Three secrets behind an application with five million users

success from close up
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What success is like from close up

AODocs – a cloud-based enterprise solution for document management – is used by five million users and must be continuously available. Our 10-person team in Budapest is part of a 50+ international group of experts in four countries on two continents working on the product. In the second half of 2019, AODocs was listed among the top players by Forrester and Gartner in their reports on cloud content service platforms. As we recollected past events, we have found the following three key strengths fundamental to Aliz Tech’s contribution.

We committed to delivering quality.

Our company, Aliz, was founded by developers with a vision to create a good environment for software development. We have kept this vision in mind and perfected our practices every day with increasing success. We have a thorough review process and practice pairing to ensure the best possible result. From the customer’s side, this was rewarded with a very high level of freedom and empowerment. By sticking to our standards and treating the freedom we were offered responsibly, we built trust with the wider team day-by-day, year-by-year. To focus on what matters, we have chosen modern managed technologies like App Engine, Datastore, and BigQuery. These technologies don’t require infrastructure support so we can focus on delivering value for our customers.

We established collaboration processes and followed them through.

We separated the team working on AODocs into two smaller groups. One is dedicated to feature development, while the other provides Level 3 support and improves the stability and performance of the production system. From time to time, we rotate team members. This helps to avoid burnout and provides an opportunity to do focused work. We adopted the Scrum approach to delivering new features. In each sprint, we plan, groom, and estimate the scope of the coming weeks in a kanban-like manner. We assign the newly defined issues to individual team members to investigate, understand the need, check the code, map the possible constraints, and come up with an improvement plan. Then we gather to present what we have learned about the issue, discuss it, and either estimate its complexity, or send it back to the product owner for further elaboration. Thorough planning and grooming proved to be beneficial in many ways. We have a better understanding of both the business and the technical context. We’ve reduced the number of errors and consequently the time spent on rework. To handle technical debt, we introduced a maintenance period lasting 2-6 weeks between large releases. During this time every one of us works together on the technical backlog.

We have built a strong feedback culture.

At Aliz, on a company level, we’ve established a half-yearly performance appraisal process in which all the criteria are either defined or approved by senior developers. In our team, we added a bi-monthly feedback round when our most senior team members provide mentoring feedback for the others. We even use the sprint closing retrospectives with a strong focus on the issues we have worked on and the professional lessons we have learned. Frequent feedback helped us learn faster and avoid repeating mistakes. Integrating new team members became faster and simpler. Communication generally improved with formerly unspoken expectations articulated into norms and policies.

We are part of a wider team.

As subcontractors of the product development company, we are only partial contributors to the product’s success. We don’t want to take all of the credit for this huge achievement; we’d rather praise all of those who participated in this journey and be happy to be a part of it. When reading the reports by Gartner and Forrester, I felt proud and was inspired to think and write about our journey. It’s often hard to see the small wins when we are bothered by the many deficiencies around us. But eventually, these small wins compounded and built into solid milestones. The journey has been a long one, and the best route was not always clear. We had conflicts and challenges. And all this will likely repeat itself as we move forward. But step by step we have gained confidence – making it easier to focus on what is really meaningful for the product, for the team, and for the team members. Disclaimer: Altirnao Inc. is the sole owner of AODocs, the document management solution mentioned in the article. A dedicated team at Aliz Tech – subcontractor to Altirnao Inc. – contributes to the platform by developing features to AODocs and providing continuous support.

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