Transcript: Team Titans Season 2, Episode 2 - Nick Muldoon
EasyAgile Co-CEO Nick Muldoon joined us for an chat about his career from Atlassian to Twitter and back, as well as why he built his company in Wollongong and more. Nick's perspective and motivations are inspiring, and left us with a lot to think about.
Ryan Spilken: Hello and welcome to Adaptavist Live Team Titans, the stories of people with unique perspectives on work itself, defining processes, building tools, and leading teams. My name is Ryan Spilken and I'm joined today by co-host Jennifer Eolin. Jennifer, thanks for being here today.
Jennifer Eolin: Absolutely, I am glad to be here.
Ryan Spilken: You've been promoted from guest speaker to co-host and our interview subject-
Jennifer Eolin: I know.
Ryan Spilken: It's amazing, right?
Jennifer Eolin: It's amazing. I woke up and I was like, "Oh, my God, I'm famous!"
Ryan Spilken: Today's the day.
Jennifer Eolin: Is it?
Ryan Spilken: Well, it is a great honor to introduce our listeners today to the CEO of Easy Agile, Nick Muldoon. Nick, thank you so much for being here today.
Nick Muldoon: Thanks very much for having me. Wonderful pleasure to join you.
Ryan Spilken: Now, our listeners might be interested to know that Nick is actually calling us from the future, because he is at the very top of the morning in Australia.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, we've just gone just past 6:00 AM here.
Ryan Spilken: He's a sport, he's got his coffee ready and he's ready to tell us some stories because we're going to get to the Atlassian talk, okay? It's inevitable with these things, but word on the street and around the internet is that you spent some time at one of the most prolific social media organizations ever, back in the day in Silicon Valley, so tell us a little bit about that experience.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, I spent a couple of years at Twitter in San Francisco. It was very interesting experience. Some of the things that immediately come to mind, the number of engineers that we hired in my first 12 months there. I was brought on within the technical program management group to actually do Agile coaching, consulting, training with product and engineering leaders and the various teams and I immediately think, Ryan, about the... Over 1,000 engineers joined us in those first 12 months, my first 12 months, at Twitter.
Jennifer Eolin: 1,000?
Nick Muldoon: 1,000, so Jennifer, that's 1,000 software engineers, and then you got the associated product design, sales, whatever, whatever, whatever. It was a very interesting experience from a company that was in "Put your foot on the accelerator and get through an IPO, go public, and really hit the ground running," so it was a really interesting experience.
Ryan Spilken: I think that the term I've heard before is hypergrowth, but that sounds a little bit more like ludicrous growth.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, it was. It was kind of ludicrous in the sense that we were adding people so fast that you couldn't actually digest and bring those people on and make them feel comfortable and at home and all that sort of stuff, and so you can imagine that you've got... I think of one particular situation where we had a senior engineer came on and very quickly we needed to build a team around a new thing, so they became team lead, and then within another six months, they were kind of being asked to be a director.
And not long after it was like, "Well, hang on a second, I signed up to be a software engineer, not a people manager. What the hell am I doing?" And actually, they left the company. There were just issues like that, that were very hard to grapple with at such a high velocity of growth.
Jennifer Eolin: Wow!
Nick Muldoon: So we've lost Ryan.
Ryan Spilken: No, no, no, I'm just stunned. Those numbers are shocking to me. I'm trying to think about onboarding four people to a team at once. That seems-
Jennifer Eolin: Awful.
Nick Muldoon: My day one onboarding at Atlassian, I was joined by two other people. My day one onboarding at Twitter, in a small seminar room, there would have been 35-40 people on a Monday, and it got to the point where they were doing onboardings not just on Monday, but they were doing Monday, Tuesday, presumably Wednesday, Thursday onboardings. It was crazy, and then the fact that you kind of exhaust markets at certain points and you build, I won't say specializations, but you build areas of interest in different geographies.
And there was an acquisition that Twitter had done in New York. You build a team or you build a group, really, a number of teams around that particular area of interest. How do you even share culture between San Francisco and New York and Seattle, which was like a database and network-level thing with hires from Microsoft and Amazon, and trying to bring all these different backgrounds and cultures and bring them into something cohesive, was a tremendous challenge.
