Easy Agile Podcast Ep.11 Dave Elkan & Nick Muldoon on building Easy Agile

by Dave Elkan, Co-CEO

20 Sep 2021

"Our purpose is to help teams be agile and in doing that, we're doing that for ourselves, we're constantly trying to learn and adapt and experiment with new things. I hope that was a useful little tidbit and journey from Dave and I on how we got Easy Agile to this point."

"There's these funny little hacks and analogies and I think that's a longterm vision thing. If you are running a business which doesn't have that longterm vision and purpose, then you can go actually in multiple directions at once, and you're not going to make any progress."

On this episode of The Easy Agile Podcast, join Nick Muldoon and Dave Elkan, Co-CEO's and Co Founders of Easy Agile. As they look forward to the next phase of growth for the company, they wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on their journey so far.

Nick and Dave talk growing a start-up in regional Australia, finding the right people, sustaining a positive team culture and the importance of having values driven teams.

Be sure to subscribe, enjoy the episode 🎧

Transcript

Nick Muldoon:

Good day, folks. Nick Muldoon with co-founder, co-CEO of Easy Agile, Dave Elkan. Before we kick off, we'd just like to do an acknowledgement to the traditional custodians of the land on which we broadcast and record today, the Wodiwodi people of the Dharawal Nation. We pay our respects to elders, past and present, and extend that same respect to any of our aboriginal folks that are listening today.

Nick Muldoon:

Dave, just a bit of a reflection on five and a half years of business?

Dave Elkan:

Business? Yeah, a rollercoaster. It's been great fun.

Nick Muldoon:

It is a rollercoaster, isn't it? I guess, where's the best place to start? The best place to start is at the start.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, I mean we can go before the start. There's always a good prequel. We can do a prequel episode later, I guess. But I guess the earliest I remember working with you, Nick, was at Level 15 at Kent Street, at Atlassian. There was this redheaded guy down the one end of the building, working on Atlassian GreenHopper and I was busy working on the Kick-Ass team at the time, building the new issue navigator, which is now the old issue navigator, back in 2011. And then you screwed off to San Francisco and I followed eventually, and then we hung out there for a while, didn't we?

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, I remember that because we sat down, I was back to get married, and we sat down and had a coffee and a yarn about you and Rin relocating to San Francisco and how it had been for Liz and I, and what the process was like and all that sort of stuff.

Dave Elkan:

That's a great opportunity to acknowledge our lives in this amazing journey as well and if it wasn't for those, we probably wouldn't have gone to San Francisco in the first place, because a large part of the promotion of going overseas and doing that for me anyway, and for yourself, I'm pretty sure.

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah. Well, Liz was this big conversation of go overseas and experience something new and I was quite comfortable in Sydney and enjoying my role with product management at Atlassian, but it was really a push to try and experience and do something a bit different.

Dave Elkan:

Absolutely, same here. And you were there for over four years, in San Francisco, and I was there for three. But you came home, you got married, and I just grabbed you for a coffee and we sat there in Martin Place and had a chat, and you said, "Yeah, it's great. Come over, you can stay with me for two weeks." And I'm like, "Oh, I barely know you."


Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, but it was so much. I mean, even not knowing Liz or I, it was way better than the alternative. So for folks listening in, the Atlassian apartment, at the time, was in a fairly rough part of The Tenderloin in San Francisco, and it probably wasn't the greatest introduction if someone was relocating to San Francisco.

Dave Elkan:

No. But to cut a long story, there's a lot of good stories here I'm sure we can tell one day, but eventually, we both had daughters in San Francisco and we wanted to be home and closer to family. Then we came home to Sydney and found that the traffic is 20% worse or 50% worse than when we left and we were uprooted. So once you've been uprooted, you've got to plant yourself back somewhere and it's quite easy to change at that point, and you've chosen to go outside of Sydney.

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, this Wollongong regional lifestyle.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, where you can have a full block of land to yourself without breaking the bank and you can, relatively speaking, like times have changed a bit in that space, but since then, that's what we were chasing, wasn't it? And we looked at Newcastle, and-

Nick Muldoon:

Looked at Newcastle, looked at Brisbane, Adelaide, we even went through Wagga Wagga. We had the most amazing Indian meal in Wagga Wagga, we were almost like, "This is the place. If we can get food like this in Wagga, we're sweet." Bit too cold, but we ended up settling on Wollongong, in large part because of the proximity to the beach and the Early Start Discovery Space for the kids and just a pretty cool, chill place to raise a family. There are aspects of it as well, I think, that really reminded Liz and I of San Francisco. We used to go to the farmers market down at the Ferry Building a lot on a Saturday morning, and we found the farmers market on a Friday in Wollongong on Crown Street North, so there were these similarities to kind of enable us to transfer from one city to the other fairly easily.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. It's a pretty easy place to live and to be. The way I like turn it, is it's just far enough away from Sydney.

