March 4, 2015
Business Continuity Planning: Turning Crisis into Opportunity
For the past three years, we’ve been operating our premier development center in Kharkiv, Ukraine. With world class universities and abundant talent, Kharkiv has a vibrant technical community of young coders, developers and system architects, talent that attracted us to Ukraine in the first place. Over the past year however, Ukraine has unfortunately experienced war and substantial loss of life in the central and southeastern parts of the country, about 200 km (125 miles) from our office in Kharkiv, but thankfully with few disturbances in Kharkiv itself.
We made the choice to operate in East Ukraine, and we have to be accountable to our clients and our employees for that decision. As the conflict in the Donbas began, we realized a business continuity plan was warranted. In March 2014, we began to test our plan and had some interesting experiences as a result. We’re continuing to watch the situation and plan accordingly. Obviously, responding to a crisis is not an experience we would have chosen, but it’s nonetheless made us a better organization and left us much more flexible and prepared for the future.
To design our continuity plan, we looked carefully at how our organization can move staff or transfer mission-critical business responsibilities to different physical locations. We observed that moving a development project staffed entirely in a single location to a new location is very hard to do. Team members are also people with family ties and relationships and while a move to a distant location may be appealing for some, it’s rarely the case for every member of a team. Additionally, Waverley and client investments in the team’s skills and project-specific knowledge as well as “tribal knowledge” gained from a team’s long-term engagement are critical to the success of the deliverable.
One just can’t wind down a team in one location and restart it in another with all new people. However we can and have taken steps that benefit everyone: our clients, our developers and their families.
The process of learning how to make this transition started by chance at the conclusion of 2013, before initial unrest in southeastern Ukraine developed. At that time, a group of my top developers came to me with a request to work a few months in Montenegro to find relief from the cold Kharkiv winter. It was an opportunity to reward our team with working in a remote location that happened to be near the Mediterranean.
The developers knew that they would have to work successfully in a distributed environment, so the motivation to think and plan for a great outcome came from the bottom up rather than the top down. It all worked fantastically well. We measured no loss of productivity. In fact, the Montenegro-located teams showed a marginal increase in productivity.
People working from Montenegro and their counterparts in Kharkiv built the ability to work in a distributed environment. They learned how to communicate, plan and count on one another. So when tensions in Ukraine started to become apparent, Waverley already had this successful experiment in its back pocket, and we knew we could grow a new location quickly and with confidence in our ability to perform. Without the prior experience in Montenegro, temporarily relocating a significant number of people on short notice would have been near impossible. Our staff was very grateful to have the option to spend part of the 2013/14 winter in a warm place. With this one experiment, we were able to demonstrate concern for their well being and at least one means to respond in case the Donbas crisis spread.
As a separate effort, we accelerated our plans to grow build a development center in a second Ukrainian city. In mid 2014, we opened an small office in Lviv, a vibrant city in West Ukraine, far from the Russian border and pro-Russian southeastern provinces. We have developers who have relocated to Lviv from Kharkiv and we are actively recruiting new positions in Lviv. Staffing a new office with existing people presents major advantages over a new office with all-new staff: existing staff bring with them the culture and internal know-how that allows Waverley to perform so well.
We’ve taken our plans even further by actively working on multi-country teams between Ukraine and our Vietnam location. Integrating both locations into one Waverley been important to growth and opportunities for both Waverley and our clients. Our teams in Ukraine interview staff for positions in Vietnam, and wherever possible, they work together on client projects. This experience enhances our ability to move responsibility for deliverables as needed and provides an important “shadow” capability on a global scale.
During the last year, we’ve come to realize that the opportunity to plan and execute continuity plans has many benefits. The ability to accept a difficult situation and look for opportunities for improvement is core to our culture. We know we can never plan for all eventualities, but adaptability, flexibility, and performance, in our code and in our operations, directly influence how we go about the day-to-day business of building great software for our customers. We will continue to respond to events and work hard to continue to be a dependable partner who can be trusted to deliver.