the pic above, in front of Atlassian’s new European headquarters.

Why this office? We’re here because European customers, who represent 35% of our business have been asking us for support and more direct access. We’re in the Netherlands because we found it to be a good tech community, centrally located in Europe, with outstanding language skills. Amazingly the Netherlands is our 6th largest country in sales.

And so, if you wish to work here…

Just down from Leliegracht, the new Atlassian location.

Just down from Leliegracht, the new Atlassian location.

… we’re hiring in Amsterdam right now.

Here’s a complete view of the new office, the neighborhood, and our time last week setting things up.

Josh love IKEA

Josh loves IKEA

We’re lucky to have two employees already in Amsterdam. Joshua Wold, who runs our worldwide team of sales engineers moved to the Netherlands, and in addition to screwing together new furniture and hooking up phones, he’s eager to meet folks in the local community.

To head up our European technical support team, Sherali Karimov, one of our senior developers and team leads in Sydney has agreed to relocate. Just Friday he arrived with his family ready for a new adventure in Amsterdam.

Sherali fresh off the plane from Sydney

Sherali fresh off the plane from Sydney

These mates are looking for some great technical support engineers, sales engineers, someone to head up our European channel business, and a customer service specialist who can also help out with the office administration. We love referrals.

Josh and Sherali are looking for people who want to build the next great Atlassian office and chart a new path in Europe. We’re looking for people who love building things from scratch. You might have to screw your desk together, but then, it’s your desk!

We’re looking for people who want to look out this window at Herengracht 124 – 128 and start the next chapter…
The view from the 4th floor

The view from the 4th floor

Tips on Recruiting Executives Part II [On Atlassian]

Daniel Freeman who runs product marketing and Jay Simons, new head of marketing, chatting with Mike Cannon-Brookes (back) in our new SF office. That’s Jay’s weimaraner named Sydney, also a great API developer.

In May, we completed the search for a vice president marketing which I wrote about last year. I promised to blog about the search when it was done, so here’s Part II on tips for recruiting executives and senior people.

1. The best candidates are referred by friends.

Our new head of marketing Jay Simons was referred by Kathleen Reidy of the 451 Group, a really bright industry analyst I had the pleasure of meeting last year. Analysts can be a great source of information because they frequently get briefed. James Governor of Red Monk gave me advice more than once.

VC’s are another good source. Some are protective of their network, so it helps to have good relationships. A VC we trust referred our director of product marketing Daniel.

All but one of our best candidates came from referrals. One came through Linkedin. Your network matters, but it requires more than blasting referral emails out to hundreds of people.

2. Use Linkedin as chum.

Think of Linkedin as a big bucket of fish heads, or chum. Chumming is when you throw a big bucket of fish heads and guts in the water to attract fish to your boat. You probably won’t find the candidate through Linkedin, but it’s a great way to announce your intentions. Kathleen Reidy learned of our intentions through my Linkedin email blast.

We received 50-75 resumes for each ad. The problem is filtering these is rough: marketing people are Pro Bullshit Throwers, and their resumes look very professional. Reading these resumes requires a healthy dose of Mike Cannon-Brookes-style skepticism.

I targeted a few candidates by doing People Searches on Linkedin and sending blind emails. I targeted some companies that were in transition. Always be thinking of companies who might be going through a transition. Coincidentally Jay came from BEA/Plumtree, which was being eaten by Oracle. Munch Munch.

3. Best athlete trumps best functional fit.

It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle about candidates meeting all the tick boxes on your list. Silicon Valley executive headhunters can be obsessed with candidates meeting every functional requirement, and to a fault. One problem with executive search is that because they get paid so much, they have to do this to earn their pay. Within reason, of course, you don’t.

The best candidates were not necessarily the best on paper, and did not meet every wish we had. For example, at Atlassian finding business people who have experience with highly technical products like our developer tools is tough.

An analogy is when an American football team goes into a draft looking for a Tight End [Tall guy that can catch passes and run short routes]. If presented with a top athlete in another position and who could be a game-changer, it may be foolhardy to pass. Coincidentally we ended up hiring the youngest of all the best candidates.