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, a nice little national park in between.

Dave Elkan:

That's right, it can't really encroach on us, it's not allowed. You can't build there so you're always going to have that buffer. But I do remember going back to Sydney for a niece's birthday and having been charged $9 an hour for parking at the beach, considering you don't even have a parking sticker anymore because I wasn't a resident, and I was like, "Wow, it's really expensive." But for anyone coming to Wollongong or the other way, you can park for free at the beach. That's just kind of like a good litmus test of the difference that we're talking about here.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I guess this regional life, like we didn't really have a tech industry here. We come from Sydney where, 10 years ago, there was this emerging tech scene and SydJS, SydCSS, other meetups up there, and in San Francisco we were thrust right in the middle of it. I remember, we were chatting the other week about a meetup where we met, the Ruby Creator at a Heroku meetup, I think it was, and a session on [detrace 00:06:17] at that company that's gone bust now, whose name I can't even remember, but we were in the heart of all the meetups in San Francisco. Then in Wollongong, there was none of it, and so it was like a question of what could we do to build a community here as well, try and meet other like minded folks?

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, it was definitely that desire, wasn't there? And we set out to do that, and I think it was Rin who termed it Siligong. I remember we were actually talking about Siligong Valley before we actually left, and we just decided to make that the name of the community. I was actually looking back on my old emails the other day and I was like, "Oh, we actually talked about Siligong before being in Wollongong," so that's pretty cool.

Nick Muldoon:

I remember early days because I think you and Rin returned on flight with [Umi 00:07:08], and Umi was six or eight weeks old.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, October.

Nick Muldoon:

If I'm not mistaken, I dropped you at your mom's place so that you could catch up with your mom and Ken and that was kind of like home base. And it was a couple of months after that or something, where we finally had you down here. I think you stayed with Liz and I when you came down here-

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, again for two weeks.

Nick Muldoon:

... for another couple of weeks, and we were really talking about the genesis of what was, at the time, what was termed Arijea Products, and a brand that we never ended up sticking with. What do you remember about those early days and trying to get the business off the ground?

Dave Elkan:

Actually, come to think of it, you were staying in, not Coniston, [Carmila 00:07:59], it was actually less than two weeks because we all had little kids and it was just a bit crazy. So I think Rin and I organized... we came down and did inspections and we stayed with you whilst we're doing that, and then we were able to secure a place in Fairy Meadow and we moved down, so we were going back and forth a bit at that point. And then it was this six months of just literally... I didn't have a bike, I just walked to work, which is super new to me. I've always caught the bus or ridden my bike.

Dave Elkan:

Some of you may know I've never commuted to work and I hopefully will never have to do that, and we've engineered our lives around that kind of concept. But I think that it was really great, I was just living within two kilometers' walk of work, and that was for at least the first six months until I moved to Balgownie, but it was great time of my life and we had a brand new baby and just concentrating on the business, trying to [crosstalk 00:09:00]-

Nick Muldoon:

I remember, we really didn't have much of an idea of what we were doing in early days. We chased down one area and we said, "No, that's not appropriate," and then we kind of turned our attention to something else.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. We were chasing our tails a little bit. We, at one point, had five products with two people.

Nick Muldoon:

That's right.

Dave Elkan:

I think that, that's too much, but with good conversations with the fellows around us at IXI, that we were able to have... like they were asking good questions and I remember Rob and Nathan asking us, "What is it you're good at?" And I think it was Rin, was like, "Okay, you've got this app idea, who're you going to market it to? Look at your networks." And it was, all those arrows started pointing towards Agile.

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, I think it was this idea that Rin had like, "You can build it and they will come, or you can figure out your go-to market and your distribution piece, and what's the audience that you've already got, and how do you leverage the audience that you've already got in Agile Software Development to kind of seed and build that audience, and get some momentum?" And that's what really kicked us along and got us going. If I'm not mistaken, I think we'd actually... not that we had a lot of outgoings, but I think we were actually break-even by June of 2016, and it was kind of like this, "Hurray," moment because we were not going to have to get on the train and commute to Sydney for working at Atlassian or something like that. We'd found product-market fit and we could kind of pursue and go to the next stage.

Dave Elkan:

That's right, yeah. There's a lot in that story as well, like how we found product-market fit and the steps towards that and lots of learnings from that time as well, which is great to share eventually, I guess, but we might go down a rabbit hole if we jump into that one. But I certainly do remember good considered conversations that were held by lamingtons and tea in the Mike Codd building at the Innovation Campus at University of Wollongong, where we started. And that was really just a time to... it felt different to my prior, at the time 15 years of experience, where you actually, it's okay to stop and talk and think about what you're doing, whereas in the past, it's just been, "Go, go, go, build this thing." And it's like, "Oh, okay," so that was really refreshing for me and I think that, that was a really good step in opening up what became the story map, which was our first really successful product.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). You mentioned the lamingtons and tea, it was probably at least 50% of our time getting the business off the ground, was lamingtons and tea. It was chatting about stuff, it wasn't writing code, we didn't have customers to speak of. It was really trying to figure out what sort of market did we want to pursue, what solutions did we want to provide and what sort of business did we want to create? That was a large part of our time getting it off the ground.