Jennifer Eolin: I feel that even though this is a podcast, it's like my jaw is just dropping, listening to this. I can't even imagine what that atmosphere must have been like for you. So at what point... Go ahead, yeah.
Nick Muldoon: No, I was just going to say, I mean, reflecting on it now I have very different feelings to the excitement. I mean, it was a tremendous challenge and an uphill battle, but I guess it was a huge sense of excitement from everyone involved because the CEO at the time, Dick Costolo, had really aligned everyone around this vision of a global town square and so there was this North Star that we were all trying to head towards, that actually, from a group and a team and a sales marketing, engineering product perspective, there really wasn't cohesion beyond that, the high-le.
And ultimately, I mean, we spent a couple of years trying to push stuff forward, and then Dick Costolo, he departed and Jack came back and it was interesting to see the different leadership styles between those two as well.
Jennifer Eolin: What's your biggest takeaway? You're at a party and someone's like, "What did you learn at Twitter? What is your one lesson?"
Nick Muldoon: I learned how not to scale a business.
Jennifer Eolin: Right? Yeah.
Nick Muldoon: And in all seriousness at Atlassian I learned how to scale a business and at Twitter, I learned how not to scale a business. I often reflect on that and I try to bring in lean principles and pull and build quality in. How could we have done this differently if the leaders had exhibited different behaviors? I always kind of try and replay that and think what would have been different.
Ryan Spilken: Looking at what Twitter has become, right, was the North Star you were heading to the right one?
Nick Muldoon: It's interesting you should ask. One of my colleagues at work, Matt, shared with me the trailer for, not The Social Network, a new Netflix documentary called The Social something-something, and they're actually interviewing some of the people that I worked with at Twitter and they are reflecting on their time at the same time I was there reflecting on what we were hoping to achieve at that stage versus what has actually transpired a number of years later.
And I think the overwhelming sense is probably the algorithm and tuning the algorithm to get eyeballs. If you just go to the public market and the public market statements, when Twitter went public, we talk about timeline views, and the whole timeline views thing was, how many times you're loading that timeline. But of course, what we did at a certain point, we changed it so that your timeline just streamed forever. But timeline views was a metric that we had to teach Wall Street not to focus on because it no longer had any significance. You load the app and you only ever have one timeline view, and the timeline goes forever.
And why does the timeline go forever? Because you want them to engage forever. I mean, the competitors are obviously Facebook, and the competitors are Google+, which kind of went nowhere, but the competitors are TV, the competitors are broadcast television, the competitors are ESPN, the competitors are going bushwalking, right, or going to the lake, or walking around the Statue of Liberty. That's the competitor.
"I don't want you to do any of those things. I want you glued to your device and this is your world right here." And incidentally, your world right here is not the world that we would share together, Jennifer, if we both walked around the Statue of Liberty together. We both see it differently because of the algorithm. So yeah, I think optimistically I would chalk it up to excitement about technology and what can be done with technology, reflecting on it today. It's a very insidious and detrimental approach to capitalism and building up the value of companies.
Ryan Spilken: What was the final straw for you? Why did you bail? What got you out of Twitter and to Atlassian?
Nick Muldoon: Ah, it was the other way around. I was an Atlassian team member and I started out at Atlassian in 2007 as a pre-sales engineer and then became a pre-sales team lead, then went on to product management. We were trying to hire for a product marketing person for Agile and we weren't having much success, and that was to be with the marketing team in San Francisco and not in Sydney.
And ultimately with Daniel Freeman, who was the head of marketing and Ken Olofsen, who was heading up the Jira marketing, we made the opportunity and made the decision, my wife and I, to relocate to San Francisco and I stepped into that role, even though I didn't have a background in marketing. I had the Agile experience and we felt "Well, Atlassian's got the marketing team so together we'll be able to do this."
And so I was in San Francisco with Atlassian for 12 months, and one of the companies, one of our customers that I was chatting to was Twitter and I was super eager. Twitter was a big story. I wanted to get a case study. I met with product managers and a bunch of folks at Twitter, just to try and get a sense of what was going on. I mentioned that I'm a bit of a broadcaster. I probably overstepped the mark and said, "This is ridiculous. This is the furthest from Agile. This is chaos," and it was. Twitter was not a typical Agile transformation.
