"We have taken a huge leap forward"

"It was about ten years ago when I delivered the results of a six months' project, a 500-page specifications document for a new internet-based transfer system. When I now see how our company creates new online services and develops the existing ones, I have to admit that I'm baffled by the change in our procedures. Now, the specs documents weighing the same as telephone directories just make you giggle at the nostalgia of it all,” says Alma Mediapartners Oy's Managing Director Riikka Wulff.

I suppose we could have used some common sense even then but it just never crossed our minds, and we really did not have the means to do it in any other way with the tools we had at the time. As buyers, we wanted our subcontractors to deliver safe projects at a fixed price and, consequently, they demanded that we provide them with exact specifications.

We used to have specifications reviews, revisions and freezes. If there were any conflicts, we dug up a freeze and attempted to fix the bugs. Were the specs not read or understood properly - or were they badly written? Or was something actually missing? This was not very helpful, and it certainly was not particularly constructive.

Now we learn by doing. We aim to launch the first version of the new product or feature as quickly as possible; we then consider if there is demand for it and move forward as fast as we can. Instead of focusing on overly detailed specifications, we spend time on considering whether we are trying to solve a real problem or whether we have a problem that is actually worth solving. This process, of course, involves the entire team.

Alma Mediapartners Oy's Managing Director Riikka Wulff is surprised at the change that has happened in Finnish digital companies within ten years.

Got rid of the old practices

Digital companies now take it as a given that all operations are carried out in an agile and lean manner, engaging every member of the team. But for us, a digital company working within a traditional media firm, this was not necessarily the natural starting point.

In hindsight, it is easy to say that our operations were actually rather up-to-date compared to the traditional media yet still very rudimentary compared to today's startups. In order to achieve what we now have, we had to learn new things and unlearn our old procedures.

Let's take coders as an example: ten years ago they could simply focus on coding whereas now they are expected to have a vision of how to develop the business and create concepts. Instead of reading specifications documents, they have to be able to read the client. Since we did not work or hire people according to this principle before, we have had to face cultural changes in both the work itself and in its management.

Let's take coders as an example: ten years ago they could simply focus on coding whereas now they are expected to have a vision of how to develop the business and create concepts.

It is common now that employees - not just the sales team - leave the office to meet potential clients; this is a new situation, and surprisingly many of us find ourselves outside our comfort zone when we meet new people and test our ideas on them.

We have taken a huge leap towards a new culture. We can look back and say that we should have discussed the issue more thoroughly and from a wider range of perspectives, as we probably would have reached this point much quicker.

I admit I have had a laugh at the cliché about the Swedes' ability to discuss things over and over, but I think we could learn a lot from our neighbours. I would say that the Finnish management culture still values - perhaps too much - fast and firm decisions while endless debates are considered a waste of time. A culture does not change only by a decision, but it may change by discussion.