Softhouse Weekly #8

One week ago today I had the distinct pleasure of attending Softhouse Day, the annual gathering where we all meet up to learn from each other and share our thoughts on the future. It was an incredible turnout and an inspiring group of people. I left the conference knowing more than when I came, and I know I’m not the only one. There were seminars on everything from cybersecurity to making computer games, and as the sun started to set and we settled into drinks, laughter, and dancing I took a moment to reflect on how lucky we are to have such talented colleagues.

One of the exercises we did together was interviewing each other about projects we had worked on, and summarize them succinctly with our new metaphorical glasses – our commitment to the idea Softhouse makes you grow. We gathered around 100 of these little mini-stories at the end of the day, and I must say they make for very uplifting reading. 

As CEO, I try to have my eye on the future and translate ambitions into roadmaps and visions into goals. This year has been very colored by how I want to live up to our commitment of applying talent with a purpose, and with my mind so focused on what we are to do next, I kind of lost track of how much we have already accomplished. Reading off the cards I was reminded of the outsize impact we have had on the communities we serve, how much we ourselves have grown, how much we have taught each other and our clients, and the string of successful clients we have left behind us.

Together we have helped connect hundreds of millions of people to their first bank account, something of almost incalculable value in the developing world. We’ve helped increase public transport adoption, which is a great good in itself, but we’ve also helped prevent the printing of literally tens of kilometers of train and bus tickets on paper. We’ve made countless systems faster and more efficient, reduced carbon emissions, improved health outcomes and helped get exciting startups off the ground. You’ve made a difference. We have delivered so much more than code together – we have punched above our weight and managed to make many meaningful contributions to the world. Cheers to you!

Softhouse has historically been an important engine for growth, and our ways of working, our competence and attitude, has been producing positive outcomes all over the world for decades. We can be proud of that history, be proud of the work we’ve done together and of the many colleagues with whom we’ve made this journey, but I also hope you share my excitement for the future and everything that we’ll accomplish with our renewed focus and energy.

As I mentioned before I let you all go last Friday, you can expect exciting ways for things to start changing for the better. You’ve already noticed our new commitment to improved communication, and next up is an overhaul of how we talk to ourselves internally. It is with great care and ambition for the future that we’ve developed the new briefing format for new projects, something that will make it easier for us to remember what we’re really here for and to hold ourselves up to the high standards that make it a pleasure and honor to work here. Routines are being revised, commitments are being renewed, skills are being developed and honed. There’s a tangible energy in our hallways, and we’ll harness it make good on our aspirations. What do we mean when we say value delivered, continuously?

Softhouse makes you grow.

If you have any questions about where we’re going or any comments or ideas on how to get us there, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Bengt Gustavsson, CEO Softhouse Consulting Sverige AB, at 076-883 24 60 or send an e-mail.

Combating change vertigo

Thinking about Change

Every great enterprise started with an ambition to create value for someone, to provide a product or service that captures the attention and spending of a demanding consumer. Successful ventures find more resources to reinvest into creating yet more value, improving the product or service to better meet that initial demand that inspired them to roll up their sleeves and create something. The problem, however, is that not only are the consumers demanding, but the demands change as the marketplace evolves and consumers have more choice.

”Business itself has fundamentally changed as the modern marketplace has given the consumer more choice and the ability to raise their own standards”

In an influential article in the Harvard Business Review back in 1993, Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema made the claim that business itself has fundamentally changed as the modern marketplace has given the consumer more choice and the ability to raise their own standards.

“In the past, customers judged the value of a product or service on the basis of some combination of quality and price,” they claimed, continuing to explain that“ [modern consumers], by contrast, have an expanded concept of value that includes convenience of purchase, after-sale service, dependability, and so on.”

”One has to make the ability to change alongside the changing marketplace a core ambition”

If one is to have sustainable and long-lasting success, then, one has to make the ability to change alongside the changing marketplace a core ambition. The company that wishes to stay relevant and competitive cannot simply focus on living up to the standards they set out for themselves at the founding of the company, but have a living culture that evolves in a competitive environment.

