Article Summary: In a recent interview, Yakima Chief Hops Director of Software Engineering Jordan Gottlieb discussed the organization’s rapid growth and ongoing digital transformation strategy. Jordan also shared how Yakima Chief Hops approaches each element of FullStory’s ATOM digital experience maturity model–Alignment, Technology, Outcomes, and Mindset.
Jordan Gottlieb, Director of Software Engineering at Yakima Chief Hops, shares how the growing organization is increasing digital experience maturity through the lens of the ATOM framework
Q: Will you tell us a little bit about Yakima Chief and your company does?
Jordan: Yakima Chief Hops is a Washington-based supplier of hops for brewers across the globe. We are the largest 100% grower-owned hop supplier in the world, serving the entire brewing community including macro, craft, micro and home brewers. We source from a network of more than 50 family-owned farms that collaborate to grow sustainable, quality hops. At our core, we’re an agricultural company that produces innovative hop products. Our mission is to connect brewers with the family farms that grow their hops.
Much of YCH’s business is B2B, but non-B2B buyers like home brewers and smaller craft and micro-breweries can also buy hops without a contract.
Q: Would you say that Yakima Chief has gone or is going through a digital transformation? If so, what’s gone well? What’s been difficult?
Jordan: We’re absolutely going through a digital transformation; I’d say we’re about halfway through what I’d estimate to be a seven-year transformation. By 2023 I’m projecting everything digital that needs to be implemented, automated, and integrated will be secure, stable, performant and supported by modern standard work processes. At that point we’ll be able to pivot our full focus and energy to disruptive innovation and rapid, sustainable growth.
One big challenge is that we’ve recently grown very quickly. Our digital footprint might be 100 times larger and infinitely more complex than it was a few short years ago, and we’ve only added six people to our software engineering team, and a dozen or so to our global IT team. We don’t have enough staff for individuals to specialize in things like a full time user research, quality assurance or DevOps program. And our marketing team is just as lean as we are. We are doing our best to expand these departments and fill these roles with the necessary talent, but it is a challenge to stay ahead of rapid growth.
On the same note, what’s going well in our digital transformation is we’ve been able to leverage progressive, leading-edge technologies like FullStory to act as staff augmentation for urgent, important initiatives we wouldn’t have the bandwidth to cover otherwise.
Q: Earlier this year, FullStory identified key organizational components of DX maturity in an original research report, also known as the ATOM digital experience maturity model. Let’s talk about how Yakima Chief views each component of ATOM:
1. Alignment: Do you have organizational structures, processes, and practices that facilitate efficient and continuous digital experience improvement?
Jordan: We’re improving alignment every day. As mentioned, we’ve recently experienced significant year-over-year growth. We’ve grown so quickly most everyone agreed it was time to take pause, take stock, and plan very strategically for the coming years. With so many people moving that fast for so long, things do start to get lost.
To that end, we just wrapped a months-long strategic planning initiative involving dozens of people from throughout the org, led by our CEO and a professional consultant and facilitator. This initiative produced a comprehensive strategic plan and goals for the entire org over the next several years.
We also have a new Continuous Improvement, Innovation Guiding team made up of ten people and a few executive sponsors. It’s a cross-functional team of leaders from throughout the org that function like a think tank. They help identify, document and evaluate key processes; propose, implement and execute Kaizen plans; and foster, incubate and facilitate innovation in support of the larger strategic plan. Team members don’t bring their individual departments’ needs with them to the meetings. They are encouraged to consider the organization as a whole and find ways to add global value while continuing to cultivate a just and learning culture.
2. Technology: Is the technology you use to power the digital experience effective?
Jordan: Internally, I’d say the tools empowering our teams are very effective. Among others we leverage FullStory of course, as well as Monday, Slack, GitHub, Docker, CircleCI, Azure DevOps, Confluence, Rollbar, Freshservice, etc. Our engineering team grew from one person to seven in two years, and going fully distributed for COVID basically overnight, we had to scramble to shift to fully digital collaboration and significantly update our already relatively new standard work processes. We emphasize DevOps and containerization both for local development and production, implementing as much automation as possible along the way. Like with many organizations, different departments and teams have adopted different project management and tracking tools that can overlap, but it’s still worked out pretty well.