Most Agile transformations are large enterprises that are trying to go from Waterfall to Agile, from very rigid, bureaucratic processes to Agile. Twitter was the opposite end of the spectrum. It was complete and abject chaos and they were trying to bring some semblance of stability and discipline to what they were doing and so the opportunity came up to actually join Twitter and help them on that journey, so I was an Atlassian team member, then an Atlassian customer at Twitter and now onto an Atlassian marketplace partner at Easy Agile. So it's been a bit of a journey through three different personas related to Atlassian over the years.
Jennifer Eolin: Wow! Okay, what is your relationship with GreenHopper? Can you regale us that?
Nick Muldoon: Yes, so GreenHopper, when I was in the role of pre-sales team lead at Atlassian, we had a team of four in Sydney and these were people that were responding. There was no outbound. It was responding to incoming customer requests and what I recognized was that team that I led had no influence over solving the bugs or the feature requests or anything else that was going on.
And so I chatted to Brett Jackson, who was the head of products at Atlassian at the time. I said, "Look, I want to get into products so I can influence some of these decisions and what do you recommend?" I've been super fortunate throughout my career that various people have taken an interest in assisting and accelerating my career, and Brett gave me a bunch of stuff to read from the likes of Rich Mironov and a host of others and basically said, "This is your Product Management 101. Get ready."
Now, Brett actually bounced and left Atlassian. Audra Eng came in and shortly after Audra joined Atlassian, Atlassian completed the acquisition of GreenHopper, so GreenHopper was out of Montreal and there was really one person that was software development, marketing, support, sales, the whole lot. And so J.C. Huet, whom I remember back from your Mindville podcast a couple of weeks back, J.C. was part of the Mindville story. He was part of the GreenHopper story in 2009.
Ryan Spilken: That, I did not know.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, right, so we acquired GreenHopper. Audra was kind enough to offer me this opportunity with no product management experience to step into product management, and my first day on the job was actually at Agile 2009 in Chicago, and I met J-C for the first time. I was there with a host of San Francisco-based Atlassian team and that was really my deep dive into the world of Agile, just zero to 100, becoming the product manager of an Agile product.
So it was a super exciting time. At Twitter, we had this huge growth in the engineering team. With GreenHopper, we basically took an independent product and we backended it into an existing customer base and so it went from a very small customer base to a very large customer base in 12 months, and that was a fantastic journey as well.
Ryan Spilken: Yeah, the acquisition of GreenHopper and the launch of Jira Agile were tremendous turning points in the Atlassian story, so that's just huge. It was launched as Jira Agile and of course, if anyone else is familiar with the history, Jira Agile became Jira software or GreenHopper became-
Nick Muldoon: Jira Agile.
Ryan Spilken: Jira Agile became Jira Software. It's just a big turning point and you had brought it all the way from a Montreal-based Mom and Pop shop into this burgeoning ecosystem.
Nick Muldoon: I mean, it was fun, right? Before Liz and I were married, when J.C. and his wife Valerie, they relocated from Montreal to Sydney and here they are, couple in a new town, three kids, and we'd go over their place and we'd babysit the kids, so that they could... Was that ever part of the J.D., the job description for a product manager? Not really, but trying to settle someone down in the team... And I think that was interesting because that was probably one of the earliest kind of clicks for me about servant leadership and what you can do in service of your team and what does that look like?
Incidentally, Liz and I last week, we were looking after one of the team members here at Easy Agile. His young boy, William, who's two years old, while his wife went back for an obstetrician visit for their second kid that's coming along. So we were doing it in 2009 and here we are still doing it today, looking after-
Ryan Spilken: I think you're just hogging babysitting gigs, man.
Nick Muldoon: Oh no, no way. It was actually super challenging because our kids are a little bit older now and to go back to a two-year-old, it was actually a huge challenge, cognitive switch. Anyway that's a whole other thing
Ryan Spilken: All right, so we heard about what you took away from the Twitter experience. What are the big takeaways from that time at Atlassian besides how to scale a business, of course?
Jennifer Eolin: Of course.