The influential article by Wiersema (left) and Treacy (right) inspired a new way of thinking about corporate differentiation and change.

Twenty-five years later, the need for change is a recognized reality and the topic of many excruciating board meetings and insincere internal memos. Change is difficult and complex because an organization is not made out of strategies and PowerPoints, but rather out of all the behaviors that add up to the sum of the company’s output. Peter Drucker famously quipped “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and that is why change can seem all but impossible.

Without the ambition and tools to nudge our everyday behaviors, and build change into the culture itself, change will remain a disconnected manager’s pipe dream and the tired sigh of employees that have heard it all before.

The Vertigo of Change

One of the problems plaguing organizations is the vertigo that comes with envisioning a change in the real world of flesh and bone and routines. Once we leave the safety of our imaginary Powerpoint manifesto, we are faced with the stark reality that there is a lot to do, and it can be very difficult to know where to start.

This vertigo affects us even in much smaller day-to-day situations, from knowing where to start writing our first line of code on a new feature to rubbing our temples over implementing a new logistics routine, and it is greatly multiplied with organizational altitude. Inaction becomes the undesired default when the vision is too far removed from what is right in front of us.

So how do we stare confidently into the depths of potential without becoming frozen with vertigo?

And speaking of confidence, what do we do when the dream has been sold too many times before and the people with the actual power to affect change have become disillusioned and no longer believe in such lofty ambitions?

[Change vertigo] is greatly multiplied with organizational altitude.

In that 1993 article, Treacy and Wiersema highlighted how organizations that meet the expectations of the market but strive to excel in one of three directions, can become market leaders. By investing heavily in operational excellence, product leadership or customer centricity, the authors argued that companies like Nike, Dell, and Home Depot outperformed the competition by creating consumer expectations that others were poorly equipped to meet. The key to success, they argued, is to set a goal for yourself in one of those three directions, and to invest in that growth once you’ve met the basic expectations of the market in the other two. 

At Softhouse, we choose to express that mission as an exercise in placing yourself somewhere in this triangle:

If we are to run with the ideas outlined in the article, our hypothetical organization has to place themselves somewhere near one of these corners. Placing yourself firmly in the middle means you just meet the basic expectations of the market – we can’t cheat by saying we’ll be excellent in all three directions.

By asking yourself where you are in the triangle today, and where you want to be in the future, you can arrive at a change vector to give you one of those lofty, abstract visions for change, and it is an important first theoretical step – we must have a direction before we take the first step, but how do we translate that vision into action?

The next important step is reinterpreting that change vector as a change in the capabilities of the organization. What must we be able to do and deliver to meet these new expectations?

Every organization has some unique, or at least domain-specific, requirements but we want to argue that there are four Capabilities that every organization desiring change must master and that we can contextualize those within the framework of the triangle above.

These four capabilities are collaboration, learning, creativity, and responsiveness, and to translate our change vector into meaningful organizational goals we apply Treacy and Wiersema’s lens to those capabilities by putting them in this matrix:

Collaboration  x
Learning  x
Creativity  x
Responsiveness  x

In this example, our hypothetical company has decided they want to make an investment towards product leadership. They have identified that improving their interdepartmental collaboration to improve their operational excellence may free up much-needed resources to do so, that they must be better at learning from their increasingly engaged customer base, and that they must foster more creativity and faster response times to new opportunities. If they successfully improve these four capabilities, they will inhabit a corner of the triangle in line with their new strategic goal.

There may be many other industry-specific or even unique skills that this company must invest in, but they must, like every other company, certainly invest in these four.

Improve collaboration between departments to find opportunities to improve operational excellence is a much more manageable and concrete mission than Become a product leader.

Now that the company has translated the desired change vector into a less abstract delta of four capabilities, we have hopefully taken another step towards curing our change vertigo and given ourselves more manageable goals to achieve. Improve collaboration between departments to find opportunities to improve operational excellence is a much more manageable and concrete mission than Become a product leader.

