Smart Contracts, Remote Teams, and the Influence of Blockchain

The Current State of Affairs

More and more companies are outsourcing their digital innovation projects, opting to partner with remote teams overseas that can outcompete the local market. That said, when working with distributed teams, some fundamental aspects of the working relationship may also change. Regardless of the risk of entrusting a long-distance party with product development – no matter how high the talent level is – it’s still important to reduce the business risk as much as possible the same way it is at home.

Systems still Operate in a Centralized Fashion, Mostly

In most agreements in this space today, parties engage in transactions with one another through a centralized broker or central system, and these are often external. In doing this, each party trusts the central system rather than each other. Although the practice is majorly tried and true, placing the trust on a third party to execute the business is inherently risky because it makes both main parties dependent on the third, not to mention it could also be unnecessarily costly.

Enter smart contracts.

Smart Contracts are a Blockchain underpinned software that stores the negotiating terms, contract verification, and subsequent execution of the agreed terms. These contracts are executed on top of the Blockchain using platforms like Ethereum, designed so that “applications run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud, or third party interference.”

In general, smart contracts offer a new way to remove trust issues and decrease costs by removing the need for a third party when fulfilling contract terms. Decentralizing the process using a smart contract makes it more secure, more cost effective, and faster.

Smart Contracts work and are executed entirely by triggers within the code, so there’s no human interaction during the execution process. This removes the need for the third party involved in more traditional contracts, saving time and money and reducing the overall risk of one side not holding up their end of the deal.

How does a Smart Contract help with remote teams?

For everyone involved in a remote work agreement, smart contracts enable easy transactions safeguarded by knowledge that the Blockchain technology authenticates them independently. For smart contract users, this means that when an agreed deliverable arrives and verified, the contracted supplier is paid automatically by the self-executing smart contract. In this way, the contract will also save time as suppliers won’t have to chase up payment of invoices for services since these are automatically completed via the smart contract.

Fortunately, the same thing applies when payment is confirmed for a product. That product can be transferred automatically to the buyer and its delivery information would be logged within the Blockchain. This provides a complete and incorruptible record of transactions logged on the Blockchain, all in chronological order.

Aside from the increased level of trust, smart contracts also give those involved:

  • More autonomy: There’s no need to involve a third party, and once everything is set up there is no need to jump back in to complete anything.
  • Safety and backup: Cryptography removes the risk of being hacked and as your documents are duplicated throughout each part of the chain, there’s no risk that they’ll get lost.
  • Accuracy: Decreased human interaction with the process removes errors that can arise from manual input. There is a complete and accurate record of everything that has happened within the contract so all components can be tracked.

The upshot

Smart Contacts remove the middleman, lower costs, and make the overall process of remote working agreements more efficient and safe. Expect smart contracts to play a big role in the future of work, as well as other areas as the technology matures.

Product Owners: Understanding who the real MVP is – Part Two

Part 2

This is the second of a two-part series on product owners, what they do, how they do it, and why they’re so often vital to the success of development.

Product owners have a huge number of responsibilities within their remit. While Part One detailed the context of a product owner’s duties and responsibilities with stakeholders, development teams, user stories and product backlogs, Part Two here will detail about intelligent prioritization, managing feedback, juggling multiple expectations and expectation management.

Intelligent Prioritization

Product owners will judge user stories based on their size and perceived value in order to prioritize the backlog as intelligently as possible. If two user stories are roughly the same size but one has more value then naturally the more valuable user story will take precedence in the pecking order. This applies to stories with similar value but one is smaller. The smaller one goes first.

How do product owners know the value and size of a user story? Short answer is that they don’t. It’s educated guesswork based on constant communication with stakeholders to find out what is valuable, and the development team may help estimate what is big and small in terms of buildout and implementation. In the end most guesses are relative to the current project, but the time it takes to get these right is time well spent.

The Feedback Loop

An efficient agile team needs to deliver early and often to maintain velocity. It can accomplish this by breaking down user stories into pieces. In an ideal scenario the most clearly defined stories are at the front of the product backlog, while the more nebulous ideas are at the back. These will eventually be rendered clear and into bitesize pieces in a process known as backlog grooming.


Image via agile-scrum.be

Backlog grooming usually involves the entire team in addition to a few stakeholders. In general, these meetings focus on dividing user stories, acceptance criteria, and estimations. It’s important that these take place because regular communication is what typically binds the agile process together. As the Agile Manifesto says, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”

Juggling Multiple Projects

When a product is finished, the work doesn’t just cease. Unless an app, platform, or service is completely shut down, development teams rarely have nothing left to do. When handing over projects to others, they’ll need to review responsibilities and make sure processes are well documented. In other cases, they may hang on to provide maintenance and upkeep themselves.