Dave Elkan:

Absolutely. And for those listeners out there who don't know what a lamington is, it's actually a delicious piece of sponge cake dipped in chocolate sauce and then coconut, shredded coconut, so I know you can buy them in US, we actually did that at Atlassian and they were a huge success, especially because they had cream inside them as well, so real good for a cup of tea or coffee, whatever you take. But the thing is that it's a good idea to sit down with a co-founder and talk a lot more than you type, that's the kind of rule I took out of that.

Nick Muldoon:

It's interesting because it was kind of like that approach to talking instead of typing that was kind of like the genesis of one of our values, this engaged system, too. And I don't think you'd read Kahneman's book at that time, and that was something that came later, but even just this idea of, "Now, let's just take the time to think and process this sort of stuff," and the context [crosstalk 00:13:09]-

Dave Elkan:

No, I do remember. Sorry, yeah. I did a presentation at Lansing Summit in 2017 on Engaged System too.

Nick Muldoon:

16 or 17?

Dave Elkan:

16 or 17, I can't remember which one it is.

Nick Muldoon:

'16 because you went to Barcelona in '16.

Dave Elkan:

Barcelona, and that's what I did there, wasn't it? Yeah, so that was early on that I read Thinking, Fast and Slow, which I highly recommend.

Nick Muldoon:

And the context around this, for folks listening; in mid 2016, Dave had a nine month old daughter. My daughter was two years old and I had a newborn and you were to have... your number two was on the way, right? So we were building a business as we were starting and establishing our families as well, so it was, "Let's do it all," in a new city. Like, "Let's do it all at once."

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, you might as well, right? Just bite it all off and rip the Band-Aid off and get it done. I mean, my daughters were only 18 months apart, so that kind of... just get it over and done with. Get the hard part done and then you can go and enjoy yourself afterwards, just kidding. It's great to have lots of kids at a young age, like I really do miss that time. But yeah, we were pretty crazy, but we got through.

Nick Muldoon:

It gave us a constraint as well, didn't it? Because we couldn't burn the midnight oil, we couldn't flog ourselves from 05:00 AM to midnight because we simply did not have the energy and we had to get kids fed and bathed and off to bed and all that sort of stuff. So it brought a cadence and now that I reflect on that, there was another value that was kind of coming out of that, which was with respect to our balance and establishing balance in our lives.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah I do remember, sorry to interrupt, a tweet idea, I can probably dig it up, which was me hanging out cloth nappies or diapers on... it must've been, it was in Balgownie so that must've been after six months. But I was hanging out nappies and I must've been working from home that day or something like that, but that was just like me balancing life like that, with work. And I think it came back with like work, life, family balance or something like that. We would expand that to work life, family, community balance, is what we try and chase.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). How did we get on this journey around the values and kind of establishing the values? When was that in the life of the business?

Dave Elkan:

I can remember the place we were in, we were actually in our Crown Street office when we really sat down and really hunkered down into that, so that would've been 2018.

Nick Muldoon:

I think in November 2018, we held our first advanced Easy Agile, and that's where you ran the session, "What got us here won't get us there." And so at that point in time, we had the two products, we had Easy Agile User Story Maps and Easy Agile Roadmaps, and we had changed our brand from Arijea Products to Easy Agile, to kind of focus our energy on the Agile space. We divested the other three products that weren't focused on Agile, so we'd sold those off to another Atlassian Solution marketplace partner. I think that's where we started having these conversations around the next evolution of the growth of the business. Then it was in 2019 where we were back in Crown Street, back in the office, where we were having that conversation about codifying, establishing, writing down our values.

Dave Elkan:

That's right, and it's a highly valuable process to go through and to really just pause on the day to day, and really focus on it. That's something I've always had trouble with, like I've always got things to do, but once you just extract yourself from that process and zoom out and look at the company and what you've come up and what you hold dear, that's when you can really start having those conversations, but making it an actual thing. I think that you can't just do it on the side, you can't just do it as well as other things, it's really got to be like the priority as I like to say. Priority is not a plural, it doesn't make any sense if it's pluralized, but that should be the one thing you do in an ideal circumstance, like you just do it and really focus on it, because it's really hard.

