Finding the right team structure and organization

Meetings
Collaboration
Productivity
Scaling Team
Reorganization
Internal Communication
Agile / Scrum

16 April, 2018

David iterated with his team over several “agile” approaches as his company grew and evolved. He explains which strategies worked, for how long, and why.

Problem

As our company grew from 10 to nearing 200, we've seen many processes work temporarily, only to break down as we reached our next phase of growth. It's been important for me to have means to quickly determine when we're outgrowing our existing processes and identify and implement newer, better ones quickly.

Actions taken

As a small technical team, we started by having daily stand-ups and using the traditional scrum methodology to get all our projects done. As the organization grew and individual engineers became managers, this meeting got very large and it became clear as it ran long that it was not the most effective use of everyone's time. By having regular retrospectives, post-mortems, and "affinity diagram" brainstorming sessions, we were constantly in touch with what processes were no longer working for us. With regular 1-on-1 conversations between the senior members of the team and myself, we were able to discuss alternatives and trial them out. Most of these alternatives came from researching online what other organizations used. As we grew, individual teams had their own standups, and then the leads of each team had a "lead stand up" -- while this resulted in leaders having more than one stand up each day, it enabled very efficient, effective communication that allowed us to avoid other meetings. We separated the team into product-focused teams, called "Workstreams", each led by an individual product manager. While this helped to scale the workload, we found that engineers did not have great visibility into other parts of the business and thus didn't always make the right "small decisions" in their daily work. Based on this, we switched to Spotify's "Squads" system which has worked better for us. During this entire time, we've kept our "daily leads" meeting, 1-on-1s, retrospectives and quarterly brainstorms, and other processes to ensure we're constantly aware of what's going well and not going well.

Lessons learned

While a certain set of processes may have worked well at most of the organizations you may have been a part of, no processes are "one-size-fits-all". Thus, it's critical to have a persistent feedback mechanism and regular open dialog with your team on what is working well and not well with your processes, and, as you scale, to be brutally honest with changes. Often times we may not hear from the individual engineers on our team, so it's important that we regularly solicit their opinion on these topics -- they often won't bring concerns up until we ask.


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