Radical Transparency and Trust
When I describe Lunar Logic as a company I inevitably mention transparency. Transparency is built into everything we’re doing.
There are no proxies that would isolate our customers from the team. No project managers who would relay information back and forth. No filter that would make sure that outgoing communication is “proper”.
We want to have our team in front of the customer every day on a video call. And vice versa. It’s not just a nice-to-have. It is our expectation. The practice comes from an Agile technique—standups. Yet we are far from rigid followership of the practice. The goal for us is to have frequent opportunity to validate our work. We want to share what we’re doing, our obstacles and questions. We want to understand whether the outcome of our work responds to the needs of the product. We want to validate whether we’re making good progress. We want to learn about any open issues on our client’s end.
Transparency in Action
We are transparent. Sometimes brutally transparent. It’s not unusual that our developers would share their very critical opinion about the idea of a feature or a choice of a technical solution. Don’t get me wrong. They wouldn’t refuse to go with the decision they believe is suboptimal. However, they wouldn’t hesitate to share a contrary point of view so that the eventual decision is made in presence of all the available options.
A similar attitude is seen in our technical processes. The code repository is always accessible to our customers. We push code into it as frequently as reasonably possible. Any progress that we’re making is instantly visible.
Same is true for working features of a product. In fact, one of the very first things that we do in a new project is to set up a demo server where we upload new features. This way a client who isn’t necessarily tech savvy would still see progress in an almost instantaneous manner. Not only that, though; they’d be able to validate whether working features are actually what they want.
We all crave for feedback. Team members would regularly go out and ask our customers whether they have any feedback, especially critical, for them. Sharing critique is fine. Not sharing feedback at all, when one has some, is not. On occasions, we end up working for a client who, only after the collaboration is finished, mentions some source of dissatisfaction and, without a miss, it leaves us puzzled. Why didn’t they share it when it was happening?
By the way, feedback is a two-way street. If we find something we want to share we will. From time to time, one of our team members would end up labeled “a troublemaker”. It can be in a form “oh, we love her technical skills but she just keeps questioning our planning and estimation practices” or a similar one.
We are very open and honest with business discussions as well. When we are down to negotiating our rates I’m always happy to explain our constraints. It is then clear where there is a space to change something and where the change is highly unlikely to happen. One could say that it’s inviting our clients to exploit us and thus make us sign worse deals than we could have otherwise. I look at it differently. I perceive it as living by our standards with transparency occupying a prominent place on that list.
Why So Serious?
By now you probably figured that transparency is an element of any work that we’re doing from technical work to business negotiations. Why so serious, you may ask.
The answer is straightforward. No business relationship, any relationship really but let’s stick to business here, would last unless we can build trust eventually. I acknowledge that during an intro call with a potential customer we can’t assume trust between parties. Ultimately, we see and hear each other for the first time in our lives. And yet we either aspire to build mutual trust fast or prefer part our ways soon.
Trustless collaboration is tiring and taxing for both parties. Simply put, we don’t want to pay that tax. We prefer to terminate a relationship in which we don’t feel trusted or can’t trust a client. It holds true even if from a technical perspective everything is going just fine. It happened in the past.
Now, I don’t know any better catalyst of trust than transparency and candor.
That’s why transparency is one of the pillars of our organizational culture and the part our value proposition for the clients.
Radically Transparent Organization
There’s an interesting follow-up to the story so far. While it may sound appealing it stands true only as long as everyone at Lunar acts in the way described above. So how do I know that all Lunar folks would be transparent every day in front of our customers?
The answer is, again, hidden in how we operate internally at Lunar Logic. There’s not a single bit of information that would be a secret for anyone at the company. That includes all the financials and, of course, salaries.
In all the stuff that we do we consider transparency as a crucial aspect. A phrase “I’m sharing it for the sake of transparency” is often used. Especially when someone is not sure whether something would be of interest of others. In such situations, we simply prefer to be on the safe side, i.e. be transparent.
Like many things, it goes both ways. On one hand, our default way of acting is being transparent, on the other everyone can be expected to openly share their course of actions and reasoning behind. Openness and transparency aren’t purely an opt-in mechanism. Should one attempt to avoid it there would be peer pressure to counter such behaviors.
This means that being transparent not only is the easiest way to thrive at Lunar; it is the only way.
Since candor and transparency are so ubiquitous they become our nature. Thus it is obvious that when in front of our customers, we would behave likewise.
The following is the excerpt from our wiki page about making decisions.
We are a small company and few things are formalized so it happens every now and then that we encounter a new situation where there isn’t a standard way of doing things. Here’s a short guideline that should help on such occasions. Whenever you don’t know how to tackle the situation remember three things:
- We want to keep our clients happy so answering the question “what would delight the client?” will give you a good idea how to act. Of course, it also means that we don’t want to make one client happy at the expense of another client’s dissatisfaction.
- “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” ~Grace Hopper.
- “If you don’t know what to tell, tell the truth” ~Pawel
While I understand that what’s on the company wiki doesn’t necessarily make it the part of organizational culture, that’s one of the first few pages our new hires would read. Interestingly enough, every now and then “if you don’t know what to tell, tell the truth” explicitly comes as a rationale for sharing something with an outside party. This shows that it isn’t an empty declaration but the standard we live by.