Before going out to lunch, had an accidental meeting at lunch time with a group of employees from Pivotal Labs having their lunch in a quieter space than their busy office. After a quick chat, I gave my business card and bid farewell.
Coming back from lunch, an email from was waiting in my inbox:
I understand from my colleague, Amy that passes me your business card that you are interested to know more about Pivotal.
I am Angie Leong, representing the business for Pivotal Labs here in Singapore and in copy is David Varvel whom is our Labs Director that heads the operation of our labs in Singapore.
Did a quick view on your profile in LinkedIN and on Coderbunker, on a high level understanding is you have a community of developers. We will be happy to meet up and introduce ourselves and a tour of our labs here in Singapore if you are keen and to seek what we can possibly align with your community of software engineers in Shanghai.
Let me know what works and we can arrange for available time. We are located in 140, Robinson Road, Level 16.
Upon my arrival, was welcomed by Amy at the reception. They have a neat system for check-in (Envoy) that works very well; capture the visitor information, makes sure to get them to sign an electronic NDA, prints the label and sends a notification to the person receiving the visitor. First time I see this kind of system work flawlessly.
Pivotal Labs is the consulting arm of Pivotal (famous for Spring, Pivotal Tracker, RabbitMQ, Cloud Foundry), a publicly listed company (PVTL on NYSE) but majority owned by Dell (70%). Pivotal as a whole had 509.4 million USD in revenues and US$163.5M net in 2017. Pivotal describes its business as follows:
Pivotal looks to “provide a leading cloud-native platform that makes software development and IT operations a strategic advantage for our customers. Our cloud-native platform, Pivotal Cloud Foundry (‘PCF’), accelerates and streamlines software development by reducing the complexity of building, deploying and operating new cloud-native applications and modernizing legacy applications.
In APAC, they have Pivotal Labs in Tokyo, Sydney and Singapore.
In Singapore, one of their recent large customer is DBS where they help deliver a huge new banking system bug free using agile methodology. The office in Singapore has 60 employees and occupies the entire 16th floor. Most of the office layout is thus standard remains from the interior design of The Working Capitol on Robinson (which later bankrupted and was in turn acquired by Regus).
Angie was quite graceful and generous with her time. Her LinkedIn profile top description says: "I love people, I love process, and I love how software is touching people's life and making a difference" and that passion was coming through her explanation of how they help their clients.
I love people, I love process, and I love how software is touching people's life and making a difference. - Angie Leong
Even though her role is described as sales and her long experience is tied to titles of account manager, it's pretty clear she has a deep understanding of the software development process, especially from a human interaction perspective.
A lot of what she said resonated with me and what we're trying to do in Coderbunker.
Pivotal Labs has the same understanding of the iron triangle of project management: fixed time, no fixed scope OR fixed scope, no fixed time. and the importance of quality through test-driven development. They also have to say no a lot to customers, especially procurement (with their consistent desire for fixed deliverables) until the engineering team can adapt to the necessary culture to produce quality software.
What I found insightful is their focus on systematic pair programming to the point where their work schedule is very regimental and fixed: 9.06am to 6pm, no overtime, everybody takes a lunch break at the same time. All this to ensure that pairs can work together. They also rotate regularly between seniors and juniors, backend and frontend.
Another insight is to encourage and recommend customers team to spend at least 3 months paired up with their team to spend enough time to change habits and adopt modern software engineering practices such as Lean Product Management, User Centered Design, Extreme Pair Programming with Test Driven Development.
Average per engineer price to their client at current in Singapore lab is SGD2000 (RMB10000) per person day - also applied on an hourly basis with quite flexible re-allocation based on the progression of the people they train to become agile.
They typically budget minimally on average:
over the course of 3 months but recommendation of staffing plan and estimates are determined through scoping exercise. They'll also provide recommendations to their client in building their equivalent physical office environment back at their office.
They've had some Chinese customers teams in the past make their way to be hosted into their office for training. However, they still don't have a Pivotal Lab in China proper, although they've discussed it multiple times. In any case, their practices are worth closely aligning with and it's certainly the kind of environment, practices, sales process and relationship with clients we'd like to replicate.
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