photo credits: Ville Saarinen
Futurice
around 250 people, IT services

General

Futurice is an international service company working in a sphere of web and mobile development. Its services include but not limited to digital business consulting, service and UX design, digital strategy, and web and mobile app development.

Futurice was founded in 2000 in Helsinki, Finland and right now has around 250 employees in Helsinki, Tampere, Berlin, London and Lausanne. It won “The Best Place to Work in Europe” award twice in 2012 and 2013. Not only Futurice grows smoothly from the very beginning but it’s also very profitable.

One of major sources I use for this case study is Cultural Audit (in Finnish, PDF)
In 2012, the turnover was 14.5 million euros, 19 millon euros in 2013 and 23 million euros in 2014.
from a private correspondance with Yrjö Kari-Koskinen, HR & Communication specialist
Futurice invests time, efforts and money into improvement of open source software as they believe the world should be more open and transparent. They launched a program called Spiceto share their progress and results.

Values

During the process of transformation (happened in 2008) four values emerged from the company-wide brainstorming:

  • Trust. Trust is the key factor in our culture as it ties our values and employees together. "This is a company build on trust" is true in every aspect of Futurice.
  • Transparency. In a transparent working community, trust creates prosperity. Transparency is a cultural motivator that obligates everyone to stay on top of information and knowledge affecting their own work.
  • Continuous development. How often do you seek approval instead of feedback in your own work? How can you avoid these situations? Do you notice others seeking approval from you?
  • Caring. The basis for trust, transparency and continuous improvement is caring. We care, sincerely, and our care extends to our employees, our customers and the end user.
from futurice.com website

I was lucky to take part in FutuFriday. It’s a day reserved for learning, communication and exchange of ideas. That time their CEO Tuomas Syrjänen gave a talk. He shared what he had observed on their internal communication channels, how it reflected his understanding of company values and what he learned from it. He openly talked how his behaviour hadn’t been aligned with their values and how he was going to change it.

During that sincere and informal speech one thought kept coming to my mind, Lead by example. When a leader of an organisation communicates this way it motivates everyone to behave in a similar transparent manner. For Futurice words trust and transparency are not something they wrote down, put on a wall and forgot. The company actually lives these values.

Roles and Structure

Futurice has offices in Helsinki, Tampere, Berlin, London and Lausanne. The largest one is in Helsinki where the company was founded. Wide geographic coverage brings additional challenges. On one hand they want to share the same set of values and keep the identify of Futurice around all offices. On the other hand the offices outside Helsinki should be autonomous and fully functional. Current approach to structure the organisation helps them to deal with complexity. When the situation changes they will change the structure accordingly.

There are several tribes and service teams at Futurice.

Tribes

Tribe is a group of roughly 30-50 Futupeople united by the only principle — they want to work together. The tribes are customer-oriented. All services provided by Futurice to its customers are provided by members of the tribes. Each tribe is responsible for its P&L, employee engagement and professional improvement, customer satisfaction and so on. In short, each tribe operates as a small company and as autonomously as possible from other tribes.

Tribes are location-based. There are three or four tribes in Helsinki office, and one tribe in each other city as they are not big enough yet.

The process of tribes’ formation was self-organized and facilitated. People naturally selected tribes with fellows whom they worked on customer premises and knew better. During tribe formation one more task was solved. Each tribe serves a set of big clients and a number of small ones. Some of these clients, especially big ones, might be competitors and issues could arise if one group of people work for both of them. Futurice tried to create tribes the way that such clashes wouldn’t happen.

Tribe has 3-4 chiefs that were selected by the tribe itself. The chiefs are responsible for helping members of the tribe to do a great job and keep the tribe successful and engaged. The chiefs practice lead and engage approach, not command and control. Their power is limited and Futupeople could vote by their feet — if they don't like the tribe they could leave it any day.