4. Interview intensely and spend considerable time.

You can’t spend too much time interviewing key hires. I sat down with the best candidates three times or more. Once I interviewed for a CEO job in a six-on-one interview format that lasted over two and a half hours; CEOs should be able to handle this. Any critical hire should. We interviewed one candidate three-on-one in Sydney.

In another case, Daniel who now runs our product marketing took three of us through a case study of another company to determine any lessons for Atlassian. Not a typical interview format, yet a great way to learn how someone thinks.

5. Source your own references, and get the most senior ones.

Find out who were the VCs on the person’s board at his or her last company. Always ask to talk to the CEO. Board members and CEOs tend not to suffer fools. Start checking as soon as you start to like a candidate, while carefully observing the person’s confidentiality. This may mean checking former execs at the company, or someone you know and trust. If the person is in a senior business role, find out what the senior engineers thought of the person. Good business people should command the respect of technical staff.

6. Always have an executive search backup.

There’s a reason why VC firms use executive recruiters. They don’t want to waste time. If you find yourself wasting time, be ready to hire a strong executive recruiter. I had one on alert from the start.

Why Go to an Atlassian User Group?

This Thursday I’ll be at Atlassian’s Boston User Group, and speaking at Enterprise 2.0. Why User groups? Lessons and tips youu can learn. Here’s one, almost fantastic, example of what I learned from our German customers in Frankfurt a week ago. Vodafone’s CEO using our enterprise wiki, Confluence was cool, but well… you decide.

This is the knowledge management team at Deutsche Bahn (DB), the 240,000 employee German railway.

Pretty intense looking bunch. They focus on spreading collaboration across Deutsche Bahn. Although they look a little intimidating — “I’m gonna kick your collaboration ass” flashes through my brain — they do it with a lot of humor, internal marketing, and — is there such a thing? — wacky German good fun.

Marvin the robot from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is their mascot. Why? Because he has a brain the size of a planet, and he rarely get to use it. They made him as real as possible. He has an email address, a phone number, a blog, and yes, a C.V.

To motivate employees to contribute, every year the team has the 42nd Marvin Awards for great contributions to knowledge. Why 42? You really shouldn’t ask; it’s the answer to everything in the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

And they give out Golden Marvins. Of course.

The team also has a clear metric and goal: of the 240,000 employees, 80,000 are online, and they figure getting 40,000 using the wiki, Confluence, is success. Currently the count is 15,000. Particularly interesting, the users include many non-IT people, including engineering and maintenance. Given the reputation of the German railway, this was my favorite bit.

Hope to see you at the next user group.

Netherlands Sketches

When I travel on business, I sketch on weekends. I just got back from Amsterdam where I am setting up our new European headquarters for Atlassian. May in Amsterdam is a great time to be outdoors sketching. Here are my sketches from Amsterdam and Delft.

Turning a Page on Atlassian History

This weekend was an emotional moment for me. We moved our San Francisco office from its humble original space to spacious new quarters on another floor in our building.

Every time I move houses I make a point of going back into the house, once its empty, and sitting in the middle and thinking. Saturday when the movers finished, I had to take this picture of where it all started. Ben Naftzger from Sydney opened the office with me in September 2005. Benny and I sat here using both ends of this little printer table…
The original Atlassian SF office decor

On this table, there was enough room for our laptops and nothing else. We started with a VOIP phone and mostly our mobile phones. I wrote the Craigslist ads, and Benny and I started interviewing.

The memories from starting up are indelible and often laughable, because you often try to spend as little as possible:

I remember Ben arguing with me at Office Depot about why we should buy a $59 phone instead of a $79 phone. Ben being a Cheap Ass was good for the business. Startups need Cheap Asses.

Mike Cannon-Brookeswas staying at a hotel for $80/night with shared bathrooms. In San Francisco! Atlassian had just done $5 million in sales, was very profitable, and I was scratching my head: where did he find this hotel in San Francisco?

Later on, there was the Famous Scott Farquhar-personally-installed-and-configured Asterisk open source PBX phone system. Installed on this piece of shit server…
The Once Infamous, Forever Loved Asterisk Server

… and needless to say, in spite of Scott’s great engineering skills, we swore behind his back and went out and hired a trained consultant to fix the Goddamned thing. In case you wondered, this server is free — first come, first served — if the janitors don’t throw it in the trash bin first.

