This is a short summary of the inception of MWG’s distributed teams, and Ron Herman’s role in this capacity, first as an employee of MWG and later as an independent consultant at TeamFound. This case study is posted with permission by MyWebGrocer
Client: MyWebGrocer, a Vermont based high-growth industry leader in enterprise SaaS digital commerce solutions
Industry: U.S. Grocery Retail and CPG
Technology: Microsoft .NET, Mobile (iOS, Android), Java, DevOps
Remote Team: 80 People: Software Engineers, Testers, DB/IT Admins, PMs, BA’s, and UX/UI Designers
Location of remote team: Transylvania, Romania
MyWebGrocer: offers a complete Digital Experience Platform for grocers and CPG brands, powering every interaction to attract, engage, transact with and retain grocery shoppers through digital offerings, ranging from planning and shopping platforms to mobile and social tools. Founded in 1999, MyWebGrocer manages digital solutions for more than 130 retailers across the globe, representing more than 10,000 stores, and 500+ major CPG brands.
In 2008 while I was employed at MWG as Software Engineering Manager, our Engineering team was struggling to find qualified software developers.
MWG is located near Burlington, Vermont a region of 100,000 people where, in 2008, qualified software engineers were scarce and recruiting times were lengthy. We were recruiting locally, but the effort proved too slow and we were ultimately faced with a choice: either augment our staff elsewhere or suffer delays in releasing software to market.
We had plans for major innovations, including a first-ever iOS/Android mobile app for grocery chains, web service API’s, and platform modifications to make it all work together. Time was of the essence!
I was tasked by our CEO to lead the search for a new development partner. I called upon long-time hardware and software engineering leaders in the Boston area about their experiences. Eastern Europe, and particularly Romania came forth as an emerging high-tech region with a good balance of education, talent, and western culture. The Computer Science curriculum is rigorous and the standards of education are on par with U.S. engineering colleges. Developers are fluent in English, and are self-starting, proactive communicators.
A month later, MWG’s VP and I landed in Bucharest. We had 9 providers on our list, located across the country from the south (Bucharest) to the north (Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania). Being from Vermont, we found the Transylvanians in the north to be more our style: craftsman-like engineers, honest hard workers, with a warm personable character. Interestingly, they had decades of experience working mostly with German clients, and had developed rigorous engineering process skills. This was very promising.
We selected two providers in Cluj-Napoca and setup a small team in each, one to build the mobile apps, the other to develop our API’s. That’s 3 teams involved in this project altogether, including our internal developers. It was my task to lead the project and forge into this new model of distributed development.
At the time, MWG’s engineering processes were still emerging. Both Romanian providers helped us strengthen our communications and processes to better organize our work together. We found their guidance useful and it later served as a foundation to further mature our internal processes.
The project was very successful. MWG deployed the first-ever iOS/Android mobile apps for the grocery market, and our newly developed API’s served as key innovations helping MWG acquire its largest enterprise customer to date.
Over the course of the next couple of years, we settled on one of the two providers, and grew our teams there to 45 people by 2011.
After 11-years with MWG, I left to pursue other growth opportunities. I was asked to return to MWG to expand the Romanian team, provide management support, and coach internal team leads on how to work effectively with remote developers. This was the inception of my consulting work at TeamFound. My work with MWG lasted through 2014, having facilitated the growth of the team to 120 people in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
MWG teams were mostly structured as staff augmentation, except for Mobile and QA, which were running more independently.
- Mobile (iOS, Android)
- .NET web development
- QA Manual and Automation
- IT/System Administration
The staff also includes project managers, business analysts, UX/UI designers, and database administrators.
Continuing a partnership of over 8 years, MWG benefited from the stability of a dedicated remote team, in a seamless integration model. Instrumental in the success of the relationship were:
- The provider’s strong management and technical capability, which enabled MWG to delegate HR activities, on-boarding, people management, in order to focus more on building software.
- The particular region of Transylvania, which combines western culture, a large talented pool of well educated engineers, and an emerging high-tech community.
- MWG and the provider’s focus on human relationships, which involved building a culture of open communication and regular in-person meetings to strengthen knowledge transfer and cohesion among the distributed team members.
- The flexibility, trust and commitment from the management team, and throughout all levels of the organization.