Dave Elkan:

And it shouldn't, I guess not in one sitting, but at least when you do it, make it a serious thing because if they're real values and you live them, like they just are pretty immutable, they just keep moving forward with you. If you found you're not living them, then you should absolutely revisit them, but we've been lucky enough in that the values we put forward have stayed true and I really feel like, of all the companies I've worked at, even Atlassian, like these ones I've lived every day in very distinct ways.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So what are the values we've got? We've talked about better with balance, and we talked about that a little bit. We also talked about engaged System 2 like this System 2 thinking. What are our values?

Dave Elkan:

Be the customer, give back, and [crosstalk 00:18:30]-

Nick Muldoon:

[crosstalk 00:18:30] was a big one, and commit to team. So better with balance, give back, be the customer, punch above our weight, Engaged System 2 and commit as a team. Go back to the conversation that we were having in 2017 around give back, that was something that was really System 2. How did we think about giving back to the community and what that meant to us as a company?

Dave Elkan:

I think it goes back to what you said before about the community in San Francisco we experienced and what we did here with Siligon and just making that a focal point for us to give back to the community. It doesn't build itself, like the community has to be actively built by somebody has to put their hand up and start it, and I think we did that. Since then, like we've enabled heaps of other people to be able to give back in a really easy kind of way like, "Let's host a meetup," "That's fine, here's our framework to go build that on." And also just the daily communication we have amongst each other on our Siligon Slack, which is just super valuable.

Nick Muldoon:


Super active, too.

Dave Elkan:

Oh, super active, especially in lockdown, lots of people on there talking about all sorts of things.

Nick Muldoon:

I think maybe one of the other things, so Dave and I experienced this at Atlassian, which was this idea of the Pledge 1%, but in our first or second year of Easy Agile, Atlassian along with Salesforce and a bunch of other companies came together to actually codify and build the foundation around Pledge 1% and ask other companies to commit to that. And we made that commitment in 2017 if I'm not mistaken, to do Pledge 1% donations and now, where I guess we're kind of doing Pledge 2% donations, but what was the drive behind our Pledge 1% to Room to Read?

Dave Elkan:

It's in part laziness, because I really want a system to these kinds of things and unfortunately, when you're starting a business it's hard to dedicate the time and to think about that. So I took the easy System 1 option, which is to go with what we experienced at Atlassian, which was to back Room to Read, which is a great initiative to help ensure that young ladies, specifically in third world countries, get at least a higher education, get out of primary school, get into high school, and once they've gotten to that point, it's far more likely they're going to be independent. And with that kind of thing, like that investment, it's like restarting at the beginning and enabling countries and people to help themselves. If they're educated, that's a huge step in the right direction to both fighting overpopulation, climate change, all these things which benefit from those people doing well in life.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, continually improving their lot in life, right? Like raising standards of living through education.

Dave Elkan:

That's right.

Nick Muldoon:

And if we think about punching above our weight as one of these other things, I mean I remember that was something that we talked about before we wrote down our values, that was something that we really did focus a lot of energy on. You mentioned before, there were two of us and we had five products in the marketplace. I'm not exactly sure that was a great example of punching above our weight, because we might've struggled a bit, but what are some examples of where we've punched above our weight as a small team from regional Australia?

Dave Elkan:

One of our products that we built initially was really a bit of a thorn in my side, it was continually breaking and it wasn't playing to my strengths, which is traditionally front end development. So after that and getting burned by that and having to stay up all night and fix it, I opted towards apps which are more front end focused, and so we've built Easy Agile User Story Maps and Easy Agile programs and Easy Agile Roadmaps primarily as front end apps. As a matter of fact, Easy Agile Roadmaps, for the first two years, didn't even have a server, it was just a static file in a bucket in CloudFront. That's the way Atlassian Connect works, it allows you to host apps that way, and that really can't break, it's just providing a different view on Jira in essence, but architecturally, it's quite simple. So therefore, we could easily... that was a way of punching above our weight, which also allows better rebalance, so they're kind of complimentary in that respect. What other ideas [crosstalk 00:23:24]-

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, if not much can go wrong, then you don't have to be on call, and you don't have to fix things out of hours, so you don't wake up blurry eyed and fat finger and have a bug the next day that compounds the problem.

Dave Elkan:

And if you take the analogy too far, like you could think punch above your weight is like being able to punch someone really hard and then knock them over, but this is more like just definitely, you're running around the big [fur 00:23:44]. You're not even engaging in babble, you're just sidestepping it. That's why we've run those products, and until recently, we actually do have servers now for them, and once again, it's still very simple, but they're very well monitored so if something does go wrong, that we're on top of that.

