Long before Twitter and Facebook (and some time during the second coming of Silicon Valley), a Japanese company called DeNA emerged as a leading creator of web and mobile experiences. What started as a pioneering online auctions company in 1999 has, over the years, expanded to include mobile auctions, ads, social networks, and games (securing the company a deal as Nintendo’s mobile gaming partner). Now the company employs over 2,400 people between their headquarters in Tokyo and offices around the world.
[simplequote]“Several engineers discovered Slack and started recommending it to other teams,” he says. “It was more of a bottom-up change rather than a top-down one.”[/simplequote] SVP of Engineering Hideo Kimura attributes DeNA’s enduring success to its employees’ tenacity and commitment, which, he explains, stems from the company’s values: “Our cultural standards say DeNA members must strive to be as transparent as possible in their communications and speak up regardless of their positions. This way we ensure our employees’ top priority is not to please their bosses or colleagues but to achieve the company’s shared goals.”As the company’s suite of products (and corresponding business units) continues to grow, so have the team’s communication and informational needs.“We needed something that was mobile friendly so team members could be in touch any time, but we also needed something that easily integrates with our external apps and services,” says Kimura.“Several engineers discovered Slack and started recommending it to other teams,” he says. “It was more of a bottom-up change rather than a top-down one.”
ChatOps: Bringing people and processes together
At DeNA, employees are expected to fulfill their responsibilities by communicating transparently, honestly, fearlessly, and respectfully. “My team doesn’t take the approach of just doing what they’re told,” says Games software engineer Takehiko Yokota. “Instead, we strive to listen to each other’s suggestions and flexibly change the way we work so that the team’s overall performance improves.”
To achieve this level of transparency, DeNA’s engineering team mainly sticks to Slack channels that are open to everyone. Generally, an engineer will be part of a range of channels, some related to projects they’re involved in and others for sharing information with cross-functional or external teams (like #reception).
There are dedicated channels for:
- Receiving and making requests of other teams
- Communicating with Quality Assurance and Customer Support teams
- Submitting ideas for product improvements and iterations (that are later reviewed in team meetings)
- Sharing must-read information about employee whereabouts and company updates
- Receiving notifications from GitHub, JIRA, and other notifications from servers
- General banter and getting to know team members in other locations
To make channels easy to find, the team created a standard nomenclature for channel names beginning with the name of the business unit or product line and ending with a short description of the channel’s purpose or the name of the team overseeing that channel, for example: #games-design or #games-notifier (for channels housing notifications from external apps and services).
Yokota admits, though, that what got him and his team the most excited were the apps. “Thanks to the GitHub integration, I don’t miss pull requests for me because the notifications come with @-mentions in Slack,” he says. “This greatly makes my work, including building apps, more efficient.
Apart from talking to team members and receiving system alerts, the engineering team uses Slack to interactively build app packages. When an engineer sends a message to Hubot through a dedicated Slack channel, the bot responds with a request to input a parameter required for the build process.
“Before Slack, the whole manual process to run a pre-build check, build an app, upload it to GitHub and issue release notes required extensive knowledge and was quite time consuming, and more prone to errors,” says Yokota. “Slack lets us complete that process with just text chats.”
A tool for all teams, regardless of technical ability
Yokota adds that, in the past, using many disparate products put a divide between company-wide tools and engineer (or team-specific) tools, resulting in miscommunication and hampering production.
But because people can express themselves more casually on Slack using emoji and image-sharing, Yokota and Kimura agree these simple features made it a much less intimidating (and inviting) tool for non-technical teams to adopt. “Slack feels similar to offline, face-to-face communication,” says Yokota. “It has a more human touch.”
Kimura emphasizes that all these factors support DeNA employees in working according to the company’s values: “Now the company’s goals and issues are shared more openly and clearly across all parties concerned, regardless of their job categories,” he says. “This has significantly strengthened each team member’s sense of ownership and it has greatly reduced our communication costs while making the business more efficient as a whole.”
Lima Al-Azzeh is looking forward to visiting Japan (someday).
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