Efficiency Rethought: Meet Matthias the Ghostlab Architect

A new kind of efficiency: how we work

One of our most important values at Vanamco is the focus on improving efficiency and workflow. So it makes sense that our Ghostlab browser testing app is designed to do just that. By enabling seamless testing across all devices simultaneously, Ghostlab reduces avoidable workloads and frees up development teams to focus on the thing that really matters – their creativity. This in turn streamlines the process and boosts productivity, leaving more room for innovation and saving money for our users’ businesses.

How do we know? Because we count ourselves among Ghostlab’s users – as you’ll be hearing in a moment from our own coder Matthias Christen, whose ideas are making developers’ lives easier every day. But first we’d like to give you an insight into our in-house development and teamwork culture at Vanamco, and explain how a team-wide collaborative approach is central to our own creative process.

Why it makes sense

Between the moment when an idea is born and the point where it comes to life in a tangible product, the timeframe depends on how effective our team is at working together. The complexities involved in designing, developing and implementing ideas mean that transparency and integrated teamwork at every step of the process is absolutely crucial. Even small decisions made now can have a knock-on effect through the entire chain, setting the team back and creating workloads of sideways and backwards steps.

By learning to think collectively as a team, engaging in constant feedback and discussion, and taking group responsibility for each decision, we can build trust and create the forward momentum for the big picture. Keeping everyone in the loop and actively involved, breaking deliverables down to be more lightweight, and closing the efficiency gaps throughout the team means that we’re able to be more efficient – so that Ghostlab can make businesses more efficient for its users.

Learning to think collectively

It’s no longer good enough to assign boilerplate tasks to individual colleagues and expect them to reveal their efforts at the next group meeting. That way of working leaves too many gaps for miscommunication, wasted time and potential dead-ends. It’s why on all our projects, we encourage pooling ideas and decisions, and learning to think collectively.

To create a steady flow of meaningful work, and to avoid backwards steps, every member of the team needs access to brainstorms, discussion of ideas and decision-making. When small problems are solved as a team along the way, it makes overall challenges more hassle-free and more manageable, which results in better products and services at the end of the line.

However, our idea of collaboration is not a rule, but more an environment. It’s about creating the opportunity for more focused teamwork across an entire project, and a space that allows every member the freedom to express their own ideas, without the frustration of reworking and taking backwards steps. This way, everyone’s skill sets are put to their best use – which ultimately makes team members feel more integral and hopefully happier!

Keeping in the loop

With the exponential growth in new systems for devices emerging all the time, it’s crucial that we’re able to cover all bases. That’s why a tandem approach to solving problems, big or small, is so much more effective than previous models. Creating unified solutions across all devices means a unified approach must be encouraged within the team at every step, which means keeping every member in the loop at all times.

The old ways of delegating checklist jobs to workers who perform each task and wait around impatiently for the next assignment, are thankfully disappearing. But plenty of opportunity is still wasted through outdated and time-intensive meetings where those not in the loop need to be brought up to speed. By keeping everyone within communication loops at all times, feedback becomes an ongoing process which actually helps a project to gather more momentum, rather than slowing things down.

This enabling of a continuous back-and-forth between different parts of the team, of course, is a process that requires some commitment and can take some getting used to. Everyone needs to be onboard – otherwise it can have a knock-on effect that slows the project and adds avoidable hours onto timesheets. That’s why it’s vital that any potential complexities within the project are communicated right away, and team members get together regularly to discuss ideas.

And last, but certainly not least – having people on the same page from the start to finish of a project also takes the pressure off individuals, whose work everyone is up to speed on, without the need for grand unveilings further down the line.

Breaking problems down and building trust

Of course, bringing ideas to life involves showing new work to colleagues from time to time – but the key here is to ensure that any such deadlines are frequent and that deliverables are kept lightweight. This means encouraging the team to always keep up to date by sharing sketches and first-step ideas with colleagues, rather than waiting to reveal the fully-formed solution.

By enabling team members to stay on-track with the progress of a project, right through design and development, it means we can engage in meaningful debate along the way and identify any potential spanners in the works. As soon as it’s possible to present a basic example of a new idea, we check to see if it fits with the shared collective idea of where the project should be headed.

Colleagues are invited to discuss the pros and cons of prototype ideas though bite-size sketches, allowing feedback before anyone works in the wrong direction. This is a huge advantage when looking for a more efficient workplace set-up. Crucially though, it’s also about creating trust within the team – if a new idea comes to fruition that might affect the team’s work, the whole team needs to be involved, through a transparent creative process.

Closing efficiency gaps

Efficiency gaps can rear their ugly heads whenever teamwork starts to stutter. This can be a result of a multitude of sins – not enough communication, or motivation, or simply not being on the same page. And these gaps can grow quickly on a fast-moving project, which is why it’s doubly vital that feedback loops are free-flowing between designers, developers, and everyone else on the team.

Accountability for workloads and decision-making is made easier if we can track what everyone else on the team is up to. This creates room for more innovation and less backtracking, so that the team can focus on what they really love – making better products and helping users gain a richer understanding of what Ghostlab can do for them.

One such key player in our team is Matthias Christen. Since joining to work on Ghostlab at the beginning of 2013, Matthias has played a central role in the app’s development, and in last month’s blog Matthias was described by our frontend developer Andi Dysart as “the genius that codes the products and brings ideas to life”.

We caught up with Matthias to find out his thoughts on how the project is making headway:

1. What’s your name, how did you come to Ghostlab and what is your role?

My name is Matthias Christen, and on my first day at Vanamco in January 2013 I received Florian’s prototype of what was later to become Ghostlab. Today I’m responsible for the architecture and most of the coding of Ghostlab, which ranges from the low-level native C++/ Objective C code, up to the JavaScript/HTML5/CSS frontend code.

2. How does your role fit into the team?

It’s my job to come up with new ideas, and also to listen to new ideas from other team members and our users. The next stage is about thinking how those ideas might fit into Ghostlab, how they could be integrated technically, and then finally carrying out the actual implementation. I also answer technical support tickets, but I’m glad I can leave all the marketing and sales to Andi because he’s doing such a good job at it.

3. What’s your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy trying out and prototyping new ideas, and integrating them further down the line as new features in Ghostlab. Overall, I also enjoy the everyday process of creating a user-friendly software architecture.

4. Can you describe some of the professional challenges in your role?

Ghostlab has grown into a pretty complex project over the last one and a half years. For me personally, this has been both a challenge and a great chance to hone my software architecture and engineering skills.

5. What’s been your proudest achievement project-wise whilst working with on Ghostlab?

I’m proud of having grown the prototype code into a full app which our users find useful today – and which we ourselves use all the time when we develop webapps.


If your friends are trying to become more efficient in their jobs or business, share this article with them now and help them out.

Each month we’ll be introducing you to some of the faces in our eclectic team here in Zurich, to open the doors on Ghostlab and hopefully give insights into what motivates us behind the scenes. As ever, we’d love to hear your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube and below, and hear your stories about how efficiency and Ghostlab have affected you.


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By Florian Mueller