Nick Muldoon: I believe that the introspection that we are never good enough, there is always room to improve. That was such a strong trait that permeated everything we did at Atlassian, and Mark and Scott and the team at Atlassian. I was always sprinting to try and keep up. These were the smartest people that I had had the fortune to work with at that stage in my career, right? They were just top of their game and I believe that the lack of noise and distractions... There wasn't a VC industry in Australia. There wasn't all the noise and distractions of San Francisco and so it allowed the teams to get on with the job.
I remember walking through one of the Atlassian customers in San Francisco and it was a games company, and I was there doing a customer interview and I was astounded that on their wallboards, instead of having metrics around deployment, that had the stock price. I was like, "Oh, my gosh, this is such a negative thing" because I mean, look at the market volatility today. Can you imagine the sentiment?
Have you heard of Niko-Niko, this Japanese technique? You kind of assess the health, the mental health of a team member when they come on to the shop floor or the work floor in the morning and again in the afternoon? It's kind of where the whole MPS, smiley upside plus/minus or whatever, but can you imagine doing that in that company? On a good day, everyone would be like, "Yeah! It was a great day." it was a green board, it goes red and "Oh, the market hit us, it was a bad day," but what the market's doing is three to six months removed from what's actually happening in the company and so I think culturally that's what Atlassian had really strong, was there wasn't this distraction, there wasn't this noise. It was a lean operation because it wasn't VC funded so you weren't pushing growth. You were being pulled by your customers and you were responding to the demands of your customers all the time.
And I think that was one of the key differences perhaps between Atlassian and Twitter upon reflection is, Twitter was basically funded to the tune of half a billion dollars and it was pumping that money or even more, pumping that money forced the growth, so forcing the growth rather than letting the organic growth take hold and your customers pull the growth out of you.
Jennifer Eolin: It just sounds so nice to hear about teams being given the metrics and the atmosphere that they need to actually be teams and not sit there and say, "Oh, the stock price, that's nothing I can control but thanks for having that on the wall. Helpful." Not at all helpful. That is the wrong audience and just hearing that it always is striking of the information being given to teams that's just not useful, hopeful. It doesn't drive decision-making, it doesn't drive performance, and certainly doesn't drive happiness, so that was just interesting to hear you speak about that.
Nick Muldoon: In both cases, at Atlassian and at Twitter, there were huge aspirational goals that they had. As I mentioned with Twitter, it was to be the global town square. They wanted to control the global conversation or they wanted to be the platform where that conversation took place, great. In Atlassian's case, it was to be the Australian software company success story.
Now, of course, after you kind of hit something like the Australian software company success story, you have to keep evolving that vision because you've become the Australian software company success story and you go from the Fortune 50,000, "We want 50,000 customers," to the Fortune 500,000, and Atlassian's now at 180,000 customers plus another 150,000 customers that don't pay, use their free product. So there are about 300,000 plus companies there. They're well on their way to Fortune 500,000 so where to beyond that? And so I think that Atlassian was this continuous evolution and reflecting and learning and adapting. That was such a strong cultural trait.
Ryan Spilken: One of the fundamental things that you've already brought up is servant leadership. Atlassian exists to help people do their jobs better, help teams deliver on their greatest ability, where Twitter is not that. Who are they serving?
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, they're serving advertisers. It's very clear-cut, right? I can't think who it was now if it was Nir Eyal or maybe it wasn't, but the commentary was that if you're not paying for the service, you are the product. Incidentally, when I was at Atlassian in San Francisco I started hosting a meetup called the San Francisco Agile Marketing Meetup and that was to bring together these two different disciplines, Agile software development, and traditional marketing, and try and bridge the gap and make it more iterative.
One of the early speakers that we had there was Nir Eyal and he was talking about habit-forming behavior, and he used Twitter as an example of how Twitter had found a way to form a habit, that people feel like they need to open their Twitter feed in the morning, in the afternoon, in the night, to stay abreast of what's going on, and that was 2012, I guess.
Jennifer Eolin: That's the height of FOMO, fear of missing out. It just slid right in there and it just was perfect. How did all of this land you where you are now, with Easy Agile, and what have you brought, the good and the bad, from both to where you are?
