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Remaining Stable and Collaborative While Scaling

Leadership
Collaboration
Onboarding
Scaling Team
Diversity

4 February, 2019

Fabrice Robini, vice president of engineering at Aircall, discusses strategies to sustain a well balanced and collaborative team during the scaling process.

Problem

Startup scale is fast. Delivering new features, increasing productivity, quality and commitment while growing the team are key challenges. Agile methodologies and feature-team organizations help a lot. Short sprints give teams loads of adrenaline to tackle it head on. That's good for the short-term. But in a longer-term vision, how to keep it sustainable with a forward-thinking marathon strategy ? In a scaling environment with new hires, how to keep Engineers motivated and even more committed ?

Actions taken

  • I turned into a squad/cross-functional team organization, each squad responsible for a dedicated topic during a quarter (we used OKR per quarter).
  • I delegated ownership to the squad : engineers identify with project manager what features to build, they scope & estimate, take decisions, release to production.
  • I shared performance expectations for each of my engineer according to our career path. I tracked progression along the quarter by doing one-on-one every two weeks.
  • I ensured squads do daily continuous deployment : pushing code to production everyday is a good way to ensure a quick feedback cycle, in real conditions.
  • I ask my engineers to track their features KPIs : usage & performance. Always keeping these metrics in mind is mandatory to check if we're heading in the right direction.
  • I introduced « Squad weekly summary », a 20 minutes presentation at each end of sprint. Done by each squad, this presentation is an "executive summary" about productivity, commitments & decided actions within squad -> It enforces ownership.
  • I allow my engineer to switch into another squad at a semester frequency basis but according to their performance and their career path.

Lessons learned

  • Growing as an Engineer means bigger impact. Impact is not only on Tech knowledge. It includes leadership, communication and product knowledge skills. Building the career path with engineers is a good way to spread the word.
  • It's really important to ensure all engineers have (at-least) a 6-months vision in mind to decide what features need to be done within this vision. Make sure engineers are part of product/project scoping.
  • Giving the right context to squads to make them take decisions. It is mandatory when scaling: It enforces commitment. You say it, you own it.
  • It is important to have a minimum pair of referent for each product / stack, so they can help and train new comers.
  • Don't change organisation (squads / teams) too often. Squads remain stable mostly during a semester.
  • Invest on one-on-one with each engineer: a 30 minutes meeting every two weeks. Giving feedback (good and what to improve) is necessary. It is important to not skip it and take some time to identify and prepare feedbacks to share.

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