Very Good Ventures is the world’s leading Flutter app development consultancy with a team that works remotely around the world, serving clients like Google and The New York Times.
Building great products and guiding clients through impactful digital transformations has been the key priority for Very Good Ventures since their inception. But for Tom Arra, Head of Program Management and Principal Program Manager, the secret sauce behind this is quite simple: carving out time for growth and learning within his product team.
From building Flutter apps at Very Good Ventures to previously working as a PM at BMW and Microsoft, Tom’s seen the way teams of all sizes operate, so we recently sat down for a chat with him to dig into his lessons learned. We dive into how his team prioritizes what to build (and what not to build), leveraging time tracking technology as a strategic management tool, navigating shifting project needs and client expectations, and more.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our chat.
It started with a passion for Flutter
Timely: Tell us about what you do at Very Good Ventures.
Tom: First, We’re a Flutter app consultancy, so that's where we're actually implementing use cases for our clients. The second thing is we try to empower these clients that we work with on a day-to-day basis with our knowledge, given that we have done this implementation many many times before.
Timely: Tell us about the types of projects that really excite you?
Tom: We've got a lot of projects that we work on, from very small applications that are actually funded by non-profit organizations, all the way up to multi million- and billion-dollar clients that we work with on a day-to-day basis.
From my perspective, I really enjoy the projects where we get to go in and sometimes actually change the mentality of a giant corporation or an engineering group that maybe has been working for 10 to 20 years and making this transformation into Flutter development. It really is changing how the development teams are focusing and deploying their efforts when it comes to application development.
The biggest problem that we have is really the fact that there are so many great projects out there, that we want to take on all of them and we just don't have enough time or energy to do so. So we definitely have to pick and choose the best ones that we have the possibility to work on; and that's a really good mix of what our personal interests are and also where we see the technology industry going.
On building a customer-driven growth engine
Timely: What’s your mission at Very Good Ventures?
Tom: Our mission is to create confidence in software teams by driving quality and scalable best practices with our expertise.
Specifically, that expertise is what we’re giving to our clients. What we try and do in order to drive that – not just within our employees, but our clients as well – is that we ensure that all of our employees have the time not just to do the billable work that we need to do in order to keep our clients happy and keep the company moving forward, but also have the internal time they need to grow, not just as an employee at Very Good Ventures but also as a person.
So we actually utilize Timely in order to make this happen. Every week when an engineer comes in and sits down and logs in to Timely on a Monday morning, they're very clearly shown what they're supposed to be working on during that week, how many hours is spent on client work and how many hours is [spent on] internal work.
That internal work will change week to week in order to make sure that they're growing as a person, as an employee, gaining new skills and gaining new knowledge to further their career as well.
Timely: What new processes have you implemented recently at Very Good Ventures?
Tom: 2021 was the biggest year of growth that the company has had, and with that we needed to make sure that everybody is working the same way. As simple as it may sound, even just making sure that things like timesheets were signed off and actually completed by the end of the week was a big deal for us to get right.
On top of that, we’ve really kind of standardized the way that we communicate to our entire company, and to our entire staff, what each person is supposed to be working on for that given week. We do that through Timely Tasks so that anybody who is in the system can very quickly and easily see 1) what they should be working on and 2) the managers and the PMs of each individual team have a very clear view of what their staff in their team should be working on as well.
Timely: What problems are you really good at solving at Very Good Ventures?
Tom: We definitely don't back down from hard challenges. In fact, that's what really drives us as an engineering based company – to work with some of the giant corporations that we do. It’s our job to go in there and not just implement what they're asking to implement but also possibly change their mindset and their engineering philosophy sometimes, in order to get to the right outcome.
This is something that's also driven me quite a bit. In my previous background I worked at an auto-manufacturing company that needed to go through a software evolution, and we're seeing that more and more with software companies that we’re engaging with today. That's something that I'm very passionate about personally. I think Very Good Ventures as a whole really wants to empower these different clients that we work with – all the way from small organizations to multi billion-dollar organizations – to be able to achieve what they need and not allow the technology teams to hold things back.
On the importance of very good time tracking
Timely: What impact does time tracking have on a business like Very Good Ventures?
Tom: Overall time tracking is kind of the lifeblood of our company because without it we can't pay the bills. We also give clients that we work with our time logs at the end of the month so they can clearly see what we have done for them and it really takes away all of the ambiguity when they see a big bill at the end of the month – it's very clear this is what was done.
As an app consultancy, at the end of the day what we’re really selling is our time and expertise – and our time needs to be tracked. So what it really boils down to is the ability to actually run the business.
Developers overall are not great at tracking time. It's not our engineers' way of naturally working - for them to think about what I'm doing at this time. They just see a problem and they want to solve it. That's what they're good at. That allows for some room for improvement from a personal growth perspective but then it also allows for tools like Timely to be able to help track time and make it a little bit easier for engineers when they do have to log their time at the end of every single day.
Timely: What’s the biggest problem that time tracking solves for you and your team?
Tom: So on many projects we are budget constrained – and this is obvious given the world that we’re in – but realistically we want to be able to empower our clients to be able to make decisions with us during their development process.
So being able to extract key reports from Timely, to tell a client exactly where they are with their budget spend, with their plan allocations, really empowers us as a program management team inside Very Good Ventures to have those key conversations with clients. To understand – do we need to reprioritize our backlog, do we need to change our focus in order to meet the milestones? Without having that information coming out of Timely, we wouldn't be able to have those detailed conversations. We would just be guessing.
On doing one thing really well
Timely: What’s the biggest challenge facing tech leaders right now?
Tom: Right now in the technology landscape, there's just lots of choice for everything that you want to do. It's great that our industry has grown so much in the last 20 or 30 years but you can almost run into a paralysis of choice just from starting from scratch. That allows a lot of different startups to provide different services but then that just crowds the landscape even more.
That's one of the reasons that we at Very Good Ventures have focused specifically on Flutter, because we think that it's something that actually solves a lot of good business needs, but also gives a clear path forward for technology companies and engineering teams to be able to grow in the future.