Q&A session with Michael Dubakov, founder of Targetprocess

I joined Targetprocess three weeks ago and was really wondering how the product development processes are organized and what is being done by the company to enjoy so much admiration and recognition from 5700+ companies across the USA, Canada, Australia, Western Europe, Brazil and India.

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I spent one week working in the development center of Targetprocess and got even more intrigued. Now my curiosity was piqued not only by the product and the development capabilities of the company but also by the corporate culture. It turned out that Targetprocess as a company belongs to that yet rare type of companies (with examples including Valve, Zappos, GitHub) where the Agile principles and values like flat organization, self-organizing teams, collaboration, transparency, trust, empowerment and obsession with learning are not proclaimed, no, they underlie the corporate culture and define all internal processes.

But what drives such companies? How come these particular values and not others are laid at the cornerstone? And what is the success formula in implementing these principles? By the end of my week in Targetprocess’ development center I was ready to сonclude: amazing people lead to an amazing corporate culture which leads to an amazing product.

This sparked the idea of Q&A sessions with Targetprocess team members.

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Q&A Session with Michael Dubakov, Founder of Targetprocess

Q. How did Michael Dubakov become Michael Dubakov? Please tell us about your childhood and youth

A. I was born in a small town, went to public school and became fond of physics. I think it was thanks to the enthusiastic teacher and due to the room physics provides for applying mathematics which has always fascinated me too. I participated in regional and national physics contests and dreamed of becoming a physiсist. I found it very stimulating to explore the laws of nature and to try modelling and forecasting the reality.

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Buckminster Fuller, inventor, author

As I have already mentioned my family lived in a small town so I had a lot of spare time (there were few extracurricular activities or clubs in the town). I spent it reading for hours on end. A lof of science fiction and fantasy.

In my childhood my friends and I also used to play numerous games like checkers, chess, card games, and Monopoly. With many board games, the most exciting thing for us was to invent our own rules, so we often ended up with a brand new game.

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Michael still plays and invents new games, nowadays with the colleagues at Targetprocess

Q. Have you ever had role models?

A. I don’t think I have ever had idols or role models to copy.

On the one hand, I do respect Steve Jobs for his product development principles and his determination to release a perfect product which can change the world. This really resonates with me. On the other hand, I am revolted by the way he treated people, I think this is unacceptable.

Several years ago I started to follow Elon Musk in the news and feel encouraged by his entrepreneurship and foremost by his boldness to launch projects of an incredible scale and of an immense potential impact to the humanity. But it seems Elon is a tough leader similar to Steve Jobs. So I wonder is it possible to create something significant without being a jerk?

Michael after a flight over the city where Targetprocess is based as his birthday present from the team

Michael after a flight over the city where Targetprocess is based as his birthday present from the team

Q. Please tell me how Targetprocess was started, why you began to develop a tool for Agile project management

A. In 2001-2002 I was working for a software development outsourcing company. At that time I got impressed with the philosophy of Agile, its democratic principles, trust and empowerment of people. I was confident it would become mainstream one day.

I could not wait and tried extreme programming which was at that time more popular than Scrum or other approaches. After the first attempts it became clear that MS Project which I was using did not support iterative development and a special tool was called for. With a full-time workload at my job, I started to develop the tool in the evenings and at the weekends. My goal was not to release a commercial product, it was more about practicing extreme programming. But the first version caught attention of some companies who were experimenting with Agile and wanted to consider if the product could support them. The product was not ready for that yet, but it warmed up my interest in product management as a discipline. At some point I felt I was ready to leave the outsourcing services company so I could focus on product development.

Approximately at the same time I read “Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams” by Timothy Lister and Tom DeMarco which seemed to me a world of difference from all the other books I had read about product management. The book reinforced my understanding of major principles for collaboration and effective project management: trust people’s ability to make decisions, respect and empower team members instead of enforcing centralized planning, hierarchies and resource management.

Q. Targetprocess as a company counts 80 people and celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Are there any distinct milestones in the history of the company?

A. Stage 1 was the period when we had up to 20 people and I was the Product Owner for Targetprocess, we had primarily ad hoc processes and we did not have any organizational goals.

Somewhere in 2009 we went through a kind of crisis and realized that we don’t want to be an ordinary company.

In 2010 we pressed the Restart button after defining our values and principles. We started to recruit only the best specialists with the aim to develop the best Agile project management software. In order to attract the most qualified people we try to provide the best working environment and have won the national title of “The best IT company to work for” for 2 years in a row.

How Targetprocess values and basic principles changed from 2010 to 2015

How Targetprocess values and basic principles changed from 2010 to 2015

Apart from professional skills we pay a lot of attention to the cultural match. It is critical for us to employ people who are passionate about what they do and who at the same time respect other people. As a result, it is a regular practice for us to conduct thorough job interviews and tests before we fill a developer position. On the positive side, we rarely make mistakes and rarely have regrets about our hiring decisions.

Along with that we have numerous processes in place to instill and support the culture of continuous education with examples including Orange Fridays and Orange Weeks for self-education and private projects, a monthly budget for attending world-class conferences by any team member, the possibility to order any professional literature, internal conferences, etc..

Since 2012 we have been trying to go beyond the democracy at the team level typical for Agile and to decentralize any decision making processes. We introduced a cross-functional product board (instead of a single Product Owner), a development board to optimize and advance the development practices, and feature boards.

While we still have the board of founders for strategic visioning, we do not have any middle management roles and do not foresee them in the future. It is interesting that over time the teams (with everybody having the same title and equal position) beget their leaders in a natural way: the more competent the team member is, the more respect and authority they earn with their team.

Q. What is your vision for the future of the company?

A. I do believe that the next level is a completely decentralized, self-organizing company with cross-functional teams who not only decide how to do things but also prioritize work on their own. We are already introducing mechanisms to provide every team with sufficient first-hand information directly from customers, market analysts and other sources for intelligent and market-relevant decisions.

“Give up the illusion of control to find control.” Nathan Wilson, Gartner

Q. What is your measure of business success? Do you have plans for Targetprocess to become a public company one day?

A. We do not rule out this scenario in the future. However, at present it is more relevant for us to attract venture capital investors in order to expedite the implementation of our ambitious product roadmap and to capitalize on the ample opportunities of the growing markets for Agile software development, Application Lifecycle Management and Agile Project Portfolio Management tools.

As for the measure of success, to me success is not a destination, it is a process. Our goal is to provide people with an environment and possibilities to create great things together. I am confident it will result in something great. Targetprocess is our flagship product, it has some very novel concepts and I believe it will help many companies take project management to the next level.

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