February 7, 2013

From Pig Farming to Perforce 20/20, a Short Journey!

Version Control


Last week Perforce co-sponsored Monki Gras 2013. This was a fascinating event, created by RedMonk to bring together a broad range of startups and those interested in building interesting businesses, most of which were IT related but not all. The main theme being "Scaling craft" it discussed all aspects of how small teams can grow while maintaining the craft priorities of quality and service. With a focus on beer as much as technology a fascinating group came together to share their experiences. For a great summary of what happened, take a look at Tim Anderson's excellent blog post.

In order to learn from businesses outside the traditional IT realm, we heard from excellent speakers like Cyndi Mitchell of Logscape and Thoughtworks who talked about the various "levers" involved in producing high quality pigs (e.g. herd size is critical to reduce stress on pigs and staff - seemed a lot like planning how scrum teams should be set up) and therefore high quality meat and how the same values might be applied to software development. We also heard from various brewers and the rapidly growing interest in their product some of the best of which we were able to enjoy during the event. Who knew we had 28 Beer Sommeliers in the UK?

We also heard from small, and not so small, IT businesses and what they're doing to ensure they maintain their quality and "craft" while growing rapidly. This ranged from enforced shared coffee making at Heroku to the *no* managers approach at GitHub (although I had to wonder if this wasn't a bit 1984-like - are some more equal than others?). Such practices will be difficult to scale (although you probably can survive for a while with a good stash of VC cash).

All of these examples were still pretty small though. Heroku are still less than 100 (although now part of the mighty Salesforce.com they're still pretty independent) and GitHub are around 146. The "Dunbar Number" was mentioned a couple of times - 150 being estimated to be the maximum size of any communications network that can function effectively. Will such companies be able to grow past that number and still keep their current practices?

There seems to be few examples of large companies that have managed to maintain a craft approach while becoming large businesses. Google and Facebook may have started as one or two person companies but can what they're doing now be described as "Craft"? Perhaps the one example is Apple. Apple have their roots in a generation that started with Hewlett & Packard working from their garage when building computers was clearly a craft even if not called that at the time. Apple have continued to prioritize their "craft" - design and quality - over reducing price arguably due to centralization of control. Steve Jobs and Jonny Ive have clearly had a clear vision and taken few prisoners in making it real. So, does that mean heavily centralized control is the only effective way to scale craft?

The chances are that these novel startups will either be absorbed into some mega-corp (and who can blame the entrepreneur that invests so much time and effort to start a business and then realizes some value from an IPO or acquisition) or perhaps there could be a new era of large companies with novel management structures and cultures that allow them to continue to balance their craft with productivity.

As Perforce founder and CEO, Christopher Seiwald, said in his recent Wired article, some of the biggest companies in the world including Qualcomm, Salesforce.com, and SAP (all Perforce users coincidentally) managed to grow their code alongside their business by using good source code management from the start. Today's startups are often doing that with Git or Perforce. For Git users, Perforce Git Fusion helps enable those startups to have a strong base on which to build their business and allows them to refactor their Git repositories as needed when their projects and teams grow in size or priorities change as the company pivots direction. Git Fusion is available as part of Perforce 20/20 so free of charge for small businesses - the right price when focusing on delivering your craft.

Perforce can't help with pig breeding (well, not much), but it can be a valuable tool for the rapidly growing new business.