October 31, 2016

Take 3, Scene 15: Inside the DL Labs

This episode of Take 3 takes us inside the DL Labs initiative at Decision Lens. DL Labs is a period at least once a calendar year when developers are given the chance to research, plan, and develop working prototypes of whatever they want to work on. Oana Stinga and Daniel Markovits join us all the way from Romania to talk about how and why DL Labs has been such a success at Decision Lens.

Episode Highlights

  • Oana and Daniel explain the decision to mirror some of the bigger tech giants in implementing this practice within Decision Lens
  • We talk about the impact DL Labs has had on Decision Lens as a whole, and detail some of the incredible results it’s brought
  • Oana and Daniel share why this practice is something they would recommend every organization adopt

About the Guests

Oana Stinga is the Engineering Manager at 3Pillar Global’s Timisoara office. She coordinates the Decision Lens project form the customer relationship, process, and deliver standpoint while managing, mentoring, and motivating her team of strong developers, testers, and a business analyst.

Daniel Markovits is a Senior Business Software Analyst in 3Pillar Global’s Timisoara office with a background in software development. During his transition to the area of business analysis and development, he developed a strong affinity for agile methodologies and a passion for innovative approaches to product development.

About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on Apple Podcasts. You can also tune in via the podcast’s home on Spotify to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser.

Read the Transcription

Julia Slattery: Let’s start with a little bit of background on Decision Lens itself. Could you tell us about that project?

Oana Stinga: Yes. So, Decision Lens is one of our great customers, and we are really happy to continuously develop a very good partnership with them. Decision Lens offers a software solution to their clients that helps them decide and prioritize their budget for their projects portfolio and potential future investments. It is a way to move away from manuals, stretching-based and meeting-based portfolio management decisions and towards rapid, intelligent, data-driven decisions.

So, our scope is to help Decision Lens build their product, and we are actually doing it pretty well, because we have a strong team of senior software developers, manual and automation testers, and a business analysts, which is Dani sitting here next to me.

Julia Slattery: And one of the coolest aspects of Decision Lens is the implementation of DL Labs, which is a specific time set aside for developers to essentially work on whatever they want. This is something that a lot of tech giants implement throughout their organizations, but how exactly is DL Labs set up at Decision Lens?

Daniel Markovits: The DL Labs’ period happens at least once a year, and it can vary in length from one to two weeks. The timing of it is closely tied to our roadmap – we usually kick it off after release. This allows developers to be fully focused on their chosen project, and DL Labs has now become part of our processes. We start by creating a campaign for collecting Labs projects from employees throughout the organization.

Also, a QA and a product team are involved in the Labs initiative. We do a planning and kickoff meeting, where we encourage developers to team up with other colleagues, thus creating new temporary teams for the entire duration of the Labs period. We finish with the large open house Tech Talks, which of course is the highlight of this period.

Oana Stinga: So the way DL Labs is organized after release, it’s like a form of reward that we as a team are all receiving after working so hard on that specific release. We get this time because we don’t really have the opportunity to work on our own ideas, which are related to the product functionalities, technologies, or processes. On top of what Dani already mentioned,  there is one more thing to these open house Tech Talks. We do have key stakeholders from Decision Lens participating, and they are the audience that we send our ideas, and, on a case-by-case basis, they have the power to transform these ideas into business value for their product.

Julia Slattery: Could you expand a bit on the Tech Talks that you mentioned?

Daniel Markovits: Yeah, so the Tech Talks are an open-house presentation where we invite people from the entire client’s organization to attend and to be able to give feedback on these presentations of a new initiative and the innovative solutions that might become part of our core product. This makes them feel like a part of the engineering process and the product development, as well as integral to helping shape the way these functionalities will become core features in our product.

Julia Slattery: What brought on the decision to implement those here?

Oana Stinga: The implementation of DL Labs was proposed by Decision Lens some years ago, and it proved to be a very successful initiative since its beginnings. And we — you know, the entire team — we are continually doing it once or even twice per year. The outcome of DL Labs is very important and recognized by Decision Lens as very valuable, given the new ideas that are coming out of it that can be implemented to outline their solution. And I think all of these aspects are helping Decision Lens to maintain this idea of keeping DL Labs as a best practice within their company and actually being proactive on doing it.

Julia Slattery: What kind of results have you seen from this?

Daniel Markovits: Having so many sources of inspiration for DL Labs project, such as our long-term roadmap, client-driven ideas, new technologies, and many more, the nature of the end project varies from external product integrations, performance, scalability improvements in our main product, customizations, analytic platform adoption, internal process improvements, and even adoption of new technologies. It’s very easy to tie together all our latest development undertakings and our roadmap to the preceding DL Labs projects.

But beyond all development jumpstarts and innovation in terms of features and technologies, I want to highlight another aspect that I, as a product person, value most. DL Labs teams work together on projects that have a major impact on the organization and bring true business value to Decision Lens and its core product and its customers. Developers and QA have to dive deep into the business model and core values of the organization.

They now face the challenge of taking their projects throughout the entire product lifecycle – wearing the salesman, product owner, developer, and QA hats at the same time. This boosts cross-department communication and leads to a much deeper understanding of the product and processes by our entire engineering team.

Oana Stinga: As Dani explained very well, the results can be seen at a product level, and DL Labs brings a lot of valuable contributions to the Decision Lens solution. And I think that on top of these, we can see the cross teams working together, working on new ideas and collaborating. And it’s here that I think that DL Labs also brings great results from a team communication perspective, which can be seen with both local teams and remote teams.

Julia Slattery: The DL Labs has produced a lot of the actual work in Decision Lens. Is this method something you would recommend for every organization?

Daniel Markovits: I think the Decision Lens activity has a lot of benefits for both the engineering and the product departments. On the engineering side, it’s an awesome activity where developers get to work on their own projects. It’s a very anticipated activity. Everybody enjoys those two weeks of working on their own project. On the project side and from a design standpoint, we are also excited to be able to work in different formats and to see the ideas and the outcomes of the project that developers create.

Also, from the stakeholders’ point of view, I think having these fresh new ideas and implementations and even high-level proof of concept that ends up molding our end product, it’s a valuable thing that cannot be obtained during the conventional processes.

Oana Stinga: So we definitely recommend initiatives like DL Labs, given the fresh flavor that they bring at the team level, on the team activities, and at the product level for Decision Lens. We also recommend it because  it engages everybody on a specific activity, which is quite interesting to be a part of and to watch.

Daniel Markovits: As a final thought, I’d like quote W. Edwards Deming: “Innovation comes from the producer, not from the customer.” And this is basically the essence of DL Labs.