For product owners, this means they’ll have to start coordinating on other projects while all the above takes place. This means they must also begin prioritizing work across multiple products with new stakeholders. Unfortunately for them, this means the product backlog might now contain user stories for multiple projects.

Extreme Expectation Management

As the project progresses, stakeholders and clients may ask when their product or feature is being built. In cases where the development team has no scrum master, then dealing with these timelines and expectations falls to the responsibility of the product owner. No matter who it is, somebody must manage these expectations of the clients and stakeholders. Product owners forecast progress using story burndown charts, which show the cumulative number of stories been delivered over time and allow them to accurately forecast output, or timings of deliverables.

Image via: Scrum Alliance

If a development team’s output is difficult to predict, then there will be greater disparity between the optimistic and pessimistic projections. The gap separating pessimism from optimism is known as the cone of uncertainty.
However, with burndown charts, a product owner is able to answer a stakeholder’s question of “How much of the product will be complete by June?” with a fairly accurate estimation of the minimum and maximum number of completed stories.

The Bottom Line

Without a dedicated product owner, any development cycle is at risk of spiraling into a chaotic mess of unprioritized, unbuilt features, an unorganized backlog, missed market-windows, unhappy stakeholders and an overworked development team. Product owners bring order and maintain communication for the agile development process, and their contribution to the final outcome of a digital product is immense. The responsibility is gigantic, and that makes product owners the real MVP.

Product Owners: Understanding who the real MVP is – Part One

Part One

This is the first of a two-part series on product owners, what they do, how they do it, and why they’re so often vital to the success of development.

A good product owner plays a critical role in agile development structures and separates mediocre development results from the great. To understand what product owners truly bring to the table, it’s important to consider how agile development works from their perspective.

The Context

A product owner has a vision about the desired end creation and the stakeholders (those affected by the product) have lots of ideas about what the product should do. The stakeholders’ needs are expressed neatly through user stories – a map or guide that arranges these needs into an easy-to-follow model to help understand the functionality of the system, identify holes and omissions in the backlog (more on this later), and effectively plan holistic releases that deliver value to users and the business. Typically a user story will follow this formula:

As a {type of user}, I want {to perform some task} so that I can {achieve some goal/benefit/value}
(Scrum Alliance)

The product owner is responsible for making sure user stories have actual value and are sufficiently prepared to be passed on to the development team.

Teams and Sprints

Any product needs people to build it. In agile software development, cross-functional and self-organizing development teams make the products. These teams usually works to release continuous iterations of a product during phases called sprints. Typically, sprints take around two weeks and the number of user story points released within each sprint is the team’s capacity. Teams may release around five to fifteen stories per sprint but this can change depending on the kinds of changes and stories the product requires.

Twenty user stories is generally the upper limit and this usually occurs in a web team with lots of small changes to do. Anything more than that is probably too much, unless it’s for maintenance teams to knock out a backlog of small defects. As a rule of thumb, exceeding the upper limit usually means the stories are not clear enough, the sprint is too unrealistic, or the definition of “done” is too weak.

Most individual user stories shouldn’t take more than half the sprint to develop and test. Having multiple stories that take up more than half the sprint at the same time is risky, and in that case all the other stories should be very small. For a two-week sprint, it’s better if every story can be completed in one to three days. (Adjustable for longer sprints.)

“Yesterday’s Weather”

The leading ailment of sprints is when stakeholders and everyone else with a vested interest in the project ask for more, and ask for it in waves. As the development team releases iterations, it’s only natural that the stakeholders become more inspired. Still, as much as it’s unreasonable to ask stakeholders to figure out all their ideas at the start of the first sprint, it’s just as frustrating for development teams to aim for targets that move. Imagination changes on the go, and ideas can’t always fit on a development team’s plate.

As a result, teams that have a capacity of five to seven user stories per week won’t perform well with stakeholders pushing ten. This kind of overloading can cause some serious miscommunications, misaligned expectations, and lower quality results.

The way to avoid this is a method known as ‘Yesterday’s Weather’.

The development team says, “The past couple of weeks we’ve been finishing around five to seven user stories per week, so let’s say six is our optimum number that we can work on simultaneously.” Six is now their work in progress (WIP) limit, which is the maximum amount of work that can exist in each status of a workflow. When they finish one user story they start on another one. Finish two, pick up two more, and so on.

