Software development

“It's great working together to get a product to grow”

Story with

Software development Marco van de Veen
Product Owner

About the interviewee

Marco van de Veen is Product Owner in Amersfoort, the Netherlands from where he works on a new HR solution for the international market. Marco is responsible for the solution's platform and is working closely with the product owners who build the HR applications on this platform. The work he and two Scrum teams in Madrid are doing is based on a carefully devised long-term vision and the latest new techniques.

MARCO'S STORY

I've been working at Raet since March 2015 and it's been one great adventure. It's much more of a challenge than I initially expected. We have held many brainstorming sessions and interviews with customers, partners and other stakeholders to develop a product vision for the main platform elements. These include the user interface, authorization, APIs, workflow, internationalization, security, etc. That's our long-term goal. 

I'm given the freedom to fill in the details of this vision myself, using presentations, mock-ups and prototypes, and validating this with stakeholders. This is something I find very important as it helps me to envision the product and to really 'own' the product strategy the way a product owner should. 
We have two Scrum teams implementing this platform concept. It's great working with a team to grow a product; to work towards that long-term goal together. 

Latest technology

Our HR solution for the international market needs to offer a modern user experience and be mobile responsive. And with a clear API, we and our partners will ensure that we offer a total solution to our customers. 

The Microsoft Azure PaaS platform enables us to achieve our ambitions relatively quickly

In order to make this ambition a reality, we started with the latest technology, some of which has not yet been entirely tried and tested. This is a risk of course, but it also offers lots of opportunities. We are building our solution on the Microsoft Azure PaaS platform, which will enable us to achieve our ambitions relatively quickly. We have micro-services-based architecture too and we are fully API-driven, making it easy for partners to connect. Translating the possibilities of the new technology into practical solutions for our customers is great fun, even with the inevitable ups and downs. 

In order to achieve our ambitions as regards user experience, we worked with a London-based world-class design agency for a while. That was really cool. We use modern technologies to implement this design, such as Angular, but we are also experimenting with natural language processing using machine learning. In the future, a user won’t have to click or swipe several times anymore; they’ll be able to ask their question, e.g. “what's my salary this month” in a simple search box or chat client. This needs to work for many different languages.

We work according to the Scaled Agile Framework, including DevOps and we continually adjust our plans based on new insights. At Raet, a product owner is never on their own: we have a great UX team that helps to create simple, friendly user interaction. There is even someone to help you write labels, text and messages. Highly experienced architects help to create the conceptual solutions required for the functionality. And, last but not least: the Scrum teams have ownership of their components and really feel responsible for them. This ensures that the application is supported and that everyone actively contributes their thoughts and ideas. 

Growth for everyone

As a product owner, I spend one week a month in Madrid, where the Scrum teams are. That's necessary for me to stay connected to the team. This way, I know what's on their minds and my Spanish colleagues know my concerns. Madrid is a cosmopolitan city with people from all over the world: Spain, Cuba, the UK, Italy, France, Argentina, Rumania, Belgium, Switzerland, etc. They all bring their own individual stories and experiences with them. 

Our focus isn’t solely on work, but also on getting to know each other. We do a lot together outside work: eat tapas together, go to museums together, play sports together, etc. These personal contacts also make the work more fun and more effective. 

The secret of working together effectively is listening to each other

For me, the secret of working together effectively is listening to each other, trusting and respecting one another. But also being able to have a heated discussion with one another, without anyone feeling personally attacked or reproached. If you can do that, you will get the best results. And that will give everyone on the team room to grow. 

Raet offers plenty of opportunities for personal development. If I put in a request to take a training course or attend a conference, I get approval. And the organization itself also frequently comes up with all kinds of training courses. 

Flexibility

Internationalization is not just a factor in our team: our HR software is available for different countries too. Serving an international customer is about more than translation. It is also about satisfying their HR needs and ensuring that the software complies with the legislation and regulations in different countries. Lots of client environments even involve different countries, since the nature of international companies means they operate in several countries. That's why we interview people in different countries, in order to make sure that our software features the flexibility they need.

The major challenge here is to do this without losing our ambition for the user experience. And that's really a challenge. Such a flexible system can easily become highly complex. International requirements and user cases manage to surprise me time and time again. But together with the team we also manage to come up with very elegant solutions time and time again. Before I started to work at Raet, I had no notion whatsoever of the complex issues I’m faced with now. 

Dynamism and ambition

When Raet contacted me, asking me to work for them, I was a bit hesitant at first: “Raet, isn't that an archetypically Dutch and slightly old-fashioned IT company?” But now I see things from the inside, I can appreciate the company's dynamism and enormous ambition.  

I can appreciate the company's dynamism and enormous ambition

It’s true that Raet is driven by a rock-solid engine and it has a strong tradition. I see a lot of love for customers, and that is something that I find important. Raet is also good to its staff: if you want some extra time off, you can buy some extra days; you are coached actively for your next step and if results are good, you get a bonus, on top of an excellent salary. All these aspects combined have brought Raet great results. 

But Raet wants to develop further and is not afraid to change, and it is doing so at high speed. In order to make its ambitions a reality, Raet is going through a big transition. That's something you can feel and taste, and it provides  great opportunities…

A message for a new colleague

I would be happy to have a chat with new colleagues: How can you help us? What would you like to tackle? What have you done before? What do you like doing? What strikes you as odd? New and fresh ideas help us to grow our product further, so let's talk!

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