We don't push anyone artificially; newcomers move on their own, says Adastra's architect and delivery manager, Jan Karban
"We have quite a broad portfolio of competencies. Of course, each competency requires a slightly different background, but generally, people in our team have to be motivated, eager to do something, and have common sense. And also a great deal of inventiveness," says Zdeněk Hruška, who manages the 100-strong automotive and manufacturing team at Adastra, in the Adastra podcast.
Ivana Karhanová: She manages a 100-strong team that looks after customers such as ŠKODA AUTO, Valeo, and Magna. She delivers projects in business intelligence, big data planning, and artificial intelligence. Zdenek Hruska, hi.
Zdeněk Hruška: Hi.
Ivana Karhanová: Zdeněk, let's describe a couple of projects you're currently working on.
Zdeněk Hruška: There is quite a wide range of projects, so I'll pick two. It's about forty projects, so we will be here for a long time. One of our two most prominent projects deals with emissions, which has been quite a popular topic over the last few years. This project aimed to help ŠKODA simulate future emissions at the level of cars sold within the European region.
Ivana Karhanová: To meet the standards, or not to exceed them and not to pay fines?
Zdeněk Hruška: In order to meet some legislative requirements given by the European Union and other countries around the world, the project was interesting in that it was a large project. It was gradually implemented for all four major brands of the VW Group, so it was ultimately an international project, and it combined a number of project disciplines. Whether it started on the planning side, standard business intelligence reporting, to some more advanced optimization and AI techniques in the background.
Ivana Karhanová: And the other one?
Zdeněk Hruška: I would probably also choose from the ŠKODA area. That was again a project focused on container optimization in logistics. It was a rather small project, but it was very successful in the media because ŠKODA AUTO boasted about this project in various media. And the project brought quite interesting savings in terms of emissions and financial resources.
Ivana Karhanová: I guess we could explain that we were able to get more goods into the containers using artificial intelligence, so in the end, all the products left in fewer trains, saving emissions.
Zdeněk Hruška: Exactly.
Ivana Karhanová: Your team has a total of a hundred people. How is it managed?
Zdeněk Hruška: We have several levels of management. Of course, a portfolio of forty projects has to be divided into groups somehow, so I have several program managers in my team. Everyone is responsible for several projects, and we try to ensure that each project has a project manager or, for smaller projects, a team leader. And then it depends on the composition of that team, because some of them are purely analytical, for example. For some teams, development is complex, from analysis to deployment and some support. And then, it also depends a lot on the domain, whether it's artificial intelligence or application development. There are also differences in business intelligence.
Ivana Karhanová: What kind of boss are you?
Zdeněk Hruška: That's a tough question. I try to be fair and demanding to both my team and myself. But I like soft motivators, so I'm a softer boss.
Ivana Karhanová: What do you forgive people for, and what don't you get away with?
Zdeněk Hruška. So sometimes problems happen on projects, and there is more of an effort to solve them together. What I don't forgive are passivity and laziness.
Ivana Karhanová: How do you have it in your team with working hours and how people can be in the home office or, on the contrary, they should be in offices?
Zdeněk Hruška: There, it's very much distorted by covid. However, it depends on the role. We generally allow home office. However, it is good to contact your colleagues and the customer at least once or twice a week. So we try to motivate project managers to do project days. The recommendation is that the whole team should be at Adastra or the customer at least one or two days a week. And again, it depends on the nature of the activity. The business analysts should be in close contact with the customer, so they go directly to the customer and sit with them. Usually, it's about more time spent on the customer side. The more development-focused the person is, the more we can afford to have them in the home office or working directly from Adastra. So on average, it's like two or three days home office or here at Adastra and two or three days at the customer.
Ivana Karhanová: When a newcomer joins your team, how does he or she work his or her way in? When is he able to be a full-fledged member of the team?
Zdeněk Hruška: To some extent, it is individual. Of course, it depends on a certain background and everyone's setup. And it also depends on the competency that we're talking about, but on average, it takes up to three months, three-plus months, with the fact that when someone new comes in, they get full support actually from two people, because we have a line, a permanent structure. So it should be looked after quite heavily by the line manager at the beginning, and then, in addition, it depends on the technology area. Every newcomer gets a mentor to help them get into the project and into that competency.
Ivana Karhanová: What is the national composition of your team, and what language do you communicate in - Czech or English?
Zdeněk Hruška: We communicate primarily in Czech, but the team is international and mixed. It also changes over time. We have a colleague from Spain. I have several colleagues from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, etc. There are more countries that I could name. We communicate in English on some projects, and our customers are not only Czechs, so we communicate in German or English on projects directly. So it's more of an international environment, but the Czech language is predominant.
Ivana Karhanová: How are you doing with part-time jobs? What is the minimum amount of work a person must do if they want to work for you?
Zdeněk Hruška: Of course, most teams are full-time, but about twenty percent of the team works part-time. Either because they need to take care of their family or, and this is a more common reason, work while studying. So, while studying, we have a part-time person helping on a project, and then concerning that, we deal with maybe thesis supervision or some contribution to the undergraduate thesis. We try to create space for students to participate in our projects part-time.
Ivana Karhanová: What should a person know as a minimum if they want to join your team?
Zdeněk Hruška: For me, the most important thing is to have the right motivation and a basic background. But again, it varies a lot depending on the competencies. For example, if someone wants to do artificial intelligence, they must have a fairly strong mathematical or statistical background. So it's a little bit different for each competency. But in general, the most important thing is motivation, desire to do something, and common sense. And we usually try to support and develop people through various training courses, internal or external, and colleagues in the team. This is not only true for newcomers, but we try to ensure that every team member is straddling multiple competencies. So training and development should be something completely natural.
Ivana Karhanová: And how does training work? Do you allow everyone to choose what they would like to do?
Zdeněk Hruška: No, it's not that we are in an unlimited world of possibilities. So it has to be somehow related to our work. But the portfolio of competencies that we have at Adastra is quite broad. We deal with long-term development and goals more in the feedback interviews, which is part of saying what direction you would like to study and what direction you would like to go in. Then within that, maybe you get full support - either in the form of some external training or we have a lot of our internal training and mentors. So they'll get into a pool of some competencies and develop.
Ivana Karhanová: How many inventions do you expect from individual team members?
Zdeněk Hruška: A lot. Invention is essential in our industry because we need to invent new things. We need to bring new solutions to our customers, to help them just go somewhere.
Ivana Karhanová: Says Zdeněk Hruška, who heads the automotive and manufacturing team at Adastra. Thanks for the interview.
Zdeněk Hruška: Thank you.