Nick Muldoon: My direct manager at Twitter, Steve Greene, he... Again, I have to say, I've had some fantastic leaders over the years that have really invested in me as a person, which I've been super fortunate to have, and Steve provided the opportunity for Liz and I to go with our, at this stage, nine-month-old baby daughter to go and live and work in Zurich in Switzerland for a month, and go to a conference and meet people there and basically just do a bit of a sabbatical for a month.
And living in San Francisco, before our kids, was a phenomenal experience. As soon as my daughter came along, so she's now six, but as soon as she came along you're immediately going, "You know what? The grungy feel, I really don't want you on the sidewalk." And that grungy feel kind of... Do we move out of San Francisco to Marin or somewhere else around the Bay Area where it's probably more family-friendly?
Anyway, we took this trip to Zurich for a month and one of the things that struck us, in the middle of winter it's snowing and parents leave their kids in the pram outside the supermarket in the snow while they go inside and do a 15-20 minute shop. Our experience in San Francisco was, if you left the pram outside the Walgreen's, the kid would be on the ground and someone would have stolen the pram or-
Jennifer Eolin: And the kid.
Nick Muldoon: Right?
Jennifer Eolin: Right? Yeah.
Nick Muldoon: Knowing how much my kid screamed at the time, that was not going to happen, right? But it was a real awakening and I think it kind of said to us that living in San Francisco... And the commute! I used to walk to the Twitter office and I walked to the Atlassian office and we lived in the Mission. It was such a vibrant part of town, and it was fantastic before we had kids, but then having kids it was like, "You know what? We need to get closer to family, so let's go back to Australia."
Coming back to Australia though, to be closer to family, we didn't want to go back to the capital city. San Francisco has got a slower pace of life than Sydney and we didn't want to go back there so we chose this regional area in Wollongong, which is 90 minutes south of Sydney. You got the beach, you got the hills, you go bushwalking, you got the farmer's market on a Friday. It's a 300,000 person regional community but being here, there's no Atlassian, there's no Twitter.
There are no big software companies and so really the onus was on myself and what became my business partner, Dave Elkan, my co-CEO at Easy Agile, who'd also been on a journey from Atlassian to San Francisco and back to Australia. It was like, "What can we make here in this regional area and how can we provide employment for people that don't want to go and live in a capital city?"
Now, of course, the world turned on its head this year, and Atlassian for the first time ever is kind of embracing remote work, because that was never something that Mike and Scott were eager to do. They were always hesitant to go down that path. However, what we've established here in Wollongong is we've established a team at Easy Agile of 16 soon-to-be 17, then onwards, so it's a fairly small software company that delivers globally. Our customers are out of timezone where I will service 2500 customers around the world, and we can do it from a regional area in Wollongong and do it profitably, and so that's really interesting.
One of the other books that I think is totally worth a read is Small Giants by Bo Burlingham, and this has been a really influential book for Dave and I and the team at Easy Agile this year so go back to your question, Jennifer, what decisions have we made? We've chosen not to be VC funded or private equity funded and we made that decision because it kind of distorts the incentives. Our incentives are to build great software for our customers.
Our incentives are not to make money at the expense of our customers, and so that means that you make choices like we are grounded in a regional community, we are trying to provide employment to the local community and support... The beer that we buy is from the local craft brewer. Just little things like that, that we're trying to do to support the local community, I think they are really important and I'm much more aware of those things and attuned to those things, having worked at companies that have IPO'd and that have scaled very quickly and perhaps not as effectively as I would like to do for my own company.
Jennifer Eolin: So you're not going to hire 1,000 people in the next three months. That's not a thing.
Nick Muldoon: It's not on the agenda but absolutely not. Gosh, but even other decisions that we make, so we don't really believe in contractors. We don't really believe in remote work. We are a co-located team and we're a co-located team because I like to bother people. I like to go out and have lunch with them. We've got a colleague, Anna, and she talks about the whites of the eyes and I'm like, "That's what I like."
I like to be able to sit down and have coffee or have lunch with the team members and talk about their mortgage and their kids and whatever else, and that's the sort of business that we've chosen to operate. At Atlassian, we had my direct manager, Josh Wahl. He was in Amsterdam and my peer, Giancarlo, was in San Francisco, and so I'd be up at 6:00 AM to do calls with Giancarlo and I'd finish my day at 10:00 PM at night with calls with Josh.
