May 2020 -- Kirkland, Washington
OneAccord is proud to announce Joseph Flahiff has joined the team as a Principal. Joseph joined the team after moving on from his own business.
“I was looking back on my career, and the times I’ve enjoyed the most have been the transformation I did with a team of other professionals,” he said. “It was just fun to work with them. That’s what I liked, working with a team of professionals I trusted, who had integrity, who were super smart.”
Joseph figured he could either build his own team of professionals, or he could join one. He had heard of OneAccord, so he made an appointment to talk with its co-founder, Jeff Rogers. After that conversation, he attended one of the team’s monthly mixers and decided OneAccord was the place for him.
“The whole culture, the integrity of the people, the quality of their experience and background, I feel honored that I could be a part of this group. They are brilliant people — I’m happy they let me play.”
Joseph’s focus is systems, which he uses to pull businesses out of slumps and help them grow and move forward. He finds small and mid-sized businesses often need his help when they’re having a hard time growing or the owner can’t take a vacation without worrying the company will fall apart.
“For businesses that do $1 million to $10 million, the owner is often the focal point for everything, and they can’t figure out why they can’t grow,” said Joseph.
Joseph comes into these companies and helps build systems that can keep themselves running. For example, when a system is set up that allows employees to make decisions within certain parameters, owners can truly delegate, which in turn decreases owner dependency issues.
Origins and Efficiency
“I’ve always had a distaste for inefficiency,” said Joseph. “So I will expend a lot of energy to not expend a lot of energy.”
Shortly after he moved to Washington in the fourth grade, Joseph rigged a pulley system that would allow him to open and close his bedroom door and turn his lights on and off — all without getting out of bed. This project required thinking, engineering and learning from failure.
“One of the things I firmly believe is that the only failure is one that you don’t learn from,” he said. “Failure is a good thing; failure is a requirement. I’ll often use the analogy of skiers: If you’re a downhill skier and you’re not falling, you’re not pushing yourself to your greatest ability. You see Olympic skiers fall all the time, that’s because they want to push themselves to their limit.”
After high school, Joseph earned a bachelor’s in business at Central Washington University, where he focused on systems and analysis design. He was drawn back to the Seattle area, in part, by the girl who would soon become his wife. In 1994, they were married and settled down in Everett, where she taught middle school and he worked as a database analyst/report writer.
Joseph was “bored to tears” by his job. For someone who hated inefficiency, writing the same report over and over again with different parameters was untenable. Joseph sought out the team that was installing an early relational database (AREV) for the company, and they taught him how to script. He used this newfound power to write a script that could take on the tedium of report writing. It was a huge success in that it eliminated the inefficiencies of his job, but it also meant he was no longer needed. The company laid him off.
Joseph didn’t have long to wait before he was snatched up Moss Bay Group in Kirkland, where he worked on a number of interesting projects, including designing networks. He helped design the network that made the K20 work. This is a fiber optic network connecting every school from kindergarten through college across the state of Washington.
After five years, Joseph moved to the network engineering firm Seitel Leeds & Associates, where he project-managed the building of the technology for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Seattle Cancer Care Alliance building. He was responsible for all of the building’s tech, from the fiber connections with the rest of campus to the networks carrying communications throughout the building, right down to the cables, wires, outlets, and computers and phones on each desk. Joseph went on to help Fred Hutchinson build several buildings before taking on something new: a software project.
“It was an abysmal failure,” he said. “It was horrible.”
"One of the things I firmly believe is that the only failure is one that you don’t learn from. Failure is a good thing, failure is a requirement.
At the time, project management was based on construction, where you could literally see the progress. Software was an entirely different story. The contractor he had hired to do the coding told Joseph every week that he was 90 percent of the way through the project. When Joseph finally got a look at the code, he discovered the contractor had grossly misrepresented his progress. And his code was terrible.
Joseph found a new contractor to take over and completed the project, but it was over time and over budget. He had learned firsthand that the sequential (waterfall) process that worked so well for construction was inefficient for software. In 2005, he was introduced to Agile. Intrigued, he took a class with Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of the Agile framework, Scrum.
“I became a passionate devotee of the principles of agility,” he said. “I always believed the people doing the work know how to do it more than I do, but Agile gave me a framework to put that around.”
It also allowed him to see the progress of a software project. Joseph started applying everywhere the principles of Agile: high communication, transparency, iterative and incremental work, and delegation.
Standing at the crossroads between traditional processes and Agile, Joseph caught the attention of Regence BlueCross Blue Shield. They were trying to figure out how to work with their web team, who wanted be Agile, and the rest of the business, who wanted to be sequential. Joseph understood both and knew how to communicate between the Agile and the sequential teams. Within three months, he was promoted to leading the program.
After many high-profile, high-risk projects with Regence, Joseph decided it was time to found his own business, Whitewater Projects.
“What I had done at Regence was moved up higher and higher. Doing project management with all Agile teams, I ended up coaching the team leads of smaller teams. After that, I figured I’d just been coaching people, why not just go do this for other companies? I loved that part of it.”
Joseph launched Whitewater Projects and started teaching public classes, his best marketing tool.
“People would attend, and then hire me for their organization,” he said. “I taught simple concepts that were not easy. They were seriously difficult to implement, especially when previous methods had been ingrained in the culture.”
One of Joseph’s customers was Washington State’s Department of Licensing. They had a 24-month project they just weren’t getting around to, and the governor at the time wanted to leave it as his legacy. They hired Joseph, who coached the team that built what is now License eXpress. They took only nine months to complete the 24-month project. The customer support team said they had never seen anyone from IT so relaxed right before taking a project live, which Joseph attributed to the use of Agile.
“It had been running, functioning from the beginning,” said Joseph. “You’re always trouble-shooting, so you don’t go live just hoping things don’t break. All that could break has already broken during development.”
Over the years, Joseph saw Agile go from a new and exciting idea for early adopters to a well-known concept late adopters were starting to notice. He realized late adopters weren’t really excited about the model. They wanted what seemed to be working for everyone else, but they wanted a commodity version with nothing special and no overall culture change, which doesn’t really work. Joseph decided it was time to move on, and finally decided to join the OneAccord team.
Family and the Creative Arts
Outside of work, Joseph has enjoyed pursuing the arts. This includes painting, working with glass, studying theatrical lighting design on Broadway and helping his three daughters pursue their own artistic endeavors.
Joseph’s wife teaches English and drama in the Northshore school district. Their eldest daughter is a senior in college, their second is in high school and the youngest is currently in the seventh grade.