The printer table was a page in Atlassian History. The table will now go back to the landlord, and while I am a sentimental sap — and looking at this picture brings up some strong emotional feelings — I hope another startup gets this table.

The Goal: Our Most Important Metric?

We’re debating at Atlassian what’s the most important metric. Our Chief Metric God and CEO Scott Farquhar thinks Net Promoter score might be it. He has threatened to take a few months off to think about it. While we mere weak-minded mortals spend far less time on metrics, Serious Metric People such as Scotty devote lifetimes of thinking to what to measure and why.

Atlassian’s culture is fun, but it’s also about metrics. So, we decided to start measuring our Net Promoter score. Experts such as Fred Reichheld, a fellow with consultancy Bain & Company claim that companies with high Net Promoter scores far out-perform in growth and have far lower costs of sales. It’s seems intuitive given Net Promoter is all about word of mouth, a subject dear to my heart.

What is a Net Promoter score? Customers are asked “How likely would you be to recommend our product(s) to other people” on a scale of 0 [Never] to 10 [Definitely]? Then you divide the responses:

  • Scores of 9 or 10 are promoters; divide the total number by the total surveyed to get a percentage or score.
  • Scores of 7 or 8 are not promoters; ignore these responses.
  • Scores of 6 or less are detractors; divide the total number by the total surveyed to get a percentage or score.
  • Subtract your detractor score from your promoter score to get Net Promoter Score.

How We Stacked Up

We surveyed 500 customers, chosen at random, and our Net Promoter score was: 52%. Although this puts us in great company with the likes of…


… we’re now obsessed with the comments we got back on what we need to fix. Imagine the kind of customer loyalty Harley Davidson has! How does one achieve that?

How We Surveyed Customers

We learned something simply about how to survey. We made it clear we only required answering one question to participate in the survey. The other three questions were entirely optional:

  • “If you wish to elaborate on your response, do so here…”
  • “Is it OK for us to contact you?”
  • “If so, what’s your contact information?”

I felt it important that we reduce the survey to the smallest possible, even to the point of editing out superfluous words so each sentence was concise. I hate surveys that say “This will take 10 minutes” instead of “This survey has 10 questions”. I absolutely hate surveys where I never know when the end is coming. Always state how many questions!

Other Lessons from the Net Promoter Survey

The survey had a 40% response rate, and 20% of the customers said it was OK to contact them. Given how busy people are, we were pretty happy with these statistics, but while these stats compare well in marketing circles, that’s not our goal. Our goal now is understanding what we have to do to get better.

What Are We Doing About it?

First priority is personally calling every single detractor [who agreed to be contacted]. I am again obsessed on this process: one person needs to conduct these calls so the information is properly assimilated and understood. Passing support problems to support and product problems to development loses this vital analysis.

Second we are thanking everyone who participated and is willing to contacted.

Third, we are working out a process for contacting the promoters and the “middle” scores. As this is our first time, we have much to learn, and most important, apply what we hear.

My New Venture

I have decided to go into magazine publishing, I am excited to announce the inaugural issue of Wiki People. I am also excited to announce this is a joint venture with the popular People magazine. Here’s a pre-release copy of the fantastic first issue cover, destined to become a collector’s edition.


The Pizza Strategy: 5 Tips for a Successful Business


A Coffee shop opened on the corner near our office. What they are doing to launch their new business amazingly applies to most companies. It’s brilliant and common sense. The Coffee shop illustrated to me lots of attributes of how to think about starting a new business, and how not to do it…

1. The New, New Thing vs. the Pizza Strategy

Mistake #1 in Silicon Valley is the obsession with the New, New Thing. The opposite is the Pizza Strategy. It’s practical, you could eat it every day (if you work with engineers), it’s both lunch and dinner food. It serves a lot of purpose, but it’s common and a bit boring. Innovation is wonderful, yet not enough technology companies go after crowded industries where an unmet need still lies.