Strict task limits force teams to focus on smaller sets of tasks, causing increases to throughput and reductions to the amount of work that hangs in the “nearly done” category. At a fundamental level, WIP limits encourage a culture of “done,” which can be satisfying for everyone involved. Additionally, WIP limits also boost the visibility of bottlenecks and other elements that stifle progress. Teams can then clearly understand what is being blocked, why and how that’s the case, and develop a resolution strategy. Minimizing the delay of blockages allows the entire team to keep a steady pace and workflow.

The Product Backlog

If a team gets too ambitious and breaks its WIP limit, fast can turn to slow, accuracy can turn into sloppiness, and output can start to leak or fall behind. The resulting consequence is the formation of unfinished user stories into a queue known as the product backlog.

This is often where the product owner becomes the center of attention because this queue needs to be both managed and prioritized, which was not an issue previously. At this point, the sprint planning meetings need to address the level of urgency on new and backlogged tasks at the same time. In doing so, product owners attempt to strike a balance of eliminating the backlog while also moving the overall development forward at the same effectiveness – which is not an easy task.

To ensure that the product backlog doesn’t get wildly out of control, the product owner must start to say “No” to certain stakeholder desires. If the product owner isn’t from the side of the client, he/she may not have the necessary authority to make these decisions. In such cases, it’s up to the product owner to successfully convince stakeholders to prioritize backlogged items. All of this potential conflict helps support the importance of sticking to the WIP limits.

This is the end of part one. Be sure to read part two on intelligent prioritization, the feedback loop, the juggling of multiple projects, and the management of expectations.

Beyond the 9 to 5: How remote work and flexible hours are changing the game

One of the most sought after employee benefits today is a flexible work schedule and environment. That includes all the old and new buzzwords like home office, flextime, telecommuting, digital nomad, and remote working. Apart from compensation, a flexible work setup is among the first things a job seeker looks for in the market today, and this comes as no surprise. Technological advances have long been paving the way for the remote worker to accomplish everything at a distance with cloud based tools, real-time collaboration platforms, team messaging applications, and advanced video conferencing.

The natural progression to digitalize the workplace has led to as many as 43 percent of Americans working remotely at least some of the time in 2016. Overall, most of the advantages to the employee are easily recognizable, and they include:

  • More comfortable work & life balance.
  • No lost time in traffic during peak hours commuting to and from work.
  • Savings on childcare for working households.
  • Reducing the need to take leave when unable to be in the office.
  • The ability to plan conveniently with more control over a schedule.
  • Overall satisfaction of not juggling all of the above.
  • While the benefits on the individual are strongly pronounced, the impact on the company is not always so clear. Significant brushback arguments often accuse remote working allowances to cause unreliable results, inconsistency from too much rescheduling, slower outputs, stifled teamwork due to less physical presence, and sacrifices to company culture. Nevertheless, many employers that embrace flexible working environments (software development companies in particular) are finding that the positives far outweigh the negatives. Here’s what many of Digital Knights approved teams are saying they gain from it:

    Increased employee retention

    Arguably the biggest driver for companies to offer flexible working options is the impact on employee retention rates. A report from the New York Times stated that “flexible scheduling and work-from-home opportunities play a major role in an employee’s decision to take or leave a job,” and Thrive Global says according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, “89 percent of companies report better retention simply by offering flexible work options.” In an industry like software development where experienced developers are hot commodities, flexibility has become an integral part of the employment package.

    Increased productivity

    Giving employees the freedom to make their own hours has lead to an increase in productivity for many teams. When it comes to agile development, it’s not a necessity for everyone to be working on the same thing at the same time. Employees can decide when to work based on what best suits them – some people are morning people while others are night owls. Digital Knights teams have expressed that employees who feel free to control their own schedule produce higher quality work more regularly.

    More engaged team members

    If employees are happier in their work environment then they are likely to be more engaged. Sara Sutton Fell, founder of Flexjobs, said, “Employees who feel empowered to structure their work and personal lives according to their needs are more satisfied. In fact, when asked whether they’d rather have a flexible work environment or a salary increase, professionals overwhelming choose flexible work” (Source). Teams within the Digital Knights network have backed up this sentiment, noting that if people feel trusted with more freedom, they also feel more respected and in turn become more engaged and willing to help with things outside of their direct remit.

