From Software Engineer to Managing The Responsibilities of A Product Team
Director of Engineering at MaintainX
With a company like Slack that regularly deals with hyper-growth, there are bound to be some challenges and problems. Here are some of the bigger ones Shilpi had to overcome and still deals with regularly:
- She has to find a way to align everyone working on a product from the product manager to the product designer to the engineers. Cross-functional efforts can be very demanding.
- Deciding whether to be first to market on products or to put more energy and time into creating the most viable product.
- Knowing who to collaborate with, internally and externally, and how to use these collaborations to their advantage.
- Making sure her team and other teams aren't stretched too thin due to all the different initiatives and products Slack is currently working on.
- This is especially true of her engineering team
- Knowing when to switch gears and stop working on something to allocate resources towards another feature set.
- Not receiving feedback from groups who might have a valuable perspective on the product development process
Taking on cross-functional teams allowed Shilpi to develop a knack for ensuring everyone was on the same page when it came to developing a product that touched many different groups. Due to the new demand, she recognized the need to hire four new engineers, three backend, and one front end. Some internal shifts were also needed to round out her team. As the team grew, she started asking herself the question, "What would make this product successful?" This question became a guide for her to try and make sure that everyone was working towards a unified product. She decided a collaborative approach would make more sense even if in some cases this meant it would take more time to get something to market. Instead of being first to market, she focused on building a strong foundation. Ideally, her approach would allow them to connect with other organizations. Working with other organizations, like Google, as it related to new products might help them determine who might be partners or early adopters of that product. Due to her due diligence, Shilpi and her team always started with the first version of a product. She then made sure that everyone made sure to get the chance to give feedback for that first version. Unfortunately, some products might not be worth investing more time in. This means Shilpi and her team have to make the hard decision to switch gears and focus on the products that might be more valuable. By changing speeds, they found themselves forced them to consider what adoption might look like from many different angles. Since many teams handle many responsibilities at Slack, Shilpi made sure to communicate with the other groups properly. She needed to make it clear that the work her team was doing should be beneficial to all involved. Primarily, it would employ them with what they needed to do their jobs more effectively.
One of the biggest things she learned and applied through this experience is to put her people first. This is reflected by the fact that she grew her team from three to fifteen over five months. It now consists of two different teams: the infrastructure team and the platform admin team. These two teams makeup half of Slack's Platform Ecosystem product pillar and are arguably two of the biggest teams with large surface areas. By taking care of her people and being an informational and strategist filter, she was able to ensure they did not get pulled in too many directions. She did as much as she could to ensure they had the resources and time to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. She says that even if they fail, it is her job to make sure that they are taken care of. By being there for them and getting them where they want to go, she found out just how impactful and effective her teams could be. She asked herself the question, "What would make this product successful?" which allowed her to ensure that the end product was the result of unified, cohesive collaboration. She learned that a strong foundation and sound reasoning could be more important than being first to market. She says that it is one her mantras too, "create a strong foundation." A strong foundation is what she believes can create the best product. Knowing that there is a good foundation means that there is a purpose behind every action and they aren't just adding feature after feature. As Shilpi advocated for her team, this allowed them to solidify whether a product/project was a feature or a product they should invest in. This was one of the ways that building a strong foundation can allow them to be to market early on a product. By building a version 1.1, Shilpi learned that she would have an opportunity to receive valuable feedback from not only every other team but her team as well. It allowed them to recognize product gaps and technical gaps, which allowed them to address and solve them. By knowing when to switch gears on a project, this allowed Shilpi and her team the opportunity to put their energy and resources towards more worthwhile projects. She recognized that continuing to collect feedback and pushing through on a product that is not worth it ends up being much more detrimental than productive. Ideally, it will be much more impactful to adjust, even if it is painful to do so. Of course, one of the trickier things that she needed to overcome is the cross-functional nature of her work. Convincing everyone to make these changes can be very uncomfortable and challenging. Due to all the different working parts, Shilpi recognized the importance of everyone being on the same page and making sure that everyone is speaking the same language. The strategist should have done their part, and the common goals need to be established to make sure that the right people have gotten the correct information. She is making sure that the short term and long term goals are aligned with Slack's direction. To summarize things in a way that displays Shilpi's approach, she believes that going the extra mile is a powerful way to conduct oneself. By the nature of giving more, she can model behavior that others would acknowledge and be willing to follow.
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Director of Engineering at MaintainX
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