Coffee Bar, which opened last month in our neighborhood is an excellent example of my kind of entrepreneurialism. They opened one block away from Starbucks. People asked why they would do that? Dumb question. Starbucks is an Unholy Blasphemous Sacrilege to those of us religiously devoted to the Sacrament of Coffee.

I call JIRA our Pizza business. It’s the sincerest form of flattery because Mike and Scott chose a software product with tons of competitors yet found an unserved need: a useful, practical issue tracker for $1200 – $4800. Five years later, it still sells like hotcakes. There were lots of pizza shops, but JIRA pizza has a strong following.

2. Marketing vs. Product

It’s not that marketing is bad. Hell, I’m recruiting for a VP Marketing. The question is: what do you lead with? If you can’t win folks with the product first, pack it up.

Coffee Bar has sitting next to their menu a ranking of all the best, generally boutique coffee shops in San Francicso. This takes cojones because San Francisco has some great coffee shops in the North End that are historic with the Beat Generation. Coffee Bar ranks #1. The point is: they are proud of their product and determined to be the best. They lead with Great Product.

Coffee Bar does something else we try to do at Atlassian which is give customers fewer choices, but give them good ones. We apply this rule to pricing to keep things simple. The first time I heard about Coffee Bar’s food, Jonathan Nolen said “The menu is limited but everything is great.” Bullseye. Apple figured this out a long time ago: compare the number of add-on options available on a Mac to those on a Dell. With Dell, the choices are agonizing and confusing.

Lead with product and keep things simple.

3. Free Trials vs. Hassle

What’s the biggest problem with test driving a new car? The hassle from an annoying salesman. Why do software companies do this when all you want is a whitepaper…


Why don’t more companies just let you try their products with the least intrusion and hassle? During lunch when I normally don’t have coffee, Lindsay at Coffee Bar asked me if I wanted to try the coffee for free. Just the act of offering me a free coffee warmed me to the place. When I asked for a double espresso, she said, “Perfect”, because she wanted me to taste the undiluted essence of the core product: coffee. She handed me the espresso with a pride and belief in her product. She expected nothing in return.

The more questions you get asked when you evaluate a product, the more you ought to run for the hills. Businesses need to be willing to trade bad customer information for engendering trust.

4. Marketing vs. Word of Mouth

When I told Lindsay at Coffee Bar lunch was excellent, she asked if I could tell my co-workers. I was more than happy to oblige. Lindsay led with great product, she has visible pride in her restaurant and product, she is happy to be a few feet away from the Starbucks, and she understands my recommendation is much more important than an advertisement.

Ask yourself what can you do to promote word of mouth? Advertising is no longer what it once was.

5. Branding only matters so much

Too many tech and Internet companies obsess over names. Granted, consumer companies have a greater challenge. If you are taking on, say Coca-Cola or Cheerios, I would support an intense effort on naming.

What I like about Coffee Bar is that it is imperfect but it works. It stands for Coffee in the daytime, Bar at night. “Oh, that’s cool”, was my first thought. I’ll remember that. Is it a boring, generic name? Sort of. But so what if the product is excellent, and they concentrate on what customers really want?

There are a few common, useful rules for naming from Rob Gemmell, a friend and Marketing God:

  1. Own-able — The name is unique and you can own it. “Accenture is ow-nable; “Pacific Lumber” is not. Any name becomes own-able over time if you either spend a lot of money on marketing, or you establish a large market of customers who know you.
  2. Spell-able — The one weakness of the “Atlassian” name. Sometimes related is Pronounceable, which is another Atlassian imperfection.
  3. Memorable — Related to uniqueness, but very different: will people remember the name?
  4. Relevant — “Reliable Roofing” is highly relevant: it includes the benefit. It is relevant to the customer. “Apple”, on the other hand is completely arbitrary and not relevant. It’s cute, but it’s not relevant to the customer. “International Business Machines” was extremely relevant at the time.

The other two useful, secondary rules are: 1) Start with a letter high in the alphabet, a strength of Atlassian or Apple, and 2) Try to keep it as short as possible.

“Coffee Bar” is imperfect. Once you understand it, it might be memorable. But it is too generic to be own-able, without a lot of marketing money behind it. It doesn’t matter as much as the product, the customer service, the ambiance, and of course, a motivated, smart owner like Lindsay.