Gumtree gets 23 million visitors a week, 15 million of them via mobile devices, and sits comfortably in the UK’s top 40 most popular websites.
This huge audience makes it vital to maintain the site internally to keep pace with user demand.
Gumtree CTO Flemming Laugesen explained to V3 that to keep on top of the various requirements of his team of IT, development and operation staff he has instilled a culture where staff are empowered to work through new ideas and problems on their own initiative, rather than being dictated to by upper management.
“I don’t believe in a straight strategy that says ‘we must do this’ or ‘it must be done this way’. I believe the world we operate in is too agile for that now,” he said.
“What I am trying to accomplish from a technology point of view is the philosophy that we have to build capabilities within teams so they can get things done themselves.”
This does not mean an absence of boundaries or goals, but that they are more fluid and open-ended, rather than set in stone.
“We guide teams in the right direction and set objectives, boundaries and constraints and so on, and that requires transparency about what we are trying to achieve, but you have to trust your staff with this,” he said.
“It’s about creating an environment where we can adapt and respond to changes internally and externally.”
The teams to which Laugesen refers are formed around key business functions, such as marketing or SEO, and are made up of people from various areas of the business, including the technology side.
This enables staff to meet regularly and work together at all times, helping to boost collaboration especially as keeping the teams consistent is central to this strategy.
"Consistency is important to have knowledge and ownership of that segment, and to help keep communication open,” Laugesen said.
He cited the example of a big company rebrand earlier this year that was not on any roadmap, but required those in the IT and development teams to react accordingly.
“The team was very quick to grasp this opportunity and work on it without any big overheads because they saw how they could make it work and what they needed to do, rather than waiting to be told,” he explained.
Of course, giving teams this freedom to try new things and update information themselves does not give the management an easy ride.
Laugesen said that that creating and maintaining teams that operate in this way requires constant “coaching” and oversight.
“Teams will hit challenges trying to operate like this and we have to be there to support them, stop mistakes and inspire them. This is something that I and the management team at the company have a vision around,” he said.
“You need a culture of continuous learning. That sounds easy but it’s hard to do, just like agile. Agile sounds very easy but it’s hard to master and it requires time and support.”
As part of an effort to support this agility Gumtree is looking at moving more of its IT to the cloud, having shifted some elements already, including the hosting of its iOS and Android mobile apps where response times have improved 30 per cent.
The company is now considering a private cloud environment over a public one. This has still to be determined, but is likely to take place next year.
The set-up is working well for Gumtree, but Laugesen warned that one of the biggest problems he faces in creating and maintaining the environment he wants is finding people with the skills and attitude to fit into the organisation.
“It is tough [finding the right people]. I think we are hiring very strong people and we have a good message around digital transformation and giving people control over their work. It still makes it hard, but we manage to get good people,” he said.
Laugesen's strategy seems to be paying off as website visitors are growing all the time and the firm is embracing ever more agile ways of working with a planned push into the cloud.
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