    Access to a wider pool of a talent in a broader geographical area

    Companies that embrace the offering of flexible work and utilize the tools to their advantage have fewer reasons to limit their recruiting geographically. This can provide massive benefits on the whole as it opens the door to more talented individuals and can turn into a strong culture that attracts other great people. Given this flexibility, it also grants companies the opportunity to work with talented individuals who can’t support traditional 9-5 roles because of disabilities, family responsibilities, or other reasons.

    Making remote work, work

    Taking everything into consideration, it’s important that flexible working is not only offered as an employment perk but that it also works well for both parties. Individuals need to be ready for the added accountability when nobody is watching, and the company needs to update its processes to handle a more dynamic environment. Everyone should have an understanding of what kind of jobs or tasks make remote work a better option, and the company needs to take the necessary measures to ensure that communication, company culture, and responsibilities are upheld. Moving forward, all signs point to flexibility becoming an even bigger mainstay in the the workplace.

    For more tips on workplace transformation, read How to get the most out of remote teams in an agile environment.

Techstars Connect adds Digital Knights to alumni perk network

Digital Knights is proud to announce its invitation to join the perk network of the renowned seed accelerator, Techstars!

Techstars is a worldwide technology acceleration network that runs nearly 40 accelerator programs globally and nurtures an entrepreneurial community among its past and present participating companies. Techstars Connect is a private resource for founders and staff within the Techstars Network.

Beginning now through to March 2020, Techstars alumni will have direct, reduced rate access to the Digital Knights development service for building cutting-edge software with verified tech partners.

This goes for all members of the Techstars network regardless of location, and is available through the Connect perk network, here: https://connect.techstars.com/

The bulk of Techstars’ rich and growing network consists of technology-oriented software and web-based companies and startups, which means finding talent that can produce and deliver fast enough is a significant and constant concern.

Now, however, with on-demand access to the entire Digital Knights network of experienced and reliable tech partners, Techstars alumni who are struggling to find – or have difficulty trusting – teams of developers finally have a data-driven solution.

Digital Knights is eager to assist the many worthy Techstars portfolio companies continue their growth by empowering them with valuable data and rewarding tech partnerships.

Innovation culture: How to look like a corporation and act like a startup

Just about everybody familiar with startups knows they have a reputation of being hip, exciting, and more often than not, they’re at the forefront of the innovation conversation. Meanwhile, big corporations are no strangers to that conversation, but it’s their participation that carries criticism. A 2013 study by Accenture found that 93% of CEOs said the long-term success of their business strategy relied on innovation, yet only 18% felt their investments in innovation were paying off. Clearly there’s room for improvement.

For corporations today, it’s essential to have an internal culture that promotes startup-like innovation not only for attracting talent, but also for stimulating real business growth and staying competitive. That said, innovation culture itself is not so clearly defined. What does it look like? And is it possible to build one?

What is innovation culture?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that partial definitions about both innovation and culture seldom do the job in explaining how they fit together. Digital Knights places a very high emphasis on culture when evaluating software development companies, and the data collected through studying team after team has revealed that innovation culture does not come down to just one or two things. Instead, it’s the blending and facilitation of a set of principles that allow groups and individuals to be experimental without the fear of failure, and to take risks while being free from added consequences.

On the whole, organizations that are innovative usually share the same set of traits:

  • Innovation is encouraged at all levels with management cultivating opportunities for it to prosper.
  • Traditional business models are altered to encourage collaboration.
  • Time is prioritized and managed effectively.
  • Processes are in place, but flexibility and agility are more important.

Management drives culture change

“Most leaders are unaware of their power to change the culture of their companies and instead find themselves imitating trends and fads. Their company’s culture is created daily by what they themselves as leaders punish, recognize, celebrate, and reward. The adoption of new innovation tools will not help a company if its leadership team is still hanging onto traditional management practices.” – Forbes contributor and author Tendayi Viki

Arguably, the biggest influencer on innovation culture is the management team. Innovation calls for both regular and irregular creative thinking, and managers can facilitate this by creating an environment that invites any and all roles to share ideas and pursue the good ones. One example of a large company doing this well is Google’s “20% time” policy, which encourages employees to spend 20% of their work week on alternative projects that they want to tackle.

Digital Knights asked several of its approved development partners and they all agreed: If the client’s management team isn’t fully onboard with innovation culture and there’s little room to share ideas and feedback within the company, then the failure rate of that client’s projects will remain high.

All in all, the most crucial outcome of management buy-in is the adoption of this culture by the wider organization from the top down. Basically, if management doesn’t take the new way of working and thinking seriously, there is very little chance the rest of the organization will.