Tribe has 3-4 chiefs and the rest are tribe members. The tribe size is capped at 60 (with desired minimum being 30, but this may not be strictly adhered to). There is no externally expected structure within the tribe; any internal structure a tribe has is of their own devising.
from private correspondence with Petri Heiramo, Agile Coach

Being part of a tribe doesn't mean a Futuperson doesn't work on projects with people from other tribes. Futurice lives by its values: care about customer goes first and removes any destructive competition. During my visit to Futurice, Michail Samarin mentioned that around 20% of tribe members moving from tribe to tribe on a regular basis.

How does this movement look like? When a new gig appears the tribe chiefs seek to form a team. If all the people cannot be found from the tribe, the chiefs ask from other tribes. If a potential candidate is found they ask if he is interested in that gig. Tribe member could say “no” and tribe chiefs continue their search.

Project Teams

Futupersons rarely work at customer premises alone. In most cases they form project teams up to five-six people. Not only working in a team is more engaging but a customer gets more value. Project teams are self-sufficient units including developers, designers and UX experts. They deliver products of higher quality than lone wolves.

Service Teams

This setup covers many activities but not all. For example, there are continuous improvement or strategical planning on a company level. Some activities like initial screening of applicants can effectively use economy of scale without damaging their quality.

For these purposes Futurice has IT, Human Care, CTO Task Force and executive service teams. CTO Task Force is responsible for continuous support with competence development, meeting facilitation, personal coaching and mentoring. Other service teams are self-descriptive.

Information Flow

Futurice believes that people won't be able to make good decision themselves without open and truthful communications. Most of the information is available to everyone in the company and they constantly improve its quality: not only people should know but they also should easily and clearly understand what the information conveys.

  • All meetings are open. Everyone can join, listen and give an opinion;
  • Notes from weekly executives' meetings are shared with the whole staff;
  • Every month a report on financial performance is shared. It contains a lot of visual data to be easy to grasp;
  • News about new hires, changes, projects and their statuses are delivered through Flowdock, emails and face to face meetings;
  • For internal conferences and events a video conference connection is set up. Presentation are recorded and available on the intranet.

FutuFriday is held every first Friday of a month and it's common for all locations. FutuFriday takes half a day and is devoted to learning, sharing and creating a spirit of Futurice. It consists of several sections including PayDay Pizza, Ask the CEO Anything, Pecha Kucha presentations and others. At that day all Futupeople come to offices from clients' locations to share news, talk to colleagues and have fun.

A video connection between offices is established to put all company together on FutuFriday, at least virtually. Futurice experiments with different tools to decrease the distance gap. When I took part in the event they used Google Hangouts. And who knows what they will use in a half a year? May be there will be telepresence robots circling around the offices.

Walls in the offices are actively used to share news, emotions, values. There are:

  • Strategy wall, an area on the kitchen wall where you can put your own ideas and wishes regarding the firm's strategy
  • Proud Wall, office has a wall space, where anybody can put prints and pictures of successful projects, and other topics of pride.
  • QualityTime, Quality Assurance Newsletter which is placed in toilets and gained wide popularity.
  • and many others.

Decision-making

Employees are granted the power to make the decisions that most affect themselves, and remove any obstacles on their path without external assistance.
from Master's Thesis by Markus Koljonen

However, they are encouraged to take an advice from everyone whom the decision may concern.

Futurice developed 3x2 model which is their implementation of the advisory process.

"When moving towards a decision, a new project or an outsourcing task, there are three (3) times two (2) aspects to consider about its immediate and future impact: how does the decision affect your colleagues, the customer and the numbers, now and in the future."
See more: 3x2 model

A positive influence of the model is difficult to overestimate: from improvements of working environment, decorations and toys to FutuClubs, the company's own radio station.

Meetups, communities of practice and clubs are run the same way. If you want to organise a meeting just do it. Folks from Human Care will help you to book a venue if the internal one doesn’t suit you. They will help food, drinks and even basic event promotion.

Conflict Resolution

Futurice is built in a way that conflicts can be avoided at the outset or their emergence could be detected in early stages before actual clashes and unfavourable situations take place.

