All Hands, an integral part of our internal process

OU team at All Hands

All Hands, an integral part of our internal process.How to get people to work effectively as a team has been a question that plagues people since the first of us was trampled to death in a mammoth-hunt gone bad. As an agile organisation, OpenUp implements considered strategies to try and address this

As an example of this, we hosted our quarterly All Hands meeting earlier this month. This organisation-wide gathering featured our remote staff over video or in person (from as far as Vietnam and Pretoria). Unlike other team or project meetings, our all-hands ensures every OU team member receives the same information and has the same opportunity to share their thoughts. It’s our big ‘love-in’, and a proposed solution to the ‘team meeting’ obsessed cultures that can derail productivity if required too frequently.

We blocked out five hours in our calendar, with presentations in hand, ready to share our project or organisational reflections. At OpenUp, similar to our sprint retrospectives*, All Hands is an opportunity for the team to share and celebrate wins, openly discuss important topics, but also challenges, on their projects over the last quarter. It tries to reap the benefits of a group thinking together, while avoiding the pitfalls of groupthink.

Attending All Hands is gathering for the whole team, and in particular, it was an opportunity for non-project members and newer staff to ask questions and learn about other projects!

How to structure an All Hands

Prior to the team gathering for All Hands on the day. Lailah and Calyn lead the charge in planning an outline of the meeting for the team. Lailah shared with the team why OU does this and what exactly it is (particularly for all our new hires). We reiterated that All Hands are:

An opportunity to speak in an open forum about where the organisation is headed, what we feel is needed and where we would like our focus (strategically) to be for the new quarter.

Once we had the outline done. It was up to the rest of the team to work of the project presentations (armed with our presenter guidelines which included some guiding questions for their project presentations).

Each presenter had 10 minutes to share about their projects (we did find that with the number of projects growing and so much to share, that keeping to this time was difficult). Importantly, we devoted the end of each presentation time slot entirely to Q&A from the rest of the team. We wanted to foster direct engagement and knowledge sharing across projects.

Our All Hands tips:

  • During the planning of All Hands, we shared the team with a company-sponsored breakfast to sustain the 5-hour long all-hands and to foster some communal eating.
  • All-Hands at OpenUp has always included a Financial Health session with a Q&A. This quarter was no different. Like Sarah Goff-Dupont notes “treating everyone as an insider and trusting them with insider information has yet to backfire. Indeed, trust breeds trust. Kind of an upward-spiral thing.”
Session 1s included all topics related to OU operations, session 2s related to OU projects (presented by the teams) and session 3s related to team activities.

All hand results

09h00–09h15 Introduction + Organisational by Adi

Adi started of our All Hands gathering as usual, sharing his quintessential example of representing our OU budget in terms of the outputs of other NGO’s work”. Reiterating for team two important things: first, that real people and their needs are the goal of our work and second, that we must not take for granted our position. Rather we must be continuously working towards earning the money we are given.

Once Adi had established OU’s “why”, he moved onto iterating the “how” — the value OpenUp can bring is our development methodologies — Lean, Agile, Managing complexity. We do “think” in a different way. We don’t come from a social justice background therefore, we work with domain experts. We add our own value.

09h15–09h30 Financial Health by Adi

The next topic on Adi’s list was financial health. He highlighted that salaries account for the largest portion of our expenses. Which we know isn’t a ‘bad’ thing rather that this observation is aligned with the reality that work is our human driven and knowledge-based.

“A bit of clarity around organisational finances was great” — Matthew Stark

Financial Health by Adi

09h30–09h45 Session 1: Operations by Lailah Ryklief

Two of the new members of OU’s finance team- Samantha and Fierdous began this session by informing the team of the new financial processes they have been at work preparing and that were ready to be implemented. Importantly, they let the team know that they want the finance team to work sprintly in order for their workflow to operate concurrently with the rest of the organisation.

“I liked hearing from the finance department and management. I think sometimes you can focus a lot on the projects and miss out on the work and the people that make the operational parts of projects work” — Calyn Pillay

Next up, Lailah in her exciting new role as Operations Manager shared her operations plans for the third quarter. There were many and they were interesting! Thank you Lailah for your hard work!