But, if we are being honest with ourselves, the goal is still more abstract than we would like and we may still be faced with four (smaller) problems that give us vertigo. So how does one go about translating these desired improvements in Capability into everyday action?

Introducing ChangeLab

We have worked with organizational change for over two decades, and have spent a lot of that time learning how to combat and prevent change vertigo. In our experience, there are few things that are as costly in terms of lost efficiency, output and morale as that overwhelming feeling of not knowing where to start implementing a change you’ve convinced yourself is absolutely needed, but beyond your current courage, understanding or reach.

”Our own open source fork of the Agile methodology”

One product of these two decades, and the hundreds of projects we have undertaken, is a model we have come to call the ChangeLab – our own open source fork of the Agile methodology, if you will – a framework that allows you to translate change requirements into a daily iterative cycle where the rubber hits the road.

The ChangeLab routines allow us to navigate complexity and create momentum

“If change and adaptation is not part of your everyday thinking, you’re inadvertently creating the company culture equivalent of technical debt,” explains my colleague Marcus Degerman, one of the architects behind the new methodology developed at the Softhouse think tank for management and change. “The ChangeLab routines allow us to navigate complexity and create momentum. Many small behavioral changes with measurable outcomes create the kind of momentum that cures vertigo and creates confidence in change.”

The ChangeLab is our way of converting top-down strategic ambitions into a grassroots change of company behavior so that change becomes a continuous and built-in part of your culture, rather than a periodic and taxing undertaking.

Marcus Degerman and Vadim Feldman helped develop the ChangeLab methodology at the Softhouse think tank.

On June 12th we’ll be hosting a seminar in Malmö, Sweden, on how to use ChangeLab to drive growth in your company. Sign up below for a physical seat, or tune in to our live broadcast to learn more about how to navigate complexity, combat change vertigo, and building change into your culture.



For more information contact: 
Vadim Feldman at 076-031 10 60 or send an e-mail.

Softhouse Weekly #7

Tomorrow we gather our team members from all over the world to exchange ideas, learn from each other, highlight our accomplishments, and remind ourselves of the importance of our mission. When preparing to address such an esteemed gathering of talented colleagues, it is easy to see that we have a responsibility to make the most out of all these minds working together.

Together, we’ve committed to the idea of value delivered, continuously, and to me, this is much more than just a slogan for our brochures.

What do we mean when we say Value delivered, continuously?

Our product is our company culture, the engine for growth that we have built together. What we deliver to the client is the competence and the attitude that we cultivate. Softhouse makes you grow is the guiding principle of that culture – the idea that we continuously invest in improving that competence and attitude.

We have built a team of two hundred highly skilled, valuable and talented colleagues, and we have a responsibility, and the privilege, of applying that talent with a purpose.

Softhouse makes you grow is our commitment to you, our colleagues, to make sure that you have a meaningful career here, where you continue to develop the competence and attitude that has made us a trusted partner to our client. It is a commitment to our clients to deliver that value, continuously, to help them navigate complexity and create great products together so that they can grow.

It is a commitment to the communities we serve, to apply our talent with a purpose, to educate and to lead by example.

Our product is our company culture, and that is the value that we deliver, continuously.

I look forward to seeing you all tomorrow and hearing the stories of growth that’ll share.


For more information contact: 
Bengt Gustavsson, CEO Softhouse Consulting Sverige AB, at 076-883 24 69 or send an e-mail.

Softhouse Weekly #6

Since software development is expanding and finding its way to new business domains, I found myself thinking about how our Lean & Agile services could help old organizations in crises to move forward and evolve in a rapidly changing and developing market.

Surely, none of us have missed the recent story about Swedens most prominent culture institution – The Swedish Academy, founded in 1786 by Gustav III. The Swedish Academy is well known for its ”working on the purity, strength and, highness of the Swedish language” as well as being the Academy that annually designates recipients of several awards and scholarships – including the Nobel Prize in Literature. Unfortunately, the media is shedding light on a different side of our prized institution and the problems The Swedish Academy is facing in today’s modern community; a situation that could have easily been prevented if the institution had acknowledged an Agile way of working.

