What is different about Arion’s Operational Model and why does it matter?

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By Natalie Golffed

August 28, 2020

Firstly, what is our operational model and how does it work?

We are structured as a matrixed network of agile teams, called squads, which are self-organizing, cross-functional, and co-located. Autonomous squads are the heart, and reason of being, of our organization.

Squads are grouped into Tribes that have a common focus, such as the underlying technology or industry they are serving. Tribe Leads own the relationship with Clients.

Members of the squads are also part of horizontal Chapters that cut across squads and tribes and support specific competencies such as TechnologyProduct Design, or Product Development. The chapters’ primary role is to support the competency development and learning, for specific functions that exist throughout the — cross-functional — squads. Such competencies vary greatly in range and might involve blockchain, IoT, DevOps, QA, design thinking, UI and UX, product management, agile coaching, and others.

Leadership within the squad is self-determined, while the chapter leader is a formal manager who focuses on coaching and mentoring, and tribe leads are responsible for strategic goal setting in partnership with our clients. Squads are loosely coupled but tightly aligned. They are autonomous but share a common purpose that guides their decisions.

How are squads tightly aligned? Where does that common purpose come from? We leverage the goal-setting framework of Objectives and Key Results, pioneered by Andy Grove at Intel and famously implemented by Google. This is a collaborative approach towards setting challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results, that becomes transparent for the entire organization. Any person can see the CEOs’ OKRs (and their achievement status), or their manager´s, or their peers, and creates their own objectives and key results seeking to align with those at the top of the organization and around them. OKRs enable focus, transparency, accountability, and above all, stretch for amazing.

Why is the operational model so important?

Our vision at Arion is to become a state-of-the-art, worldwide referenced Digital Transformation Powerhouse by 2025.

Easier said than done. To help clients transform, we must be masters at changing and improving ourselves. Digital transformation is not the same today as it was 5 years ago. We live in a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and ever-changing environment. If we want to thrive, we need to be agile. To be agile is to adapt quickly, quicker than anyone else. To be agile is to operate in rapid learning and fast decision cycles, enabled by technology and guided by a common purpose: the desire and the ability to co-create value for our clients and for ourselves.

We are guardians and masters of a constant balancing act. Between the speed of growth and delivery excellence. Between autonomy and accountability. Between alignment and control. That is why our operational model is so important, and it remains open to challenges that can help us improve as we pursue our vision.

How is this different from others?

Is our model radically innovative, unheard of, new? Not at all. You’ve seen it. You’ve heard about it. You’ve read about it. Spotify may ring a bell. Google, and others. We are not inventing anything entirely new, but we are learning from the very best and creating our own version.

That said, there are aspects of our operational model that make us proud and special:

  1. We are industry -and technology- agnostic, but business-oriented. Our clients may come from the music, healthcare, fintech, IOT, tourism, logistics, retail, real estate, you-name-it industry. This may lead you to say we are generalists, but our tribes enable industry and technology depth. Our Tribe Leads are experts on their industry, but most importantly, they are experts on our clients, on their business, on their products. We are obsessed with lifelong learning and each client is an opportunity to understand a new world of its own. Are there characteristics that repeat themselves from client to client? Yes. Are there clients that need reliable software engineering solutions for specific, known problems that need no further challenging of underlying assumptions and problem discovery? Yes. But we provide better services when we understand why our clients need what they need, and for that, we need to understand their business.
  2. We are software enabled, but product driven. This is where our chapters kick in. We are a combination of disciplines united by the passion of driving business outcomes through high quality products and software engineering solutions. Enter our offices and you will see cross functional squads where software developers co-exist with graphic designers, anthropologists, engineers, marketers… even lawyers! Working together to bring ideas to life, to understand customer needs and clearly define problems that are validated by users, to iterate through product mockups and wireframes and fast sprints and deliver high quality functioning software that can be tested by our customers. We live and breathe design thinking. To have a product mindset is a must at Arion. Tribe leads leverage this and ensure they have the right mix at their squads, so Clients can get the Arion experience. We focus on outcomes; we obsess over finding solutions. Anyone can think about a million reasons “why not” a project comes to life. We take pride in finding the “how to” make it happen.
  3. We are client centric, but strong on methodology. Our squads are autonomous. We understand each client is a world of its own, and the solution they need is special to their product and needs. But we need to enable a repeatability factor, repeatability of success, and that is enabled by our methodology. Our product focused methodology enables us to clearly define and challenge the problem statement at the beginning of any journey. We apply design thinking as we iterate through ideation of prototypes for possible solutions and we apply Agile methodologies for software development through fast sprints and timely feedback loops. Our Product Development chapter is a guardian and evangelist of our methodology, ensuring all our squads and tribes’ benefit from best practices learned. We have a toolbox, and we utilize the tools that make more sense for the project we are working on, but we always know what is available at hand.

Intrinsic motivation relies on Autonomy: the drive to run our own lives ourselves; Mastery: the desire to learn and get better at what we do and care for; and Purpose: the desire to be part of something bigger and more meaningful than ourselves. Nothing drives creativity and passion as much as intrinsic motivation. And we need creativity and passion in our business. Our clients need it and they feed off it as well. Our operational model enables this. A flat organization with autonomous self-organizing squads, with chapters that drive lifelong learning, and a guiding purpose for co-creating value for our clients and for ourselves, drives the point home.

Working at Arion means learning something new every day. It means you will lead solutions, wherever you are in the organization. It means mobility, as you will swiftly change teams and projects when appropriate, so you keep learning and growing. We are a living organism that promotes and defends transparency at all times, at all costs, because we know there is no trust otherwise.

Our operational model is key to our success. It is our version, today, of the best we know. Two years from now? We might create or come upon a new best. The beauty of our model is that it is conceived, at the heart of it, to enable improvement and adaptability.