Lessons Learned from a Top Global Fintech Accelerator (Part 2)

A brief introduction to the theory of fireflies

In the previous post I share some of the lessons I have learned while participating to one of the best global startup accelerators in the world. In this post I continue that discussion and introduce the theory of fireflies in modern organisations.

With more and more lean startups born every day and more agility in their mind, modern organisations usually perform weekly or biweekly sprint meetings to develop their software. In a sprint meeting there is no possibility to change any requirement during development. Such requirements are usually agreed upon before starting the sprint, and can be tuned only after the sprint, if needed.

In heterogeneous startups, whose members come from different backgrounds and in which developing complex software requires the coordination of several skilled individuals, leveraging a sprint meeting according to its official definition can be tricky and barely possible.
In such organisations, multiple teams are involved in different aspects of product development. To make a concrete example, I will focus on the typical organisation with a marketing team, an engineering team, a product team, a data science team and a team of content editors. Needless to say, one sprint meeting for all would be unproductive and a great source of chaos, due to the diversity of the members of each team. Modern organisations deal with such inefficiencies by creating multiple sprint meetings, one for each team, such that each team member feels comfortable speaking to his direct colleagues and complete the tasks that involve her directly. There is a subtlety though: the pace of engagement among teams.
Before, getting to the issues introduced by the diversity of team members and pace of engagement, let me make a tiny digression on the topic that will serve to clarify the concept hereby introduced.

Fireflies have been observed to sync at times by several scientists. One theory that is worth mentioning is by Prof. Steven Strogatz, who explores a number of patterns of spontaneous order in his wonderful book Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order.
In general, whenever fireflies sync they produce a brighter light for a short time window. The fact that patterns that define the intensity of the light are not completely random provides sufficient evidence about an optimisation strategy used by Nature with respect to some phenomena. There are several reasons why fireflies sync. Baby fireflies and larvae use their glows to show their distastefulness; adult fireflies identify members of other species or gender; some females even choose their male partners according to specific flash patterns characteristics. In some other cases, females feel more attracted by males who can emit higher flash rates. And the most obvious reason of all is predators: as long as a firefly stays in sync with the group, it will look bigger and stronger to its predators who will find the rebel firefly out of sync to be an easier meal for dinner. Likewise, females may perceive the same rebel firefly as a different species and never choose him as a mate (Fireflies glow-worms and lightning bugs, Lynn Frierson Faust).

Image for post
Figure 1. Heterogeneous teams developing features of the same core products without synchronisation will move at different pace, achieving their objectives independently from each other.

In the context of the heterogeneous organisation, each firefly/team performs at its own pace and use their glow with a specific pattern. In the example organisation above, the marketing firefly and the content firefly are usually faster than the others, as selling features or writing about them takes less time than implementing and testing them. The data science firefly can be stuck somewhere in the process of building feature#1 or proceed to developing feature#2 while waiting for fresh data to analyse. The engineering firefly is waiting for all the other teams and coordinating with their developers in order to set the architecture that will execute the core features of the company. This usually takes longer, as reflected in Figure 1.

What makes the fireflies shine, though, is a step of synchronisation before proceeding to the other tasks. This must occur even before contemplating the need of feature#3 and feature#4.

Image for post
Figure 2. Heterogeneous teams that synchronise with each other can make features ready to high-pace teams like marketing and content. Those teams, in turn, can validate complete features and give feedback to engineering and data science fireflies.

The synchronisation step would allow engineering firefly to keep up with the rest of the team, the marketing firefly to sell complete features, the content firefly to write more consistent posts about what is already an asset within the organisation and would keep predators/competitors away from the consolidated business of the company (provided the quality of the implementations and the needs fulfilled within the market).
In the world of firefly project management, local sprints serve the purpose of maintaining diverse teams focused and progressing towards a common objective, by means of a synchronisation step that can be referred to as globally synced sprint.

Feel free to try this idea and optimise resources in your organisation.
Enjoy fireflies!

Before you go

If you enjoyed this post, you will love the newsletter of Data Science at Home. It’s my FREE digest of the best content in Artificial Intelligence, data science, predictive analytics and computer science. Subscribe!

Written by

Managing Director @ amethix.com Chief Software Engineer & Host @datascienceathome.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store