Why do I think so? Well, let’s put it in perspective and line up The Swedish Academy’s ongoing situation with the Agile Manifesto statements.

Agile manifesto states:

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

The Swedish Academy:

  1. Team? No, instead they let people publicly accuse and defile each other in one of Sweden’s most distinguished papers.
  2. Ok – comprehensive documentation is kind of the whole idea behind The Swedish Academy.
  3. Who is the customer? Is it everyone using the Swedish language? It’s also a bit unclear who to negotiate with but since the king of Sweden decided last Tuesday to publicly announce “I might change the rules,” maybe we should start there?
  4. Change? The Swedish Academy’s rules date back to 1700 century and haven’t changed in the past 300 years.

The way I connect the dots is simple.

The Swedish Academy has a bad case of an unhealthy culture growing and working against them. For me, the essence of a thriving culture is to support, develop and help each other grow – every day. I am very proud to be a part of an organization that not only acknowledges the hard work and dedication required to obtain a healthy culture but also actively works to enable necessary interaction between colleagues, clients, and the community.

It matters how you are perceived,

Long live Agile Manifesto!


For more information contact: 
Bengt Gustavsson, CEO Softhouse Consulting Sverige AB, at 076-883 24 69 or send an e-mail.

Softhouse Weekly #5

This week I spent some time thinking a little bit about salesmanship, and what it means for a company with our values. I am often asked by colleagues “How can I contribute and bring in more business?”, expressed both as an aspiration but also as a concern. As a consultant, how does one sell something without coming across as a pushy salesperson and losing credibility?

”What does sales mean when you’re a consultant?”

First of all, I am very happy to work at a company where both the points are brought up. It’s a sign of a healthy culture that people want to contribute to the company, but also feel a sense of duty towards the client. No one wants to be peddling anything that might hurt that relationship. We’ve all had negative experiences dealing with salespeople that want to sell us some product we don’t need, often in predatory ways – but what does sales mean when you’re a consultant?

”Our top priority always has to be to build trust and confidence with our clients,”

The word “sell” sounds like it has nothing to do with engineering. By contrast, “informing” is a lot more neutral and “solving a problem” is something quite positive. When you’re a consultant, and you’re not selling a product, sales is really just about having an honest conversation with the client about what they need. Our top priority always has to be to build trust and confidence with our clients, and one way to do that is to have ongoing conversations about how their needs might have evolved.

”A good salesman is a good listener,”

If you want to do more sales as a consultant, it boils down to letting the client tell us what they need. We can help highlight possibilities and opportunities, we can share our observations and experience, but ultimately what we do is listen. A good salesman is a good listener, and we will never hurt a client relationship by listening to them and helping them formulate their needs so that they can move forward.

For those of you that speak Swedish, I highly recommend you take four minutes of your time a look at this video ( Perhaps a future service should be this “Thinking Factory”?

Is it fluff? Yes, indeed.
But is it serious? Yes, indeed it is.

Share your thoughts! Share your thoughts with your clients – it may help both them and the business. Share your thoughts with me, too – I would love to hear how you think we can best help our clients, colleagues, and community grow.  

For more information contact: 
Bengt Gustavsson, CEO Softhouse Consulting Sverige AB, at 076-883 24 69 or send an e-mail.

From Bosnia to Sweden and back again – a programmer’s journey

At the height of the dotcom bubble of the late 90s, Himzo Music, a young man of Bosnian descent, was studying computer science at university in Sweden, the start of a remarkable journey that would let experience several historical moments and trends up close.

By the time Himzo concluded his studies early in the new millennium, the dotcom era was coming to a catastrophic halt. As businesses died, capital dried up and speculation and optimism faded, the job market for computer engineers took a nosedive. Skill sets that had been in high demand two years earlier were now more than saturating a wounded economy that couldn’t support nearly as many jobs as before.

“There were simply no jobs when I got out of school,” explains Himzo. But rather than feeling defeated and getting off the computer train, like many did, Himzo persevered and decided to start his own business. “I did everything related to computers, from repairing hardware to building websites.”

