A Powerful Engine Room: NBT’s Tech Department

The rapid outbreak of COVID-19 is causing a lot of uncertainty in the world and impacting aspects of our daily lives: our social interactions, our family life, our communities, and our work.

 

Companies from across the globe are going through a period of metamorphosis in rethinking business models and implementing emergency work-from-home protocols. These disruptions and restrictions have forced businesses and slow adopters to realize that they can no longer ignore the benefits of digitalization and the need to prioritize innovation.

 

Here at Next Big Thing (NBT), we’ve had to remain flexible and agile in response to current economic challenges whilst continuing to build out new business models – a driver we deem necessary in the digitized world.

 

Since going into lockdown, many people have been curious as to how NBT, a venture studio for the Machine Economy, is dealing with the current global crisis, our recommended best practices, and our day-to-day technology essentials. Let me share this with you.

 

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Here are my 8 most important learnings in leading a remote engineering team to continue doing what we do best - building deep-tech ventures for a more resilient and sustainable future.

 

  1. 1. Overcoming the challenges of working remotely

As engineers, we are heavily dependent on the lab and work with its equipment, devices, and prototypes on a daily basis. Luckily, we understood the severity of the current COVID-19 crisis from early-onset and were able to transport most of our development tools to the homes of our engineers prior to the lockdown.

 

Since many of NBT’s projects are in different phases of development, our team manager is in the office every day and sends additional equipment and tools to our engineers as needed. This is all done safely and securely whilst abiding by the current social distancing regulations set out by the government. However, most of the team already have the necessary equipment at home which makes things a lot easier.

 

  1. 2. Conducting testing from remote work stations

Testing conditions vary and depend on the stages of development where each test takes place. For each development project, the team agrees on a set of working principles: 1) the toolset and frameworks; 2) the coding and collaboration standards and; 3) the guidelines for reviewing and testing code.

 

Software tests are easier to manage since they continuously run without any change. Firmware tests are more complex because there’s a need to test physical objects and hardware devices. Hardware lab tests and field tests are limited at the moment.

 

  1. 3. Monitoring success and maintaining quality excellence

The level of quality assurance (QA) depends on the product development stage. NBT’s current developments are not dependent on external QA. We proceed to do internal QA without any change during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Although development timelines may take slightly longer to fulfill, the quality of our work should not, and will not, suffer. Each development project is assigned a "module lead” and realistic expectations are set for product managers and other stakeholders to deliver on high-quality output.

 

  1. 4. Working within a standardized environment: development tracking and tools

The extensive list of project management tools available helps us keep track of various project outcomes. It would otherwise be impossible to organize and have oversight on all of the complex activities that the engineering department performs. These tools are collectively chosen by the team based on what will optimize daily productivity and efficiency levels.

 

Under the current circumstances, we haven’t undergone any major changes with new tracking tools. However, we have made minor adaptations to include written daily standups for full transparency and ownership of tasks. Our usual in-office weekly standups have also transitioned into the digital world. As a team, we have adopted these digitized working principles quickly and without hesitation.

 

  1. 5. Managing expectations and resources within the tech department

The engineering department understands that complex and promising technology stacks require deep knowledge to develop successful business models. Our engineers have clear goals in mind and know exactly what they need to achieve. This is why high levels of transparency and communication are extremely important, especially given the current working conditions.

 

Teams need to be led with conviction and understand the nature of each task and ask questions when blockers arise. We work as a unit and all of our successes and failures are part of our collective team effort. The most efficient way of managing the expectations is by directly talking to the team during the daily and weekly planning sessions.

 

  1. 6. Workflow: from planning to the finish line

With recent events, it’s become increasingly clear how important it is to have well-defined workflows. The workflow process needs to work well beyond the engineering department to ensure good communication with other departments - for example - venture development.

 

As one example, we have our internal Engineering Resource Allocation & Planning Tool (ERAP) that takes care of requests, ticketing, resources, and resource allocation. In addition, we also use GitLab, Jira, and Confluence to keep track of the issues and tasks we work on.

 

  1. 7. The development toolbox: continuing with business as usual

Besides continuing with ‘business as usual’ with standard development tools, we have significantly ramped up the number of video calls and digital workshops via Google Hangouts. We’ve also intensified the usage of Slack and use an online virtual whiteboard tool, Miro, for team collaboration. However, as with most technology companies, it’s not always the tools that matter. It’s the outcome that counts.

 

  1. 8. Future outlook: toward digitalization

Learning from current events and my 15 years of experience in building hardware, firmware, and software systems, I will continue to guide the planning and strategy of end-to-end product and technology developments for NBT and our venture portfolio. From myself and the entire Next Big Thing team, we will continue to push forward innovation and support the growth and prosperity of new and existing ventures to weather the crisis.

 

Being at the forefront of tech developments, we see the silver lining in which individuals and businesses have the opportunity to test out new technologies to see how it can help society beyond a crisis situation.There are strong indications that many technologies will see accelerated adoption in the coming years because people are becoming more digitally-minded as they embrace technology while working from home.

 

We believe that technology can, and will, do even more than it currently has to offer and the world post- crisis will be even more oriented toward digital solutions and autonomous machines. As humans are still highly dependent on business models of the past. It’s time to look toward the future, digitize, and shape it. In the coming months, we will see IoT, DLT, and AI gaining importance for increased efficiency, automation and the development of new marketplaces in the tech and industrial sectors.

 

Now is not the time to be idle. We see this as an opportunity for new technologies such as blockchain, IoT and machine learning to support autonomous processes and mechanisms that will benefit society to unlock entirely new value streams. In today’s information age, success is achieved by those who digitize and analyze information to make informed business decisions.

 

Looking ahead, you can expect to hear more from us as we continue to build the Machine Economy of the future – one company at a time.

 

 


To find out more about innovating with IoT, or to co-innovate with NBT, reach out to us!

 

*Exclusive offer: Our portfolio venture, Sensry, is offering IoT-startups up to €2000 in product credit for a 6-month free trial to develop your own IoT-use case based on Sensry´s Kallisto sensor node technology. Ready to build?