She introduced the team to the types of policies that will be created, reviewed or implemented over the coming months. For example, policies around safeguarding children, young people and vulnerable adults. It remains a priority for OU to both protect, and centre, the lives of those we want to help.

Lailah also shared with the team the procedures that she will be working to clarify within OU, noting that it’s not that these policies and procedures don’t exist, but rather that we need to clarify and structure them better. Lastly, Lailah shared some of the internal projects she is leading with members of our team: project inventory; communications and strengthening our presence and engagement within our global networks, such as Code for All.

10h00–10h25 Session 3: Organisational Retro led by Lailah (activity)

Our OpenUp All Hands Retrospective Trello board.

This might have felt a bit like inception for the team — we had a retrospective within a meeting that was largely retrospective. However, we couldn’t miss the opportunity of having the whole team together and not attempt an organisational retrospective.

We gave the team 15 minutes to populate this board that Lailah set up prior to All Hands. We then spent 10 minutes discussing certain cards. We quickly realised that besides the breadth of the board, there was a depth to each topic we could not do justice to in 10 minutes. Post-All Hands Lailah set up time over Friday breakfast to discuss this board. The team is looking forward to it!

11h10–12h10 Session 2: Projects

Team members attentively listening to their OU team presenters.

Once we had completed the organisational sharing, it was time to delve deeper into some of our projects.

Lunga Mthembu for Wazimap ( Youth Explorer, GIZ and Samson Wazimaps)

First, to present was Lunga for WaziMap. Wazimap has been a project of OU’s since 2014. This golden oldie — keeps finding new ways to be exciting. Originally WaziMap involved mapping census and electoral data. Currently, Lunga is working to Wazimap with GIZ and Samson which incorporates health point data for young people and the elderly.

However, with great with great power there must also come great responsibility. Lunga shared that a challenge he faces is that with different clients, there is an increasing number of features and data requested for the different Wazimaps. Which he comically depicted in the slide below.

Chantal Booyse for our Local Government Programme and CodeBridge Youth

In our consistent efforts to reach citizens and to get closer to impacting their lives. We identified municipalities (local government) as key stakeholders to enable us to scale-up citizen engagement and public participation at a local level.

JD Bothma for Blacksash and Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG)

JD our senior dev was up next representing PMG, whose purpose is to give access to the work of parliamentary committees as JD put it because most citizens do not have the money or time to attend all the parliamentary meetings on topics they care about.

He also took the time to show the team some nifty google analytics on the site. Sharing with us that there are roughly 400 users of the site at 8am in the morning.

The second project JD spoke to was Community Based Monitoring (CBM). Black Sash officially monitoring the transition from South Africa Social Security Agency (SASSA) pay points to Post Offices for grant payouts. “Give parliamentary researchers background and access to the monitoring data”. OpenUp supports their work by implementing the online storage of their monitoring data.

Adrian Kearns for Vulekamali and Khetha

Adrian is a Project Manager by day (8am — 5pm) and a passionate community developer by night. Adrain spoke to Vulekamali which is a National Open Budget Portal and Khetha which is an application that through weekly quizzes gauged the youth’s views on voting, politics, and government.

Adrian took a unique stance to his presentation — using it to share what he has learnt over the last year of being at OU. He began by highlighting the similarity in the three dynamic and interrelated processes OU tries to foster through its projects — “Inform, Empower & Activate” — and the Open Government Partnership goals to “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.”

12h10–12h35 Session 3: Skill Share (Visibility)

Matt, our Creative Director shared some basic photography skills, which had the entire team engrossed in learning how to take better photos. If you notice an improvement in our images (Matt’s and this lesson might be the reason why)

His other main focus was on outlining our new content strategy and media policy, and why changing it is important for the organisation. Our new strategy aimed to: Increase the documentation of our events and achievements; ensure we have a consistent plan for broadcasting these achievements; take the burden of content creation (specifically blog posts) off individual team members and address confusion around booking out various media equipment.