Nick Muldoon:

I think one of the other aspects with respect to technology in punch above our weight, is we've quite often... I think maybe you mentioned before, with respect to Room to Read and the give back, the laziness, but we are lazy in certain respects and we just want to automate things. And I remember the XKCD comic that you share, with what is the right time to automate something and when do you automate it to get the return on investment that you want? But I feel like we've made some fairly good decisions around when to automate things and even around how we provide customer support or the old test and deploy, toying around with products, we've done these things at pretty good times so that we can deliver products to a global audience of a couple of thousand customers, from Wollongong out of timezone with those customers.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. It's also being ahead of the curve as well, so I think Inception Week, which is something we do every fifth week now, we give up one week to provide the team with the space to explore new things. Amazing things have come out of that, which otherwise, if you would just week to week, week to week, you would never actually realize, but when it comes to mind is our dev container, which is a docket container which contains all of the parts which are required to develop our apps. So you just check out this one repository, run a script and it sets up your entire develop environment. It's a great way for the team to share the tools that help them punch above their weight, so it's a huge punch above our weight thing and that came out of Inception Week. So I think Inception Week's a punch above thing, and also the dev container's a huge punch above thing.

Dave Elkan:


We used to have so many problems with individual versions of this or that on everyone's computer, and now that's just all gone, it's never happening again, it's never come back to bite us since, and I think it's an overwhelming success. Sure, it does need an all new RAM and all new CPU, but it does... we'll get there, like it's going to get better.

Nick Muldoon:

RAM and CPU are cheap, it's okay.

Dave Elkan:

You can never get time back, right?

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, absolutely. So when we think about these things, how intentional do you think we were around the values in our approach to building and scaling a company versus things that just kind of happened?

Dave Elkan:

For a large part of the starting of the business, there was a lot of, "Just get it done," kind of mentality stuff, which has to happen. However, I want to hop back to when we started, everything was chaos. I remember this, early 2018, mid 2018, we'd come in on Monday, go, "What are we doing today? What's this week? Let's look at the backlog and have a look." And there was no forethought whatsoever.

Nick Muldoon:

And we'd kick a couple of things off the backlog and we'd just work through on that weekend. That was it, right?

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, pretty much. And so you proposed the idea, it was at the beginning of the year, it must've been 2018. Was it 2019? Either way, let's just do one week on clarity, which is our internal CI room, essentially, and just knock out a bunch of products and problems. That was the first time we started really focusing, because since we had so many products, I think we actually might've sold them by now at this point. Yeah, I think we definitely had. However [crosstalk 00:27:28]-

Nick Muldoon:

But we still had Roadmaps, Story Maps, Clarity Week, EACS, like we had other internal systems that we used and the team was actually growing beyond Dave and me, and it was growing. There was Jared and Satvik and Rob, and so the team was growing at that point in time as well. So it gave us the opportunity to put a number of people onto one problem for a period of time, like a week.

Dave Elkan:

That's right, and from that came this idea of focus, and we started doing focused sprints, so product focus sprints, which highlighted another terrible problem of run over, if you did run over in your estimates, then you would have to come back like in nine weeks or something and it was just [diabolical 00:28:12].


Nick Muldoon:

That's right.

Dave Elkan:

So we dropped [crosstalk 00:28:14]-

Nick Muldoon:

What did we do? We did two weeks on Story Maps, two weeks on Roadmaps, two weeks on internal systems, two weeks on something and then one week on Inception Week?

Dave Elkan:

Inception Week. Yeah, I think [crosstalk 00:28:26]-

Nick Muldoon:

I can't even remember now, what that other thing was.

Dave Elkan:

It was nine weeks in total, wasn't it?

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah.

Dave Elkan:

[crosstalk 00:28:31] Roadmaps-

Nick Muldoon:

If you missed it and you didn't ship it, then we went onto the next product and moved that forward, and then we'd come back to it.

Dave Elkan:

In ages away. And it was super stressful for the team and we quickly destroyed that, the week we went with a more flexible approach to it, where we dropped the hard mandate of you have to exchange products now, we let them run over a bit and then we'd adjust the story points to the next one, blah, blah, blah. And then eventually, I'm scratching my memory, but essentially, we got to a point where we introduced opportunities, which was based loosely on Shape Up by Basecamp and we took a bunch of things from that, but most things of that didn't really gel with our way of working and our values.

Nick Muldoon:

I mean that whole opportunity cycle, we've evolved three or four times now.

Dave Elkan:


And they were ideally just two or four weeks of work, and then we'd do Inception Week and Tech Debt week, and we have a dedicated Tech Debt week as a mandate. We dropped that since, and we've got to now we have four weeks of work, which includes Tech Debt and then we have Inception Week, and that's kind of cool, right? Like we still have this mandate of Inception week, not Tech Debt week. That's the last thing; I feel like the mandates... because it's like kick starting your motorbike, you've got to really give a good kick and that's essentially what we've been trying to do over the last three years, is like get this thing running. I think we've-

Nick Muldoon:

Built momentum.