Innovation needs to go beyond the existing business model

The company structure of most corporations is not naturally set up in an open, transparent format that is conducive for innovation. Often, reorganization is required to promote a collaborative working environment where people within the organization have an equal voice to contribute to discussions and share opinions/perspectives, regardless of their experience, time at the company, or their role.

It’s already out in the open that a flat hierarchy is more favorable for creating the shared marketplace of ideas needed for an innovative culture, and according to McKinsey, “R&D leaders need to hire people who are willing to join multiple projects and to move from one to another as needed. Call them ambidextrous; call them system thinkers. These are people who want to solve problems that matter and that take them from invention to final product.” This means that in a lot of cases, the hiring process also needs to be reevaluated to accommodate individuals who are adept at thinking cross-departmentally.

Time is used wisely

Many large corporations that have their hands in innovation are prone to setting up innovation hubs/garages/centers/labs separate from their main core business. Companies such as Lufthansa, Vodafone, and Thyssen Krupp have established dedicated innovation hubs, garages or labs. While this is great initiative, the sustainability becomes an issue when staff who participate in these hubs have to fit their commitment around their regular 9-5 jobs. This means they don’t get the time and/or focus required to be truly effective, in addition to their likelihood to burn out. Teams within the Digital Knights network warn that this way of working poses risks to the overall project (and the budget) due to delays in communication and lack of equal commitment.

Alternatively, environments where employees are given allocated time to work in the innovation center within regular working hours have a much higher chance for success. When the focus is high and the time is ample, the overall dynamism allows solutions to arrive much quicker rather than hunting people out when needed and derailing momentum.

Flexibility needs to be a priority

An obvious and consistent barrier to corporate innovation is the bureaucratic measures, red tape, and other standard company procedures that cause significant delays to the innovation process. In order to operate in an agile way, companies must be prepared to challenge their existing methods and bypass them to stay competitive, no matter how difficult it may be. This is generally where large corporations fail because they are not up for the challenge internally. Teams within the Digital Knights network have said that a leading cause for corporate clients not moving as fast as their competitors is holding themselves up and waiting for multi-level approvals from within.

While corporations are typically large, slow moving beasts governed by strict processes, creating a culture of innovation in a corporation is still entirely possible. It hinges on management’s attitude and approach, prioritization of time, and flexibility of the business structure and processes. In the end, innovation is not just about having great ideas. It’s about having the freedom to come up with any idea, the encouragement to try it out, and little to stand in its way.

For more about innovation within corporations, read Speeding up innovation in a corporate environment.

Keys for winning Startup Weekend from a back-to-back champ

Polina Tibets, Head of Due Diligence at Digital Knights

After a two year hiatus, Techstars finally revived its Startup Weekend in Berlin, which took place earlier this month. The intense, 54-hour event brings together the brightest minds around to create startups from scratch, and pits them against each other in a competition format. Students and professionals from a range of backgrounds participate – demonstrating that anyone can have a great business mind, regardless of background or expertise!

“Startup Weekend is a must-do for everyone who wants to be an entrepreneur. Shortening the experience from six months (usually) to one weekend shows if you’re ready for the role.” – Dinarte Jesus, athlead.de co-founder and Grandpal team member.

I was eager to join this event for the second time (having first participated in June of 2016 in Monterrey, Mexico) simply because I love the notion that anyone can develop an idea and nurture it to solve global issues at scale. Isn’t that cool? The satisfaction of solving real life problems and making money out of it is absolutely exceptional and gives such a big thrill that I knew I had to be a part of it again. My team also won last year by the way (you can check out the winning product, Clean 2 Build, here), so I wanted to see if I could do it in Berlin too!

“Startup Weekend is a crazy experience. You arrive on a Friday evening, pitch an idea, and a team of random participants forms. I got lucky to have an amazing bunch of people work with me over this weekend.” – Brian Daly, Network Catalyst at Techstars, and Grandpal team member.

The weekend went something like this:

Day 1: Meet, Pitch, and Team Up – In just a few hours most of the attendees pitched their ideas, created teams, and got ready to work.
Day 2: Learn & Work – Everyone showed up early and started cracking! Mentors floated around visiting teams and offered useful advice and direction.
Day 3: Present & Choose – Teams made final preparations and pitched onstage to a panel of judges. Judges included HTW Berlin entrepreneurship professor Heike Holzner, Global VP for SAP .iO Fund Alexa Gorman, and Zoi partner Wolfgang Baudendistel.