I'd go and play basketball in the middle of the day and go for a walk and have a snooze and all that sort of stuff, but again, it was a time of life thing. It's probably not something I'd be prepared to do today. Having everything co-located in one timezone is really important, I think.
Ryan Spilken: So you wanted to provide local employment, you wanted to have a really community-focused company, but what were you looking to deliver to customers? Where did that come from?
Nick Muldoon: Ah, that's great. In 2009 at this first Agile conference that I went to, I saw a talk by Jeff Patton, and he was talking about the practice of story mapping. And it was probably eight months later that I first had the opportunity to put that into practice with the GreenHopper team at Atlassian, and we did a story-mapping session for basically a complete re-write of GreenHopper, which is what we ended up doing and it became Jira Agile, and so that was my first exposure to story-mapping.
I ran these for other teams at Atlassian and at Twitter, I ran these for a lot of teams to try and bring that shared understanding about who the customer is, what are you hoping to achieve, and so starting Easy Agile, it really became a matter of, "Well, what are the gaps that I faced at Twitter as an Atlassian customer?" And especially at Twitter because we did have teams that were distributed. We did have remote people, unlike at Atlassian.
And so how did we pull them all together? You couldn't just do it on a wallboard. I mean, you could, but then you're doing it out of video conferencing and it's ridiculous, right? And so how can we provide a digital story mapping experience for distributed teams and teams that have remote team members? And so that was really the first step and we've always been very customer-led, and then it was later in 2016 that we were having conversations with some of our larger story mapping customers.
I remember one customer in particular, and they just expressed it really clearly and succinctly, and they said, "It's really hard to make a roadmap using a story map." And it was like this light bulb moment where like, "Well, hang on. Story mapping and road-mapping, they're different techniques and they serve different audiences." Story mapping's for internal, for the team to understand and get a shared understanding. Road-mapping is that external, stakeholder communication piece and you're trying to shoehorn one thing into another.
We ended up releasing Easy Agile Roadmaps to complement Easy Agile User Story Maps, so that's a product that is still around today that is still a very popular product. Actually, we found out yesterday that the most evaluations were on Easy Agile Roadmaps in August, and I say that despite the fact that there's a lot of competition in that space from the likes of Aha! and ProductPlan and productboard, Advanced Roadmaps, Simple Roadmaps, Jira Portfolio and a host of others.
It's a really busy space but obviously, it's something that's... If you look at the State of Agile survey that VersionOne publishes, it's a pretty common Agile practice, although typically people go so far out in the future that you kind of wonder whether they're getting towards that waterfall mentality rather than something that is more Agile.
And then I guess in 2018 our journey continued because we were having conversations with large customers of Easy Agile Roadmaps and they're saying, "Well, we're trying to scale Agile transformations and how do we do our PI planning? You allow us to take story mapping off the wall and put what is typically a physical activity for teams, you've allowed us to pull that off the wall. PI planning is another physical activity. Can't you help us pull that one off the wall?"
And because typically what happens with PI planning is the team or the group, a number of teams, they go away for a period of time, two days, and they come up with this huge wall full of post-it notes and string and whatever else, and someone's job is to take that and put it into Jira and then that artifact, that big physical artifact, maybe they take a few photos of it and it gets thrown in the bin, and there's no other document and there's no visualization that takes you back to that, and so that's where Easy Agile programs came along.
And so there's been this constant evolution for what our customers are trying to achieve and how can we provide a solution to assist them? And it's been a really interesting journey and we certainly haven't got it right all the time, but I hope the trait that we've got is that, like Atlassian, we take this continuous learning, continuous improvement mentality and we apply it to our company and our solutions to make sure they're becoming ever more effective.
Jennifer Eolin: I would love to hear how you think your experiences might have been different had your product that you create now existed when you started in the space.
Nick Muldoon: Oh, my gosh! Okay, well, from a road mapping perspective in my time at Atlassian, every product manager had a different format for roadmaps and there were only eight or 10 product managers at Atlassian before I went to San Francisco so even then it wasn't a huge cohort of people, but the way that we communicated with Mike and Scott differed for every product and every product manager. I mean, can you imagine the cognitive load to try and normalize that in your brain?
