How it all started with PGF?

When I joined Applover I had plenty of questions for my new team members. What are the followed development practices? Where do we securely keep our passwords and what are the best spots to grab lunch nearby the office? Among these questions, there was one to which I couldn’t get a decent answer. “How can I develop as a professional at Applover? What are the expectations towards myself as a backend developer?” That’s why we’ve decided to define career paths at Applover also known as our Personal Growth Framework (PGF).

Why we needed a Personal Growth Framework?

By the time we sat down together to define career paths at Applover, we asked ourselves one question. “What are the current issues related to team members’ development we want to face? Which problems do we expect to be solved by a growth framework?” Below there are a few reasons that drove us to build our growth framework:

  1. Team members didn’t exactly know what opportunities they had to grow within the organization. But also what expectations every team member had of each other’s work.
  2. Team members needed support in terms of their very own professional development path. A guide that would give them a hint of what they should focus on to best move into new opportunities.
  3. We needed to align our needs and recruitment requirements with career paths at Applover.

Having our expectations defined we could move on to building our own career development framework. 

What is the personal growth framework?

All we knew was the fact that we need to define career development paths for each role at Applover. We wanted to describe these with behaviors and skills desirable to achieve growth. So we started thorough research. It turned out that few companies worldwide have already implemented such a document. A piece that also referred to as personal growth framework, career progression framework, or professional development ladder.

So what is such a framework? Having researched the case we concluded that a growth framework narrows down to the definition of WHATs and HOWs related to career development.

  • WHAT – growth framework defines the possible roles and career paths across your organization that you can progress to.
  • HOW – growth framework defines exactly how you can grow in the above professions and how you can achieve your goals.

The above definitions make up a guideline that precisely defines WHAT career paths you can follow (e.g. you can grow as a frontend developer, backend developer, iOS developer, etc.). It gives you a hint on HOW you can achieve your goals (e.g. you should know fundamentals of at least one API design pattern and you should master and you should master common SQL queries).

Shapes of growth frameworks

The above definition stands for what the growth framework is. However it is its shape that defines how it should be interpreted. Among the existing career development frameworks, we have noticed 2 main shapes of frameworks: the ladder and the matrix. A typical ladder supports a definition of career paths that are rather not interchangeable (vertical growth). The matrix assumes that you can move between various career paths within the whole organization or particular groups of paths (horizontal growth). Ladder growth frameworks are more generalized as they define a single career path for all software engineers within the organization (e.g. Capgemini or Kickstarter). Matrix-shaped growth frameworks are more detailed with career paths definitions (e.g. they contain detailed paths definitions for particular software engineering professions, like Medium). This way the growth framework supports generalists and specialists.

The best thing about PGFs is that the idea and need came from Zuzia, a backend developer. She was the one who took up the whole topic and led it. Applovers employees have a direct influence on the processes in the company.

Magdalena Błaszczak

HR Manager

The fundamentals

So we’ve defined our needs and expectations towards a growth framework. We understood what a growth framework is and we needed to slowly move on to our own implementation. CircleCI’s article on steps to building an engineering competency matrix was very helpful. Especially in terms of what we should do next: define our company values based on which we wanted to build a growth framework. It seemed like the perfect moment to involve everyone at Applover into the process. We have sent out simple forms to everyone at Applover with 2 simple questions:

  1. What do you value the most at your work/ what keeps you motivated? 
  2. What do you consider the biggest obstacle at your everyday work? 

Core values

Those few questions gave us plenty of responses, that helped us in evaluating our core values at Applover, among which we now have:

  • Communication – we care about maintaining good communication among team members and clients to ensure decent information flow,
  • Teamwork – we always work to achieve a common goal, thus ability to collaborate smoothly with peers is a high value to us,
  • Delivery and problem solving – after all, every day at work is about delivering solutions to particular problems and we care about taking responsibility for our work,
  • Mentorship and knowledge-sharing – nothing is better than a piece of knowledge that comes for free from your peers,
  • Community and organization design – we value every team member’s input into Applover’s organization design, process definition, and building a supportive working environment.

Those are the values we cherish at Applover but it was only the beginning of our work on Personal Growth Framework.

Implementation

So far we’ve been working in a small group of 2 board members and myself as an initiative coordinator. We have learned a lot about progression frameworks. It made us able to share the knowledge with other team members that were to be involved in the process of Applover’s PGF implementation. Our decision was to focus on the production team’s career paths as it was the first iteration of our growth framework and we approached it as an MVP. We wanted to check whether the idea of a growth framework at Applover would work and if we approached the problem in the right way.

It was the part where representatives of all production teams got involved into the process. We asked each of them to gather with their team members and build a career path for their role. From then on each team was working separately. They focused on the definition of the career path for their roles at Applover. Board members focused on the precise definition of core values at Applover that are the very essential element of our growth framework.

After 1 month we gathered together with production team representatives. We merged all career paths for their roles along with values we cherish at Applover. Surprisingly – we had an MVP of our Personal Growth Framework defined!