The pitching process drew out ideas like a social video challenge app and a modern garden design platform, but our team ended up moving forward to create Grandpal – a platform that allows family members to book and pay for social care by finding a ‘Pal’ in the neighborhood willing to invest quality time with their elders. We wanted to remind society how valuable our elders are and create meaningful social bonds.

After pitching our idea to the judges, I am pleased and proud to say Grandpal won! The judges thought that while this was a really good idea with a lot of value to a huge part of society, it was the only one with a social community angle and I believe this is what set it apart from the other great ideas presented. The judges decided it not only had the highest viability, but it also held the most potential for social impact in a meaningful way. All in all, winning the competition was without a doubt the best way to end a fun weekend full of learning, growing ideas, and thinking with different perspectives. Still, this weekend proves that it’s not about the ideas, it is about making them happen. The amount of satisfaction we all got by learning to work through real-world issues and the challenges companies face when trying to build solutions around them was amazing. I think this is the kind of learning that we all crave as entrepreneurs.

What I have learned:

The most important takeaway from Startup Weekend is that you need to bring an undeveloped idea and see where it leads you. That means you can’t have started to build a social following, written any code, or otherwise started to build your idea prior to the event. But there are still some things you can (and should) do that will help you out on the weekend and that are still in the spirit of the event.

How to prepare?

If you haven’t read it, then you really should check out The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, as many of the principles and methodologies that are utilized over the weekend are inspired by this book.
Get familiarized with the Business Canvas model, you will develop this further with your team on the weekend, but the idea is that you should have a basic understanding of the business model behind your idea, or how to create one.
Have an idea? Pitch it as a starting point! Don’t get married to it, it will evolve over the course of the 54 hours. Think about the Blue Ocean Strategy. Remember, being open to new ideas from your team members will lead to a better end result.
So your idea didn’t make it to the top or you didn’t feel like pitching? Join a team that you believe in. Don’t chose an idea just because you think it might win. Observe the synergies after the pitch and talk to the individuals that presented, see what you can give to the people regarding the project.
Use the network! You are going to be in a room full of people from different backgrounds, embrace it and ask for contributions.

Creating a startup in 54 hours is super challenging and feels impossible, but we proved that it can be done with teamwork and perseverance. Can’t wait for next year and the chance to go 3-for-3!

Polina Tibets can be found mentoring and participating in various events in the Berlin startup community and elsewhere. To reach out for future events, reach her at polina@digitalknights.co or on LinkedIn.

Digital Knights joins Simple Token as Advisory Member in the push for Tokenization

Amid the rise of corporate and consumer-facing Blockchain technology, Digital Knights is pleased to announce an agreement with Simple Token to become an advisory member for the side-chain protocol, utility-token, and SaaS platform for business and consumer-app tokenization.

Simple Token enables any company to create, launch, and manage its own branded digital token economy, powered by Simple Token’s protocols and software. The OpenST protocol, live and available, enables companies to launch their own Branded Tokens, minted on open scalable side blockchains staked against the Simple Token Ethereum based ERC20 token. The Simple Token SaaS platform, under development, gives companies the tools to manage, customize, monitor, and analyze their token economy.

Yesterday, Simple Token named Digital Knights as one of the first four member companies ahead of Simple Token’s official sale of Simple Token, abbreviated ST, an ERC-20 token on the Ethereum mainnet on November 14.

In a combined effort to advance tokenization, Digital Knights will offer its services to Simple Token and its members. Digital Knights will also explore tokenization of its own business and platform, as well as provide the Simple Token SaaS tools to its approved tech teams for tokenization of the applications they develop. Altogether, this collaboration aims to find new and unique ways to innovate on top of the Simple Token strategy by welcoming the experience and expertise of approved tech teams in the Digital Knights network.

Digital Knights is looking forward to joining forces with Simple Token to foster an environment where innovation thrives, adoption comes early, and all parties benefit.

Read more about the announcement.

Learn more about Simple Token.

On the Rise: Tech Due Diligence

From bootstrapped startups to corporate boardroom tables, more and more people are asking questions like: Is our tech solid? Is our tech sound? Is our tech good enough to accomplish our development goals?

Nearly all industries have gone or are going digital, and nearly all industries are evolving around innovation–or at least they’re ripe for it. The subsequent arms race to find quality developers has led to greater risk and more confusion both at home and abroad, and as a result, people are more unsure than ever about what they’re really getting when they hire tech talent.

Enter tech due diligence.

What is tech due diligence?

