The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – Martin Luther King
I have realised the worth of this quote in true sense, through my experience at Netcore. Let me share a story which we call “The Warriors’ Story”.
For the last two decades, Netcore has been the leader in Email Infra, Email and SMS Marketing channels, and has now emerged as the best in the Marketing Automation space.
Netcore, always in the pursuit of serving the best to its customers, came up with a vision of designing an all-in-one Multi-Channel Campaign Management Solution that could meet all the needs of today’s Digital Marketer. However, Netcore’s channel-wise solutions were self-sufficient distinct platforms, developed at different points in time. So, it was decided that all these solutions will be merged together into One Product to make the most efficient product any marketer could ever ask for.
That’s how on the New Year’s Day, was born the dream to create One Product for all digital marketing needs!
The visionaries at Netcore named the project – Product One, very appropriately.
I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to take up this project as the Project Manager, the most ambitious professional challenge that I had ever taken in my career.
We don’t grow when things are easy, we grow when we face challenges!
As ambitious as the dream was, so was the challenge to achieve it. Integrating three independently engineered platforms for email marketing, SMS marketing and marketing automation, was not a child’s play. There were a lot of technical challenges on the way, and many unseen but anticipated problems to be solved.
Along with our Architects and Engineering Leads, I immersed myself in researching and brainstorming on how can the goal be achieved. We handpicked nine of our colleagues from the development, quality assurance, and architecture teams to form a team of Warriors. Yes, Warriors – all geared up to work towards creating Product One, and wage a war against any hurdle that came in the way of our goal. There were other teams like the User Experience group, the Support team, the Sales, the MarTech Services Group, and of course the Senior Management, who extended their relentless support.
We, the core team, stationed ourselves in a room, and called it the War Room. The idea behind sitting together in one room was to cut down any kind of distraction due to the day-to-day operational activities, and devote complete focus on the project. And there was something more to that – I have mentioned about it, a few paragraphs later.
We did careful analysis on feasibility, impact, architectural requirements, and other aspects, and chalked out a sprint plan. We committed ourselves to work with utmost discipline and followed agile work practices like sprint-wise deliveries and daily, stand-up meetings.
The setup of the room was that of a typical Agile War Room. We covered the walls and windows of the room with architecture diagrams and sprint plans. We identified the two most critical paths of the project. Each module of the project was assigned to a team leader and all of us started working with the spirit of close collaboration.
Each one of us was a novice to this style of working, but we all were equally excited.
A smooth sea never made a skilful sailor!
Apart from the technical challenges that I had already anticipated, there were many other difficulties that came to the fore as we moved ahead.
Different teams who had different ways of working with a different mind-set, were put together in one room with strict deadlines to meet. I had to be extra careful to help the team manoeuvre through any uncalled friction. It was very necessary to keep boosting the spirit of team work and team goals. Only a united effort could achieve the target we had set for ourselves. Being the Project manager, it was a great challenge for me to bring that spirit, given that the clock was ticking away fast.
After a couple of weeks, I started seeing the writing on the wall. The scale of technical challenges was indicating that the timelines would get delayed. Our commitment to the management and the company was at stake. The project was a tough nut to crack! I myself was in need of motivation.
Amidst all this, I came across an interview of Air Asia’s CEO, Tony Fernandes, in which he had shared his experience of facing the most critical times in his career when one of Air Asia’s flight crashed, causing the loss of 162 human lives. He mentioned about the tough situation that he had to face as a human and the CEO of the company. Such an unfortunate incident was the first in the history of the company, and it called for immense strength to deal with it.
Quoting his verbatim, “When things go wrong, you separate the boys from the men. And the cream rises to the top. I saw the way my staff worked relentlessly. They were there nonstop. It was a horrific thing to say at that time but it made me proud of the company we had built. The camaraderie, the ‘can do’ attitude, the fact that they would not go away was something that made things possible”.
He shared that he could overcome the challenge through establishing an emotional bonding with Air Asia’s staff and the family members of the crash victims.
Reading this interview stirred something in me. I realised that our difficulties, challenges and stress were way too small in comparison to his. I got the answers to the innumerable questions in my mind, all of which boiled down to one “How to solve the problems head-on?”
I decided that to bring out the best from the team, I had to keep their spirits uplifted. I came up with different ways to make the work enjoyable and keep the work environment as stress-free as possible. Gestures as small as having tea, coffee, biscuits together at their desks, was greatly helpful. We all used to enjoy PULSE candy daily! ‘Pran jaaye par Pulse na jaaye’ J. A hard boiled candy, with an irresistible tangy twist.
Another idea behind the war room concept was to facilitate Visual Communication, close collaboration and discipline. By visual communication I mean, any kind of issue with any team member was communicated way faster than the regular ways of emailing or logging. This helped in taking decisions faster, minimising conflicts, maximising work speed, and solving problems on the spot. The precious time spent on writing emails and follow ups was utilised in finishing tasks. In other words, focus was on actual project execution, not on email exchanges or meetings. Special attention was given on development completion of critical paths.
After working in this mode for 3 months, we completed seven parallel running development sprints exactly on time. Then we spent dedicated effort on integration and testing. And finally we completed the development “on time”. In fact, a day before the set deadline!
On 30th March 2016, one day before the target date, we successfully released Product One, which is now known as Netcore Smartech, India’s first and the only full-stack, omni-channel marketing automation solution!
Agility is a mindset, not a process!
The senior management at Netcore also became a firm believer of the same ideology, and provided its whole hearted support to the team, which was a great boost to the teams’ motivation. Top management’s alignment with our way of working, immediate approvals on required decisions, and weekly management reviews within the War room helped us stay focussed and achieve fantabulous results. With this project, the spirit of agility became the mantra at Netcore.
The success of war room and Product One team was not just a one-time achievement, it was a discovery that set an engineering driven culture in the organisation. Not every project that is executed at Netcore is carried out in the war room way, but the agile working culture seeped deep into the team’s soul, that continues to steer the organisation forward.
Though Netcore has been servicing its customers for two decades, what sets it apart is its start-up spirit – always up to explore and innovate!
Today, as we see Netcore Smartech flourish at a great pace, we fondly reminisce the war room days, which marked the beginning of India’s top cross-channel marketing automation and Campaign management platform.