Emma Hopkinson-Spark celebrates 3 years at 101 Ways!

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101 Ways has had an incredible 2018; growing the team to 101 people (and beyond), expanding into The Netherlands and the creation of even more great clubs. As brilliant as it’s been, it’s always worth remembering where it all began.

Once upon a time (three years ago to be exact) Kelly Waters met a blue-haired, rock-and-rolling Agile coach called Emma. (Hopkinson) Spark by name and a spark by nature,
their partnership was the beginning of 101 Ways’ journey
to becoming the company it is today. 

Usually I’d begin the interview by saying ‘I sat down with Emma’, but for those that don’t know her, organising such semi-reclining is no mean feat. Our original meeting gets pushed back by two hours for very good reason… Between her epic commute (more on that later) and morning client visit, she whirlwinds into the office to let me pick her brains on loyalty, leadership and long trips before running back out to give a presentation she hasn’t prepared for. Why? Because she wasn’t supposed to be doing it, but happily stepped into the breach due to an emergency. And once that was done, off she went to conduct a choral concert before stepping foot back onto the train that takes longer than a return flight to Amsterdam.

So now you know what it took to get this, let’s hear from the veteran crew member herself.

Hi Emma, so how did you come to be a part of 101 Ways?

Kelly and I met as judges at the Agile Awards judging dinner and got on really well. I was working as an independent contractor at the time – I used to take summers off to go to various festivals and had just finished the circuit so was beginning to look for work again. I happened to mention this to Kelly and he said he had too much work on so we decided to pool our resources and begin working together, taking our first client in October 2015. Here we are 120+ people later!

What was it like in the early days, and how has 101 Ways’ changed since then?

When it was just the two of us, we were only able to offer leadership and advice to clients, but  there was a lot of frustration on our part because we wanted to be able to do more.

We realised that rather than simply telling client teams what to do, it would be easier to bring people in to help them do it and and move things forward. We began hiring consultants to place on client sites and added the ‘doing’ part to our motto: ‘We advise. We lead. We do!’.

What’s it been like working with Kelly? How do you compliment each other’s vision and drive?

Kelly and I don’t actually work that closely together, especially now, but we have a very similar mindset and often see things the same way. Kelly will go in to a client and deal with the executive level and I work with middle management and the wider teams. His is more of a mentor role; whereas I’m on the ground and dealing with the masses if you will.

Kelly and I have the same stories and experiences and that can work well for us – we’re able to put a different lens onto the same problem. 101 Ways has become an extension of what we achieved on a small scale together.

How have you helped shape the culture of 101 Ways into what it is today?

Early on when we had only 20 people, we got everyone in the room and talked about the values we hold important. I think it’s a testament to our approach that at least half of those people are still with the company today.
In that first meeting we also came up with the community clubs and shared the vision for how we wanted to grow as a consultancy and give back to the tech industry.

What’s been your greatest achievement so far?

While I love the client work and solving problems, I’m most proud of our communities. Not just the ones we’ve built at 101 Ways, but also the ones experienced through it.

I was co-chair of the London 2018 Global Scrum Gathering held at the Excel Centre and we worked really hard to push for changes to previous set ups. It involved 18 months’ work because the quality of the key notes and speakers was a world away from what they’ve had before – exhausting but worth it! The feedback we’ve had since was the London programme was the best gathering they’ve ever had.

It’s fantastic to have the opportunity to do things like that and it’s entirely because of the people I work with now. It’s given me the confidence to be able to go and do this and more importantly, know that I can do it well. I’m also very proud of the Agile 101 Card Game that I created – and the 101 Ways team helped me develop. I always have random ideas [like the game] but when I was working independently, I never followed through with them. Now, I will share them with a team that supports, encourages  and is honest with me – even if it’s to tell me that my ideas are crazy. In fact, the best way to get me to do something is tell me it’s a stupid idea because I’ll then want to create it and prove everyone wrong!

So everything sounds fun so far; tell me about a time when things went wrong and what you learned from it?

For me, it’s veered off course when I’ve become less connected to the crew and team; I live a long way from London and therefore my time is limited. I have to be really organised and prioritise where and with whom I spend time because I accept I can’t do everything.

Understandably, when I’m busiest is when I feel the most disconnected. But over and above my needs, I believe it’s more important to dedicate time working with any consultants who are experiencing this. There will be occasions when they have started to lose their connection to us for whatever reason and I empathise so I put them first and by doing so, reaffirm 101 Ways’ people-focused approach.

How has your leadership developed since you started?

You should probably ask Kelly as we have had lots of debate about this! [Laughs]
Two years ago, I would always say I was a coach rather than leader – especially when running a workshop. There is obviously a leadership element to my role, but I never like to admit it!. I think a leader has ‘followers’ and I don’t. But I have to accept that people see me as one and therefore I am. It’s more servant leadership than anything.

What do you hope for 101 Ways in the next three years?

I want consultants to be able to move more freely between clients; get their teeth into really juicy, complex projects and then move on quickly to another juicy, complex project elsewhere. We’re not quite there yet, but we are growing to that point and I can’t wait for that to happen.

I also want to see WTF (Women’s Tech Focus) get bigger. I love what we’ve done so far and the fact that we have regulars already, but I’m excited because there is so much more we can do. I’m also kicking off the coaching skills community next year and would like to see some collaboration between our community groups; holding joint events for the benefit of all members.  

It’s worth saying that 101 Ways has experienced nothing but growth and great things since we started and there is still a real energy and buzz round this. But there is a part of me that is waiting to be tested and I’m anticipating when it’s going to arrive. Obviously as a business there are some big changes happening over the next 12 months like IR35 and Brexit. I like to think it’s realistic rather than pessimistic to say that I’m waiting for the ‘bump in the road’ to see how we respond to those challenges.

What’s the best thing about working at 101 Ways?

I average six hours a day sitting on a train going between my home on the coast and London. When I was an independent contractor, I regularly used to turn down offers to work in London or accept them on a conditional basis – that I could suck it up and do it for a few months.

People often ask me why I don’t move, but I live by the beach so why would I!? I wouldn’t suffer the commute for anyone other than 101 ways. The reason I finally gave up contracting to go permanent was because I had the opportunity to be involved with something from the start and rarely, if ever, do you get that chance. Yes our clients are great and I still benefit from the variety of experiences and challenges that I had as a contractor, but the difference is that now I have an incredible team behind me that I’m never going to find anywhere else.

I’ve always been very strict with work / life boundaries and never mixed the two – I suppose that’s a common mindset when you work alone, but there are people at 101 Ways that have come to see me sing with my band.It’s wonderful to say that the people at 101 are not only my colleagues, they are my friends.