Dave Elkan:

The engine is now running... yeah. The engine is now running and we're pulling the clutch out. It's just that the mandates slowly fall away and the team finds their own way, but I still feel that, that cycle is the most important thing, that five weeks where we stop, everyone knows what's happening. Because if it just runs off into the future forever, you can't compute that in your mind, but you can see forward five weeks and go, "I'm going to plan this work, it's not going to be done to a Nth degree because that's kind of a bit weird," it's just like, "Let's try and achieve this and let's bite off one bit at a time." Then we have a break with Inception Week, let our creative juices flow and then we'll come back to it the next round.

Nick Muldoon:

Right, so I have to call timeout here. So this is a sidebar for everyone listening at home; Dave just used this analogy of kick starting the motorcycle and then pulling the clutch out. So one of the things that Dave does tremendously well, is he grabs these analogies and he uses these analogies to simplify what I otherwise feel can be fairly complex kind of concepts, and simplify them and communicate them really nicely. That's not one I've heard before but there's a new one we can add to the repertoire, Dave. I love it.

Dave Elkan:

Thanks, mate.

Nick Muldoon:

What other sorts of things? Because I guess we're charting this journey over five and a half years, where it's gone from Dave and Nick and the addition of Satvik and Teagan and Jared and Rob and Brad, and a few people over time, to the point today where we are 27, 28 people. What are some of the other markers along the way, that we've kind of gone through, that have shifted or evolved how we operate? Like the Easy Agile operating system that we've talked about in the past.

Dave Elkan:

Well, it's something that we've just discussed in the execution kind of level. Obviously, every six months, everything just goes and explodes and you have to fix it, like there's always some major thing that happens every six months, and I feel like that's good and that's healthy, and that continue to run into those things. Either they're internal or external and I feel like we're dealing with an external one right now, which I don't really want to touch in this podcast, but I think that they're healthy for the business to adapt to. But certainly, I think in that time, like really understanding that it's the people that count, right?

Dave Elkan:

The business is in there, like it's a thing, but it's nothing without the people who worked for it, and it's in service of the people who work here, as well as the customers. And so that's something we've come out of it. What do you think, Nick? Like the cultural aspects of what we've built, what do you think stands out to you?

Nick Muldoon:

I certainly think there's these inflection points. I mean, I remember a conversation with Jared when we were in Crown Street Mall, and it was in 2019 and we were talking with the team around the kitchen table there, and we could get eight people around this kitchen table and we were talking about growing the team to take advantage of the opportunity and responding to requests from customers and all that sort of stuff. I think Jared said, "Well, I quite like it the way it is."

Nick Muldoon:

And then I fast forward to an interview with Jared, which went into the five year video that we saw just before Christmas and that was around his trajectory and how he's evolved and adapted professionally and personally along with the company. I think that's the story for all of us as team members, we've all kind of been on a journey together and we're all learning and adapting together. We do live, in many respects, we do live this Agile approach where we do reflect and we take the time and we think and we experiment with new approaches to getting work done.

Nick Muldoon:

Even, I think... and we've been talking about this a bit recently with respect to pace, that first version of our learning and development program, where we wanted to provide funding for people to go and pursue something that they wanted to learn about. But we got that out, "Hey, that was a morning's worth of work," we put out an L&D, people started using the L&D program, and we called it our Version one of our L&D program, and today we're on Version, I don't know, 1.4 or whatever it is, of our L&D program. There's a lot of things that have gone out and we tweak and we improve them over time to make them ever better and better suited, perhaps, to the current state of play within the team. Is that fair?

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, it is. It is, and I think that; A, I've never worked at a business who has anything like that, and where they actively encourage you to use it, spend the money, make yourself better. If you make yourself better, the team will get better, if the team gets better, the customers get better outcomes, and the company continues to improve, and it will be probably a better place for you to work in the future. So it's really a holistic kind of perspective, rather than, not narrow minded, but myopic or focused on just output. It's outcomes of output and I think that could be another value of ours, if we were to have seven, it'd be outcomes over output. So really stopping, having that permission to stop and think, and system to it and think about what it is you're trying to achieve, rather than just blindly doing stuff.


Dave Elkan:

So from a developer's perspective, the fastest code is the code that doesn't exist, and so if you can do something differently, which doesn't require 100 steps or just decide, "Hey, this is really tricky right now, this bit of code we're trying to work on or this feature is really hard. Can we just delete the feature?" And we did it on notice, I know that sounds pretty bold, but quite honestly, that kind of discussion is really healthy to have. I want to encourage the team to think that way and I think that learning development is also something you can do to bring people into it, look at their trajectory as a way of gauging their abilities, and giving them really... throwing fuel on the fire in that respect and seeing them ramp up in their ability, and help those around them.