At Yakima Chief Hops, engineers are 90 percent of the FullStory users. Next would be marketing. We’re using FullStory as staff augmentation for proactive monitoring and quality assurance that we don’t always have the time to achieve pre-flight, especially when facing aggressive schedules.
Externally, the tech we use to power the DX is very effective and we definitely match that to our team size and our company’s growth patterns, solution lifecycle and release cadences.
It’s critical that our technologies play well together. We don’t have a suite, we have a frankenstein stack. We haven’t integrated FullStory with anything as we haven’t needed to yet, but we just started using FullStory Dashboards which are extremely useful. For example, I just created a simple Error Clicks metric and we’ve got instant holistic insight into where Error Clicks are trending throughout our entire digital portfolio. We didn’t have quite the same ability to do that before FullStory Dashboards without writing code, even with comprehensive logging, reporting, and tools like Rollbar.
3. Outcomes: Are you able to meet digital objectives and iterate on digital experiences?
This is an area we don’t fall totally flat but we do fall short of my ideal baseline. We do have FullStory and Google Analytics, Power BI and the beginnings of a data warehouse, but it’s hard for us to prioritize formal UX research or implement AB testing at this time. So we can’t get the kind of feedback we’d need to do what you’re suggesting here. We survey the market, our business partners and end-users, both internal and external, several times a year. A lot of those are B2B customers whose day to day interactions aren’t as concerned with the more public-facing frontends, even e-commerce. They’re not as exposed to the higher-concept CX or UX, but we’re just starting to get into that as we expand our home brew, spot offerings and reach.
Our marketing team is starting to get more involved and a total redesign of our ecomm and marketing sites, based on customer feedback captured over the past three years, is mid-flight. A lot of decision-making ammo came from FullStory too, from watching replays. We’ve had some watch parties where we replay key sessions and scrub heat maps to figure out why people never click that one button, etc., given the opportunity.
4. Mindset: Does your organization have a culture that facilitates digital innovation (testing and learning, ideas can come from anywhere, etc.)?
We’re steadily evolving in that direction. A key goal of the Continuous Improvement, Innovation Guiding team is to help foster a just and learning culture. Ideas can and should come from anywhere; that’s our vision and values right there. We’re mid-flight on a project that should shed light on how continuous improvement has occurred in our current rapid growth term and historically, with the goal of motivating and encouraging everyone to participate in innovation. Ideas come from everywhere. We’re putting together a framework to formalize, educate, intrinsically motivate and reward our teams for increased participation.
"A key goal ... is to help foster a just and learning culture. Ideas can and should come from anywhere; that’s our vision and values right there."
Q: What are some of your primary objectives right now?
We’ve always been an organization that prioritizes customer service and relationships, while focusing on quality as well as product and solutions-based innovation. We’re modernizing our production and manufacturing capabilities and are heavily invested in reducing carbon emissions and other sustainability and community work. To my knowledge, we now have the largest solar array of any business in Washington State and have won some sustainability awards this year.
I’m also involved in the strategic plan as a technology enabler. I help consult, identify, prioritize and provide tactics and measurable performance objectives in alignment with our strategic initiatives. If my team was on an island we could legitimately keep industrious into the next decade, iterating on solutions and supporting what we’ve already built – but of course we have to stay perpetually aligned with org goals and market changes. We’re still expanding our ecomm footprint, we’re still building web and mobile apps, enterprise integrations, and other proprietary solutions. We perennially iterate on our digital portfolio based on feedback from ownership, leadership, stakeholders, customers and Fullstory to continually improve our end-user experiences.