“I’ve been a developer for a long time, and I’ve been making mobile apps since way before smartphones were a thing,”

Himzo ran the business for about four years, honing his skills and riding out the crash as the IT economy started picking up again. He met Mats Petersen, who gave him a job at Teleca, a consultancy that later became part of Cybercom. In the years prior to eventually joining Softhouse in 2011, Himzo worked with companies like Vodafone and Sony Ericsson.

“I’ve been a developer for a long time, and I’ve been making mobile apps since way before smartphones were a thing,” says Himzo, musing on the mobile ecosystem before the iPhone and Android changed the market forever. At the time there was a premium market for business phones, and software for these mobile phones was a wild frontier. Many concepts we take for granted were born in that era, but wouldn’t become widely adopted until many years later.

”Good ideas are important, but you can’t discount being in the right place at the right time”

“Sony Ericsson had a lot of great ideas, but their timing and execution was off. Good ideas are important, but you can’t discount being in the right place at the right time. Timing matters.”

”When the smartphone revolution began we were well positioned.”

His experience in the early mobile ecosystem meant he could bring Nokia with him as a client when he joined Softhouse. “We became one of their most trusted suppliers. I think we had eight people working with them the first year, then we added Blackberry to our repertoire and did another stint with the same gang. Over the years, Softhouse steadily became a regional leader in mobile software, and when the smartphone revolution began we were well positioned.”


Back to Bosnia

But Himzo’s greatest undertaking with Softhouse was yet to come. The market had transformed entirely from the pessimistic aftermath of the dotcom bubble that shaped his first years in the industry, and software engineers were in high demand again. Finding enough talent to execute on all the ambitious projects in the market was starting to become difficult, and suppliers started competing on price to grab market share.

“We eventually took on a project with e.on”, continues Himzo. “They wanted to help people reduce their power consumption, and I was brought in to assist with the initial feasibility study. We ended up placing twelve people with them for two years, but it really changed our outlook on things. We were one of 14 suppliers, and each and every one of the others were trying to beat us on price with offices in places like India.”

”Bosnia is a close neighbor culturally”

A year after Himzo joined Softhouse, his former colleague Mats Petersen had come on as well to take over the reigns of Softhouse Malmö. In the years prior he had run an office in Poland for Cybercom, and he supported Himzo in a brave new vision:

Softhouse was going to open a full and independent office in Sarajevo.

“I thought we could do better than a lot of our competitors abroad. Sarajevo was not only in the same time zone but a short flight away. Bosnia is a close neighbor culturally, with a lot of shared customs, values and language,” explains Himzo. “I wanted to give something back to my old country, and bring something back to the community that would make a difference.”

“Bosnian drive with a Swedish system leads to crazy performance”

Today the Sarajevo has grown to two dozen highly qualified colleagues, working on international projects independently and in collaboration with Sweden. Himzo explains that the marriage of Swedish and Bosnian values has been particularly successful.

”We’re transparent and have a flat hierarchy, and involve our colleagues in all aspects of the business.”

“Bosnian drive with a Swedish system leads to crazy performance. Bosnian work ethic is in many ways similar to the traditional German mindset of hierarchies, discipline, and excellence, but Swedish culture encourages you to question tradition and authority, and that promotes creativity and flexibility. What we’ve done here is run a Swedish office in a Bosnian environment. We’re transparent and have a flat hierarchy, and involve our colleagues in all aspects of the business. Flat hierarchies is a Swedish value, but transparency and involvement is something quite remarkable about Softhouse culture – I’ve never been as involved and invested in a workplace before. Softhouse encourages you to be involved and to grow.”

Softhouse makes you grow is our core principle

The Sarajevo office was highlighted in our post about Certus last week and is another great example of why we say our product is our culture. Softhouse makes you grow is our core principle, and we see that culture at work in the way we supported Himzo in his ambitions to start an office in Sarajevo, how we contribute to the ecosystem there, and how we have helped clients like Certus grow and excel.