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, so take us through that, because that's something that we definitely talked about a few times, like when we've been looking at candidates and in a hiring huddle around candidates, we've talked about those that are on a certain trajectory and that we think that we can accelerate that trajectory. Where did that come from?

Dave Elkan:

Where do thoughts come from? I'm not sure, that's a good question. I couldn't tell you, but I think it's pretty obvious when you look at someone's CV and you see... now, there's nothing wrong with people who have long tenured positions, but if you talk to someone and they can't really say what they've done in the last 10 years and they've donned that one position for 10 years and they haven't really got anything striking they can tell about how they've made that better, that kind of says a lot about that person. Maybe they would come in and they'd just coast... they're a coaster, right? If they're coasting, that's fine, it's their call, but at the same time, we look for people who are actively trying to make their impact bigger through their work, help those around them. And you can see that, you can see, "Oh, look. They've been at the same company, that's fine, but they've gone and done these different roles or they've seen this kind of improvement in their approach."

Nick Muldoon:

This comes back down to that article, that Financial Review article, the mid-career annuity, so this was an article that we must've been kicking around in 2016, 2017, and it was around a Japanese term, mid-career annuity. You could have 20 years of experience in a role or you could have 20 first years of experience, and I think early on, and maybe it still occurs these days, I think it probably does, but it felt like we were getting 20 quarters of experience. Over that five year period, there was always some big, new challenge that we needed to learn and adapt and incorporate into the business over the first five years. So we were always learning and adapting, and we wanted folks that were on a similar journey and they were learning and incorporating and adapting and experimenting themselves.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah, it's something definitely, that can be learned, and I think that if you bring on new stars, they can just get that, this is what they do by default because you've put them into that environment. But some environments, especially older companies, can be fairly stagnant and static, so that just reflects on people's CVs. Either there's some kind of reason why the company won't give them a promotion or give them opportunities to chase, how we have a different approach where we throw too many opportunities at people, I think sometimes, and I've seen people using their L&D so much, it is actually impinging on their better with balance value. I'm like, "Whoa, this is fantastic but don't forget you've got kids and you've got to help look after them," and [crosstalk 00:39:41]-

Nick Muldoon:

Temper your enthusiasm, yeah.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. So that's something to look for.

Nick Muldoon:

Stopping and reflecting on five and a half years, what's the purpose of the business, what's the goal over the next couple of years?

Dave Elkan:

Have fun, learn, what about you?

Nick Muldoon:

Definitely learning.

Dave Elkan:

Stay in business.

Nick Muldoon:

Oh, yeah. Stay in business, sustainable growth is always a good one. I think that's important. Yeah, I don't know, it's interesting. I feel like some days, it can be really fun and other days, it's not fun at all. That's probably due in large part, like when we started this, we were not in service of anyone but ourselves and one another, and now I feel like we are in service of a team of people that are themselves in service of the customer because we've got a couple of thousand of them. So it's the responsibility and the accountability's changed, and the way that fun comes about is, these days... it used to be fun to have lamingtons and chat, and these days, typically, there's someone else in the crew that is organizing the event that often participate in that I find fun and enjoyable with the rest of the team, rather than being able to carve out that time and do that.

Nick Muldoon:

I remember when we roped in a bunch of folks from iAccelerate and we went into town and we'd go into town and we'd go and we'd get a Laksa in town and we'd get a bowl of Laksa. It's been harder to do that in the past 12 months, given the global environment and all that sort of stuff, so hopefully we can find a bit more of that in 2022.

Dave Elkan:

And maybe ramen. There's ramen now.


Nick Muldoon:

Oh, and it's great, you know it.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. I think refining what we do and continuing to think more about that, so specifically with the engineers, I like to use a goal based... goals are big at Easy Agile, I think you should talk a bit about goals, but we use them to help guide people in chasing down things they want to achieve, and we can align those things with what the business does to an extent. Then, you can actually go and achieve your professional and goals through the business and the business is the vehicle to do that, rather than having to it outside. That's really cool, like find that harmony there so both Easy Agile can succeed and the people who work here can succeed.

Dave Elkan:

I think it actually is quite difficult, like you go, "Hey, take a step back, think about what you want to achieve, give that to me, and then I'll see what I can do to change the course of the business to help you accomplish that. What can we do? Maybe there's a middle ground we can chase down together." And that's something new to me and I'm kind of using that instead of performance reviews so make sure you do your goals, people. [crosstalk 00:42:44]

Dave Elkan:

But yeah, also you've made sure, you want to look back in time and you want to see yourself in the future, reflecting with the team. When they've gone and moved on, [crosstalk 00:42:56]-

Nick Muldoon:

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I was even chatting with Elizabeth Cranston this week and I was saying, "I can picture in the future, you're living down at Narooma down the coast and I can come down and have a cheese and biccies with the families and you're looking over the bay at Narooma or something, and we're reminiscing on this period of time at Easy Agile." I can totally see that. Yeah, I think it's great and I think just on the goals, the goals are important personally, and we've talked a lot about goals in the past, with respect to tenure vision for the families and that sort of stuff.