Tech due diligence is a way to evaluate a given group’s technical capabilities and qualities necessary to build a digital product or software before a single new line of code is ever written. Performing tech due diligence follows a similar process to that of venture capitalists looking to acquire or invest in a company. In this case, the stakeholders are conducting a thorough examination of a development team and it’s environment to ensure both technical proficiency and overall compatibility. The result is a clear reduction to the risk of failure and a definitive pathway to successful collaboration.

So why is it needed now?

The fast-paced digital landscape has led to increases in both the demand and the supply of tech resources. The problem is, these increases pay absolutely no mind to quality, which means the market is flooded with noise and fragmentation. And this is only set to continue. The demand for reliable tech talent has reached fever pitch and it’s no longer restricted to just the bigger players like Google and Facebook as more and more industries are becoming fully reliant on IT and CS related staff members.

“Software developer jobs are expected to grow 17% from 2014 till 2024”.

– Forbes

Amid this growth, the recruiting struggle continues. This report from McKinsey highlights the hardships companies face to hire quality tech talent in a scramble to upskill their teams–and this is a trend set to escalate. However, it’s not just that. At the same time that more and more less-than-capable developers are offering their services to the market, the competent ones are also having trouble finding projects that are interesting and valuable themselves. As a result, good businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs are losing time, money, and effort by enduring rotten partnerships, meanwhile the truly great technical counterparts are struggling to differentiate themselves in the market full of lesser competition. What does this mean? It means that on both sides, the need for third-party verification is at an all-time high.

Is anyone doing it?

Well, Digital Knights is, for one.

Although there may be distinguished individuals performing tech due diligence on a for-hire and case-by-case basis, Digital Knights does it on a larger, more accessible scale. By reverse-engineering a ‘teams-first’ approach to test hundreds of boutique software development teams across the globe, Digital Knights has already put in the time and legwork that other companies don’t want to or simply can’t. As such, Digital Knights has established a quality assurance framework for digital innovation and software development in a world that has no real standardizations or regulations.

What’s Digital Knights?

The founders of Digital Knights experienced first-hand what being severely let down by tech partners felt like and decided that enough was enough–there was just too much failure in the digital innovation space. Today, the company is both a tech due diligence powerhouse and an exclusive gateway to its own network of trustworthy and gifted tech partners. On a rolling basis, businesses and entrepreneurs come to Digital Knights for connections to approved teams for on-demand collaboration in building digital products such as mobile apps, VR experiences, and IoT systems. The result is a data-driven alternative to the failure-ridden market standard of IT outsourcing that instead boasts a project success rate of 98 percent.

On the flip side, tech teams themselves seek out Digital Knights to undergo its strict due diligence methodology–a custom-built process put together in a combined effort with industry renowned CTOs, serial entrepreneurs, and tech due diligence experts with over 20 years of experience in vested outsourcing. After teams undergo the rigorous six-week test, not only do all receive a full report detailing team strengths and weaknesses across various technical and non-technical categories (no matter if they pass or fail), but they also receive instructions on how to remedy areas that are unsatisfactory ahead of a reassessment as well as how to improve their own abilities to attract potential clients. Only seven percent of teams at this time meet the standards to become Digital Knights approved on the first try.

“The due diligence process was important to us for two reasons. First, we got an independent and honest review of how we as a company are seen externally and how we rank in both the technical and communication areas. It boosted our confidence and provided actionable suggestions for improvements. Secondly, we view the Digital Knights network of approved teams as an emerging mark of quality within the custom software development market.”

– Adam Warski, CTO, SoftwareMill

What’s next?

Tech due diligence is still growing as an integral piece of the innovation puzzle. When done properly, it erases risks and modernizes decisions for top executives, CIOs and CTOs, non-technical founders, and product managers.

If you have a digital project coming up, get in touch with Digital Knights for a consultation to ensure you find the right team for your company.

Speeding up innovation in a corporate environment

How do you not only make corporate innovation easy, but entrench it into the fabric of your company? Bring the spirit of startups into the corporate world.

The State of Play

In the 21st century market share is ephemeral. Just get in your time machine and go ask Blockbuster. They actually had a chance to buy Netflix – the nimble and disruptive new DVD rental platform founded by Reed Hastings. When Reed proposed that Blockbuster should buy Netflix for $50 million Blockbuster declined. Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Netflix’s market cap is now valued at $19.7 billion.

What we can learn from this is that Blockbuster did not have the vision or capability to adapt to the shifting sand beneath their feet. They didn’t realise that things move quickly in the digital world and those who cannot adapt fall from grace spectacularly. With the power of hindsight, it’s obvious that Blockbuster should’ve moved into a more online-centric business model and bring their huge customer base along with them. But they didn’t. In many ways business leaders in the modern era are subject to powerful forces of corporate survival of the fittest, with companies investing in R&D to better anticipate future climes and to avoid pulling a Blockbuster.