  • common values and daily focus on everybody's well-being remove a lot of pressure;
  • job satisfaction is regularly monitored through monthly surveys;
  • weekly smiles help to relieve bad feelings and invite employees to discuss problems openly.

Thanks to 3x2 model, employees are obliged to do their best to find solution. Strong focus on autonomy and self-management significantly increase the chance a Futuperson resolves an issue himself.

However, sometimes conflicts couldn't be resolved one on one. For this purpose a number of safety and support networks exists. A Futuperson can contact:

  • mentor, supervisor or coach;
  • HR team which constantly communicate with employees to ensure it's very easy to approach HR in difficult situation;
  • safety representative elected by employees;
  • supervisor of supervisor or CEO.

Investments / Budgets

Each Futuperson has a credit card which could be used without any approval. The approach increases the speed of reaction and makes employees happier.

Instead of having a problem of people using the card too much, I'd say we have the reverse problem. People are not comfortable making investments, or discussing them with others.
from private correspondence with Petri Heiramo, Agile Coach

As everything in Futurice, card expenses are transparent and available to everyone.

Bigger investments affect more people and need more time to be discussed. They want to be sure an investment will be useful for the company.

Petri shared a nice story with me:

from private correspondence with Petri Heiramo, Agile Coach

[...] I made the decision to get us communications training from a great local trainer. Even though I was convinced he would be good for us, it took me like 8 months to actually make the investment. We are talking about roughly 30000€ in direct expenses and lots of worktime. I was greatly helped by one of our sites doing a single session on their own, using the same pattern, which was very liked. This helped build internal interest and confidence to invest into the larger set. [...]

On one level, I think that was a lot of work to make the decision that in my head I had already made a year ago. On the other hand, it was a big investment and it was worth making sure it's what people want.

Salary & Bonuses

Salary is based on your move along the career path which is discussed twice a year on checkpoints. Basically you move to the next level if all your stakeholders — colleagues, clients, managers — are satisfied with your work. At most companies next level means a next step in a common hierarchical ladder Developer → Team Leader → Project Manager → Department Head. Not at Futurice. Next level means a wider sphere of your responsibilities there.

Obvious example is becoming a tribe leader. It’s just one path. Another path is become an advocate of some technology, running community of practice, writing blogposts and taking every chance to share interesting information about the topic you care about.

Salary process is a bit more centralized than other employee issues; we have a salary board for each tribe that convenes before/during each checkpoint round, and in which HC (Human Care) and tribe chiefs discuss salary raise needs and what is possible. This then filters back to checkpoint conversations.
from private correspondence with Petri Heiramo, Agile Coach

Minimum and maximum salaries for each level are known. There is also a page in the intranet where everyone could share their current level. At the time of writing that page has ~ 50-60 records. This list of “anchors” help employees to compare themselves with the people they know and start the discussion if they need an increase.

Futurice aims to ensure that everyone understands how they can affect the success of the company as an individual and how they mutually benefit from the success.

Performance Evaluation

Performance is evaluated regularly by peers. It aims to provide an honest feedback and help people to develop faster as professionals.

There are weekly and monthly meetings where Futupeople share progress and their colleagues share their opinions. This environment creates a very fast feedback cycle and people have plenty of chances to learn and improve.

Good performance is important for moving to the next level on a career path. However, it's evaluated holistically by everyone you work with — colleagues, managers, mentors, clients and yourself.

Hiring

Futurice has pretty formalized process with a sharp focus on fit by values. If interviewers believe that a candidate doesn't fit the culture, they shake hands and move apart on any step of the recruitment process.

Another important difference is that Futurice doesn't hire by needs. They have established network of trusted contractors which are ready to help in case of urgency. However, they won't hire anyone just to close a role.