Jennifer Eolin: Yet people still do. That still happens.
Nick Muldoon: Ah, and completely unnecessary, right, Jennifer?
Jennifer Eolin: Yeah.
Nick Muldoon: And then think about Twitter and running all the story mapping sessions, we would literally have the video conferencing camera pointing at the whiteboard and we'd have someone in the room that was the scribe for the remote team members. I'm like, "This is insane" and this is why our travel budget was so high, because it's easier to just fly people around the world, and PI planning is the same. We've got one customer in New York and they gave us the figures outright.
A quarter of a million dollars every quarter for one of their groups to come together because they're bringing people from around the world. Now, that's the direct cost in flights and accommodation to get the people to New York once every quarter, a quarter of a million dollars. So that's a million dollars a year for one group. That doesn't even take into account the time that these people are away from their families, right? In my situation, if I was a product manager for that team and I had to go and travel and I'm away from my young kids for a week, what's that?
Ryan Spilken: Four times a year.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, four times a year, and then you're jet-lagged when you get home, and oh, my gosh! So it's really fascinating that there's this direct cost that everyone's been forced to save this year, which is great. Their travel budgets and accommodation budgets have been absolutely cut this year. They just obviously can't travel due to COVID, but it also means that they're trying to find ways to... I mean, our biggest month ever in terms of evaluations for Easy Agile programs was in March and, evals have been on a tear.
And it's because companies that have been doing the status quo and doing the way that they've been doing it for so long have now been forced to find new methods of work. And it's kind of exciting and it's scary because what are all the middle managers that are just toiling away, making sure everyone's getting their work done, what are they doing now that everyone's remote? Do they really have a role and how does their role evolve? It raises so many questions.
Ryan Spilken: Well, hopefully, they're providing some value.
Nick Muldoon: Hopefully they're leaders and they're supporting their people, the mental health of their people. They can go back to the modern Agile movement and the psychological safety if that's what they try to practice, servant leadership, then I think they're certainly providing value.
Jennifer Eolin: I really like that. What you just explained is such an amazing balance of work-life balance but bringing quality to both sides, and I think that's an amazing vision to have and to work toward and be passionate about. Yeah, I just thought that was awesome.
Nick Muldoon: My co-founder, Dave, we talked about work-life balance in 2016 and he immediately pulled the plug on it. He's like, "We're not talking about work-life balance. It's not work-life balance. It's work is part of your life. It's family-work balance." And for Easy Agile today, it's kind of evolved into self-family-community-work balance in that order, and the community piece is really important and it's evolved really to add self in 2020 because maintaining the mental health of the team has become such an important thing.
Whether you're cooped up at home with the kids or whether you're solo and you have no interaction, this is now a big thing to manage and when we were all coming together, you had that community feel at work. You got it for free, basically and now we've got to work a lot more at those things. So yeah, the self, the family, the community, and then the work.
Ryan Spilken: I really appreciate the humanistic approach that you're taking to this whole thing. The philosophical implications behind it really do speak highly of your character, so that's cool. That's not something we see every day. What are the fundamental pieces of Agile philosophy that are giving rise to Agile techniques and principles being used outside of development? Why is that happening?
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, no, it does. I guess it's interesting to me. In my years from a product manager for Jira Agile to working with teams at Twitter, to working with our customers now at Easy Agile, there are people that try to do an Agile transformation by the book and so they don't have any experience with this and the easiest place for them to start is to go, "Okay, well, that's what the Scrum guy says," or "That's what Lean Kanban University says."
And I think the lesson that I've taken from over 10 years of experience with respect to Agile practices and lean principles is, start with where the team is and just continuously reflect, and if you build that continuous reflection and take one thing to improve, that is Agile, right? I mean, at its core, it's the adaptability and the openness to change, and the best way to do that is to frame things as an experiment, because it can be really scary to come to someone and say, "Hey, Ryan, I want to change your title from Business Analyst to Product Owner, and Jennifer, I want to change your title from Program Manager to Release Train Engineer."
Both of you have maybe 10 years or more tied up and that's your persona. You tell people "I'm the project manager." You tell people you're a business analyst and suddenly you're questioning your sense of self. Why would I do a big bang transformation and change all these things at once? Wouldn't it be better to change little bits and pieces on an ongoing basis, on an Agile basis, on an iterative basis, and get to a better place as we learn and adapt?