“Matt’s presentation on capturing every moment where possible, because this is an opportunity to create a meaningful story, a story which defines who and what Openup is. We are busy just grinding to meet project deliverables, that we often ignore this simple activity and its value.” — Adrian Kearns

12h35–14h05 Session 2: Projects

Adi Eyal for Elections and Wellness Survey

Adi was back up but this time to share about his most recent adventure in Pretoria during the most recent 2019 National Elections. His chair at OpenUp was distinctly empty as he worked to create, implement and maintain a system that produces real-time data visualisations of the election results.

Schalk Venter for CodeBridge Community
Schalk Venter for CodeBridge Newlands and Chantal Booyse for CodeBridge Youth.

Schalk Venter, our senior front-end dev used his time as an opportunity to gather insight from the team about their understanding of Code Bridge. Codebridge original conceptualised as a de facto tech hub in 2014, has grown and changed over time. Reflecting on that Adi shared that for him “Code Bridge Newlands is a space for tech people with the skills but without the know-how of what “good” to do. Codebridge is an interesting space for people to come in with their skills & leave with an understanding of the social issues faced in South Africa.”

Gabriella Razzano for our High Court Project
Gabriella Razzano for our High Court Project.

Gabi, spoke at this quarter’s All Hands in her additional role (founding / director) and now Project Manager of our Open Courts project that aims to make South African Court records open and accessible. Leveraging her skills and experience in law, she is leading the charge on what has been a very interesting project. Read more about her experiences pulling one file from the court in her article Staples.

“I also really enjoyed hearing about the Open Courts project from Gabi — I feel like this project has massive potential and is well aligned with our mission.” — Matthew Stark

Shaun Russell for our Eviction Project

The Eviction project largely entails designing systems and tools (or “interventions”) that facilitate greater access to justice for low-income tenants facing eviction, so that no eviction leads to homelessness.

There are a number of tools and sub-projects under evictions that Shaun shared with the team. A highlight was hearing about the interest and support from SA Universities and Legal Aid Clinics to distribute the guide or partner with us on other aspects of the project.

Calyn Pillay for our Research Function

Calyn, leading one of the newest functions to OU — Research. Took some time during her presentation to reiterate her workflow to the team.

She shared with the team what she knows more deeply about this research compared to earlier this year. Learnings thus far include:

  • There are lots of people in the civic tech community who are willing to support our research.
  • There is low hanging fruit in terms of demonstrating our outcomes.

14h05–14h15 Session: Impact Survey

In trying to understand the impact of our work we sought answers from the team. We wanted to know how they monitor the outcomes and impact of their projects. This resulted in an Impact Survey to collect precisely that information. While most of the insights of the survey weren’t ready at the time of the All Hands. Calyn did share that their are some ad-hoc techniques of measuring impact and outcomes and that everyone recognised that a more structured approach is beneficial.

After All Hands was done we polled the team to find out what they had learned from the All Hands gathering. These are their learnings:

  • It helped staff who don’t work closely together feel connected on a personal and professional level.
  • Staff got to know senior leadership a little better and understand the organisational strategy better.
  • It helped the staff understand the projects.

“I also understood how Codebridge fits in the bigger picture of OpenUp” — Zeeshaan Maudarbocus

  • There was a lot to be said and many expectations we set going into this gathering. In the planning team’s retrospective, we need to look at the challenges we faced in terms of timing and how to deliver meaning on certain topics.

We are grateful we got to share these learnings with each other and work in a space where everyone wants to do better because they know that would mean we might get to impact the lives of South Africans better.

Key takeaways on All Hands

An All Hands has to have as core value openness and participation.

  • To ensure a good All Hands, their must be full staff buy-in — both into the content, and the values.
  • Feed first, ask questions later.

All Hands' Buffet

  • Use tools that work for your team: for us, Trello is key.
  • Presentations can be used just as effectively to share skills, as they can to share information.

*Sprint Retrospective: one of the four formal events for inspection and adaptation prescribed by a Scrum. A Sprint Retrospectives is held at the end of the Sprint to inspect the work done and collaborate on what could have been done (Scrum Guide, 2017).

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