Futurice's recruitment steps:

  1. Get to know. Run by HR and aimed to set up initial relationships with a candidate;
  2. Competence evaluation. Run by HR and aimed to understand a level of qualification of a candidate. At this step the candidate decides which available team she wants to join;
  3. Team interview. Run by team members (at least 3). A candidate gets homework which is discussed at the interview;
  4. Career level and career plan. Run by supervisor and mentor and aimed to create an initial realistic career plan;
  5. Final. Run by HR, aimed to close the recruitment process and at which all required paper work is done.

Onboarding

Futurice does it best to integrate a new employee into the life of the company. After 4 months of onboarding process a new employee should have a clear picture of the company, know many people, have a developed career plan and etc.

It all starts on the first day when a new employee meets her team, mentor, supervisor, career coach, CEO and other random people.

Onboarding includes many training like financial education, information security, intellectual property, quality. On first two months the employee also takes part in several group sessions aimed to provide basic information about different activities of the company, introduce new employees to each other and familiarize with various professional disciplines.

During the onboarding process the employee has several interviews with HR, supervisor and mentor to check current state and discuss how the things are going.

Last day of successful onboarding period is a team's celebration.

Turnover

Turnover in Futurice is very low. People like an autonomy, trust and openness. Moreover some people who left the company to experiment with other stuff, came back. There are “Back to Futurice” T-shirts specially designed for these cases.

Personal Development

Futurice has, probably, the most impressive and well-developed program for personal growth I ever met. However it shouldn't surprise you as it's completely in line with one of their values. Futurice created an enviroment which motivates and helps people to learn and discover new things daily, stay aware of their progress and get support from their peers.

Futurice Career Carrier (FCC) program consists of four main elements:

  • Career Path model,
  • Mentoring/Career Coaching,
  • MAD,
  • Weekly :).

Career Path

Career Path is a long-term plan of professional development which every employee creates himself with support from a mentor, HR and manager. The process starts at the interview and new changes come on a regular basis.

Career Path helps to understand what direction employees want to grow and clarify resources the company could provide for faster movement along the path.

Mentoring

To proceed faster in personal growth, every Futuperson may have a mentor. Mentor plays multiple roles: a traditional mentor, coach, teacher, sparring partner (career and professional development) or work partner, as well as hugger, or a listener.

Mentors are not simply more experienced colleagues — they take regular training to give people as much support as possible.


In addition to a developed career path, Futupeople have weekly, monthly and semi-annually checkpoints. On semi-annually checkpoints a Futuperson together with the mentor and the supervisor creates a long-term vision and objectives. The mentor and the supervisor help to align the objectives with company's and team's strategy and vision, career patterns and so on. If needed they add short-term milestones to the list. Both long- and short-term vision and objectives are public thus enabling future support from other employees.

MAD

Monthly checkpoints are called MAD (Monthly Anonymous Developer) and held on FutuFridays. It's an one-hour meeting when each employee goes through the targets in a group of colleagues he considered best: team, project team or competence area team. Futulainens answer four questions:

  • What are the goals?
  • What did I try to make last month?
  • How was it developed and what did I learn?
  • What will I try to make this month and how I think can it be?

Weekly :) (Weekly Smiles)

Weekly meetings got this name on purpose. Futupeople spend many hours at customers' locations and on Friday they meet each other, share their emotions, progress, failures and wins.

These meetings help Futupeople to keep team spirit, get or give some help, talk about clients and grab latest news.


Employees in Futurice run multiple internal conferences, trainings and workshops where everyone can learn or take part. 3x2 model motivates people to be proactive and organize trainings on topics not related to job at all. As mentioned in Investments block, Futulainens can use their credit card for taking part in conferences or courses.

Employees are compensated for taking part in open source projects. They share what they did in the open source channel in Flowdock and log in how many hours they spent. Sharing is a requirement and very smart one. Others in the company see that there’s someone interested in Haskell, for example. They could approach him any time to know more, to help with the development or to suggest a new project.



This article wouldn't be published without a help from Petri Heiramo and Yrjö Kari-Koskinen. I'm in debt to them for their time answering my numerous questions and proof-reading the article. Folks, you rock!