Nick Muldoon:

But it's also for the business, I remember we had okay hours in place from getting the business off the ground, we've revised them every year, we've learned and adapted a lot over the last couple of years in how we think about our objectives and our key results. And the fact that we write them on a quarterly basis and we review them on a quarterly basis, but we've got these objectives that align with a business goal that's three years out, and it all kind of flows. I mean, I think we're a lot more mature around that aspect of our... I don't know, would I say strategic planning? Vision goal setting over an extended time period? We're a lot more mature around that today than we were two or three years ago. That's really exciting as well. [crosstalk 00:44:33]

Nick Muldoon:


Come back to what you were saying before about the backlog. We'd come in on a Monday morning, and we go, "What are we going to work on this week?" And we kind of worked over a couple years, we worked it out so that, "Ah, here's the vision for the product." It was a longer term thing, and we've elevated that and it's not like, "Hey, what are we doing for the business this month?" It's now, "Here's our longterm trajectory for the business." We've been elevating that, that's pretty exciting, I think.

Dave Elkan:

And at the same time, trying to get the team to lift their line of sight as well.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dave Elkan:

And look out further afield, but not too far. You want them to be looking at what's happening next week and next month as well, but also what's the goal, what are we chasing down? What's the bigger picture? And I think that's starting to happen.

Nick Muldoon:

What's the analogy there about golf, Dave?

Dave Elkan:

Oh. No, can you tell me? I can't remember.

Nick Muldoon:

It was this analogy about golf, like you've got to look where you're going to hit the ball and you've got to look up. You don't want to look at the tee, you want to look beyond the tee so that you... not beyond the tee, beyond the hole, sorry. You want to look beyond the hole.

Dave Elkan:

That wasn't my analogy, that's why I don't remember, but I do remember someone telling us that one. But it's a good one, like it wasn't even an analogy, isn't that the literal thing that the golf tutor would do? It's like, "Where are you looking?" And then they go, "Oh, I'm looking at the hole." "No, no, you've got to look further than the hole. Look up where you want the ball to go, and then away it goes."

Nick Muldoon:

Yeah, raise your sights.

Dave Elkan:

Raise your sights, yeah. And if you are looking at your feet, then you're probably not going to go far, but if you do look up and take stock, you can probably... that's actually a soccer analogy I can give you, like from my soccer coach, like you've got to point your toe where you want the ball to go. And that's just the magic thing, it just works. You just put your foot next to the ball with the pointing at the corner of the goal you want it to go in and you kick it, and then it just happens.


Dave Elkan:

There's these funny little hacks like that and I think that's a longterm vision thing. If you are running a business which doesn't have that longterm vision and purpose, then you can go actually in multiple directions at once, and you're not going to make any progress. I think a good analogy I read was like with a team, if you imagine all the team members are tied to a pole with a rubber band and they're all heading in different directions, the pole's not going to move because everyone's just... and the company's going to stay static and still. But if everyone just goes in the same direction, then it's going to move along.

Nick Muldoon:

Shift it, yeah.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. And that's something that we've bitten off recently, is our purpose.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), to help teams be agile.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah. It's one of those funny moments when we we're talking about, and we talked about it, we set ourselves a deadline for the sake of a better word, like we had our planning session coming up in a couple of weeks, so we sat down and talked about it. And we went around and around in circles, trying to discover what it is, not to be agile, but just, what is Agile? And we know [inaudible 00:47:45], but we were trying to codify that in words. And when you said that, like it's being agile, it was kind of one of those... the way I like to describe it is, an upside down A-moment, which is our logo as you can see on Nick's jacket there.

Dave Elkan:

So when that was proposed to me, I was like, "No, that's so silly." But I was like, "Oh, but I love it." And I'm not saying that being agile is silly, but the fact that it's so simple, that's what I like about it, it's easy, it's simple, and there's a lot there if you dive into it.

Nick Muldoon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Well, why don't we wrap it there? I think that's a good place to end.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah.

Nick Muldoon:

Our purpose is to help teams be agile and doing that, we're doing that for ourselves, we're constantly trying to learn and adapt and experiment with new things, being Easy Agile and as our team members here. So I hope that was a useful little tidbit and journey from Dave and I on how we got Easy Agile to this point, and some of the things that have been on our mind.

Dave Elkan:

Yeah.

Nick Muldoon:

Thank you, Dave.

Dave Elkan:

Thank you, Nick. That was fun.

Nick Muldoon:

That was fun. Oh, goody.









Easy Agile Podcast Ep.11 Dave Elkan & Nick Muldoon on building Easy Agile

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