The above is a very extreme example, due to the polarity and public nature of Blockbuster and Netflix, but the scenario is hardly uncommon. This has led to the startup within a corporation. Keeping on top of technology and trends is etched firmly in many corporate playbooks nowadays, but how do you reconcile that in an environment where, in theory corporations can access today’s most promising talent pool, have the budget to try and fail, can theoretically out-innovate anyone else, but in practice, deeply ingrained processes, cultures and incentive systems tend to actively suppress innovation that threatens the status quo?

“Skunkworks were emblematic of corporate structures that focused on execution and devalued innovation.”

How Corporations Have Reacted

In the last couple of years, corporate giants such as Coca Cola, General Electric, American Express, MasterCard, and IBM have been tapping into the agility and unbridled creativity of the startup world by hosting innovation contests and funding the ‘best’ for internal startup projects.

Unlike hackathons, which, let’s be honest, are usually just PR exercises with no concrete outcomes, these companies are trying to create continuous innovation, and for the companies who can master it– the art of executing on core products while continually inventing new products and new businesses – they shift from skunkworks style innovation by exception and into innovation by design.

If corporations can pull it off, and infuse entrepreneurial thinking into the the ranks, the prize is talent.

“At least 90% of millennials say they would rather work at a startup than a corporate giant…”

Talent Acquisition

As someone who deals with startups, entrepreneurs, and corporates on a daily basis I can say that in my experience the startups are a younger crowd. Of course, age, wisdom, and experience are virtues and highly sought after commodities in the corporate world, but with that comes a perceived staleness that startups don’t have. Working in startups is hard work but somehow more attractive. Things move fast and there’s a lot of room for bringing your own ideas to the table and actually have a say on how things should be done. It’s not exactly hard to tell that millennials in particular are lured the “feeling of newness” that startups possess.

If corporates can tap into this intangible feeling of newness and manifest startup culture (hard to define, but characterised by creativity, innovation, entrepreneurial thinking), talent follows. Innovative companies like startups attract more talent than corporations, but this can come as compromise. The structured and regimented corporate environment can be attractive to people who want that security, and infusing entrepreneurial vigor means you can have the best of both.

Innovation Hubs > Skunkworks

Of course, it isn’t easy to create a startup within a company (sometimes called an ‘Innovation Hub’), and even then Innovation Hubs within larger corporates are constantly searching for quality & fast-acting boutique dev teams that can execute these MVP products being created. Replicating the haphazard moves of a 3-7 person outfit can be done within an Innovation Hub, better yet with the safety net that these hubs have with the funding from the corporate mothership.

“It’s marrying the stability of established industries with the iterative and agile nature of startups.”

If corporations can nail the startup within a business model, and actively allow the unit to create products that can influence the core offering of your business, then you get continuous innovation and avoid the Skunkworks, which – if we’re honest – are emblematic of corporate structures playing at innovation.

Failure as a Metric

Part of distancing your innovation hub from the Skunkworks model is being able to not only tolerate failure, but to embrace it and to learn from it. Silicon Valley celebrates failure because of how important it is to realise that things need to be piloted in the real world and if they fail they fail. There is no shame in failure, as long as you can call yourself more experienced after the fact. Evaluating things to death and discouraging risk is sure to turn off free radicals of innovation. Innovators must be given the room to fail and try again. It’s essential.

Technical Resources

 

“The default speed for a startup is breakneck, and it’s how continuous innovation is fostered.”

A startup’s agility from the development side of things is usually down to their methodologies. Corporations are slow, glacial entities. Breaking through the sluggish approval/moremoremore/more/ and committing to one or two week sprints effectively replicates the agility of a startup, and helps you build much more viable products that not only work, but do not miss market windows or become obsolete before they are even finished. The default speed for a startup is breakneck, and it’s now continuous innovation is fostered.

If assembling or outsourcing a tech team to build products your innovation team is coming up with, instill agile principles (or hire teams who already develop within the agile framework) to make sure the speed in which the innovation hub builds is like a legitimate startup or high calibre tech studio.

In summary, successfully creating a startup within a company that actually possesses the key attributes of a startup and can retain them within a rigid corporate environment is hard. Successfully marrying the iterative and agile nature of small companies to the structured and sometimes bureaucratic decision making of corporates means innovation by exception becomes innovation by design.

The Skunkworks is dead, but long live innovation.