Since adoption of the Personal Growth Framework it is much easier to track and understand self-improvement activities. The PGF is hand-tailored for our needs, being a bottom-up initiative driven by the employees.

Julian Jurec

Android developer

The final touch for Applover’s PGFs

So we have had our main course prepared but it definitely required some topping before we served it to our all team members. At the moment our growth framework was a 30-page long document full of text. It was rather discouraging to read it all. Nevertheless, we all needed to go through it and make sure that all career paths definitions are aligned with Applover’s core values and that we all agree on the content.

This process resembles that of a live code review and it turned out to be as valuable for our growth framework as it is for developers working on their projects. Representatives of production teams were able to question all the core values defined by board members and add in their own suggestions. Moreover, we all could correlate all the development paths for particular roles at Applover. But also verify that they are defined on a similar level of complexity. This way we were able to validate that e.g. milestones to be achieved for Android developers are achievable with equal complexity level as milestones for iOS or frontend developers.

This step was tough. It required the most of our focus but once we went through it we all were satisfied with the results. We felt ready to roll-out our own Personal Growth Framework to all team members.

We needed to make PGFs well-designed because only in this way, we can take care of each of our employees’ development in a way that is designated for them. In such processes, we cannot rely solely on our experience or intuition. We need to assure our team that we will do everything we can so they can be better and better by working with us.

Piotr Sędzik

COO

Let’s merge

A 30-page long document doesn’t sound like the most friendly representation of something that we want to be the essentials of our everyday work, does it? It seemed like we were not the only ones facing the issue as most companies mapped their progression frameworks to spreadsheets or Trello boards. However, we were completely enchanted by a dedicated open-source web app developed by Monzo that makes it all very clear.

You can look up our personal growth framework here. It consists of a description of the values we cherish at Applover. You’ll also find career paths for particular roles we employ at our organization. Most of the values and all career paths are split into milestones. Each milestone represents a set of exemplary skills and behaviors to be achieved as a team member grows along a particular path. So if you would have some trouble with your communication skills or simply would like to improve them, you could find all the hints on how you can progress in the Communication path.

Core values are common to every team member. Core paths are directly related to the professions we employ at Applover. Thus if you are a backend developer you will most likely be interested in the core path for backend developers. Why exactly are these called core? Because they represent how you can progress in your profession at Applover. We have noticed that all career paths for developers share the same set of exemplary skills and behaviors. Wee have extracted such shared skillset into Development skills and decided to keep all profession-related skills into a group of Mastery skills. This way we ensure that all developers at Applover will be able to progress at the same or very similar pace.

At first, I was afraid that PGF would be something of a “school” assessment of employees. However, I realized that it would help me try to look at each employee’s progress fairly and objectively. I see it as a set of values that guide us and the competencies we need within the company.

Grzegorz Hudziak

iOS developer

PGFs as a personal guide

The most important about our growth framework is the fact that it is your guide that helps you find your career development path. It gives you a bunch of hints on what you might want to do/learn to grow. It is not a checklist as human development cannot be defined as a 0 / 1 syntax. All the behaviors and skills within each milestone are only exemplary and should serve as a tip on how to achieve your goals. We see our PGF as a matrix, rather than a ladder, as detailed descriptions of various career paths allow team members to develop in more than one area. (Take for example full-stack developers that might want to master various areas of development.)

Next steps

So we’ve rolled-out the MVP of the personal growth framework. What happens next? We have encouraged all team members to be involved in the further development of our PGF. We want it to be a living organism that responds to our needs. That’s why our growth framework is available to all team members at a GitLab repository. Everyone can create a merge request with suggested changes. Definitions of values and career paths are saved as plain markdown files thus they are easily editable even for non-technical team members.

So whenever you feel some path needs to be updated with a particular skill or you would like to add some examples to a given milestone – feel free to create a merge request and send it to other team members for approval. Or maybe you feel a path for a particular profession is missing in PGF, like dev-ops or machine learning? Having the template for a path (milestones with exemplary skills and behaviors) seems like there is nothing easier than creating a path for a new profession.

For the past 6 months since we’ve rolled-out the PGF we’ve noticed that the framework helped us to:

  • establish and follow common values at Applover,
  • introduce new team members to our organization by explaining what our culture is based on and how each team member can progress at Applover,
  • guide every production team member in their professional development,
  • align recruitment needs with subsequent milestones in particular career paths.

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Applover’s career paths based on PGFs

Currently, all production team members will find career paths for their roles in PGF – mobile and web developers, designers and QA engineers. As the framework is a living organism and it has proven its value to us over the past few months, we continue to work on the definition of career paths for PMs, sales, and marketing teams. It’s one of our goals to be achieved in the next 6 months, so stay tuned! From now on I believe that whenever a new team member asks us a question about how they can grow at Applover the answer will be much simpler than before, after we roll-out our Personal Growth Framework.