And so if we frame it as experiments, I think it's a really powerful thing, and so if you look at it from that perspective, there's nothing there that is specific to software development, there's nothing there that's specific to operations or anything else. Some of the most valuable conversations that I had about lean principles at Twitter were actually with teams like the physical security team, the legal team, the procurement team, helping them change and evolve the way that they work to be more effective.
But we had this great experience. I ran a retrospective. Greg, I forget his last name now, but Greg was the person that was responsible for all of the physical security at Twitter and it comes with the territory, right? Atlassian hardly was in place, it got a lot of threats, but Twitter was a place that... Anyway, they did a fire drill and in the fire drill, three-quarters of the Twitter team members actually perished in the fire escapes and so we ran a retrospective to see, "Okay, well, what are the problems and how do we... ?"
It came down to fire doors and how do you balance the egress from the different fire escapes and all this sort of stuff, but what a great technique to bring everyone together and to have that conversation, not just lay blame on someone, right? It was a whole team effort to figure out, and then guess what? Let's run it again and we're successful. How empowering is that for everyone?
Jennifer Eolin: Imagine that.
Ryan Spilken: It's worth noting that no actual Twitter engineers were harmed in the fire drill as mentioned.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, great. Thank you for clarifying it.
Ryan Spilken: Because I mean, if you had lost three-quarters of the company the second time, that'd been a company and a half that you'd lost in two fire drills. My math's not good, but that's too many colleagues.
Jennifer Eolin: What is the one piece of advice you would give to teams? If you were only allowed to walk in a room, lay down one sentence, and then you had to walk out, what is it?
Nick Muldoon: I want everyone to find something that they're passionate about and throw their whole heart, body, and soul into it, right? If your heart is not here and you're not feeling it for these customers, then that's cool. We will provide the support to help you find the thing that you really want to be doing with your life. I'm 36 years old, best case scenario... Well, not best-case scenario, but statistically speaking an Australian male has 87 years, so I've got 50 summers left.
Now, if I've got 50 summers left and presumably I kind of deteriorate in physical capability, I probably have 40 usable summers left, so what the hell am I going to do with the 40 summers I have left? And what are you going to do? You better do something that you're passionate about, where you're learning.
Jennifer Eolin: Oh, I love that.
Ryan Spilken: Tremendous.
Jennifer Eolin: I need to think about my summers.
Ryan Spilken: Goodness.
Jennifer Eolin: I got to count them up. I don't know, going to need an abacus.
Nick Muldoon: Yeah, but this is the thing, right? Why would we spend years of our lives doing stuff that we don't love? I understand money, I get it, but yeah.
Ryan Spilken: Wow.
Jennifer Eolin: Yeah.
Nick Muldoon: I've got so many thoughts about that. It's our journey, it's a journey, but how do you help your people? One of the people in the team, I absolutely love him. His capability to consume and incorporate into his mental model, content, is phenomenal. Right? Now, the challenge for him, in particular, is how does he disseminate that to the whole team, but I know where he's going, and our powers aren't aligned, right? He wants to educate the world and help the world have this knowledge. He wants to find a way to make knowledge accessible.
I'm like, "That's awesome." You can do that for some of the stuff at Easy Agile, but I'm just trying to figure out how I help him accelerate that journey and I know that at some point in time our paths will diverge. But how immensely proud am I going to be if, in 10 or 15 years time, he's living in New York, right, and he's working on education and doing whatever, and we catch up for lunch and we're overlooking some beautiful skyline. How proud would I be to reflect on his journey? Ah! Yeah, I don't know. I get so excited about that. How do you allow everyone to reach their potential?
Ryan Spilken: Wow!
Jennifer Eolin: Yeah. Ah, that's amazing. Yes.
Ryan Spilken: Well, Easy Agile co-CEO Nick Muldoon, thank you so much, so much for joining us today and giving us just some fantastic insight into your world, Nick. It's a good world to live in.
Nick Muldoon: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate your time Jennifer, Ryan. It's been fun.
Jennifer Eolin: Thank you. It's been amazing.