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The Necessity of Reorganization of teams and processes in a Growing Company

Product Team
Reorganization
Roadmap

1 February, 2019

Becky Flint
Becky Flint

Founder and CEO at dragonboat Inc.

Becky Flint speaks about her time as VP of Product Programs for a fast growing technology company. Becky was brought in to scale the company’s product execution to better support the company’s growth from 250 to 500 employees globally.

Problem

As the business grew, the demand on product execution became more complex - teams had to support existing customers' needs, exploit new market opportunities, and address growth stalling tech debt. The product and engineering teams were organized by areas. As the company grew, each area grew proportionally but most of the features touched several product areas. This led to three main problems:

  • Dependencies became more frequent between teams. Because each team had their own roadmap and priorities, dependencies were often identified during development phase. So teams had to either wait for the other teams to pick up the work, or create a work around. This caused either immediate feature delay or over time created more tech debt and inconsistent user experience.
  • Teams were was asked to add new features from all departments (e.g.. Sales requested a feature to close a deal or Support had key customer escalations). A customer focused culture let team members to drop their current project to work on the new customer asks.This caused some existing feature get left on the backburner while the rest of company thought the planned feature would be delivered as originally promised, which in turn led to miscommunications to customers or partners.
  • Because team size is permanent but roadmap demand for each team varies, some teams had very few strategic features and resorted to refactoring all the time, while some other teams had too much on their plate. Both led to morale problems.

Actions taken

Many people think problems such as chaos and misalignment are unavoidable growing pains. However, they are often addressable problems by taking these actions: First, leaders need to adjust their perspective as the company grows. At a smaller company, leaders are used to keeping tabs on the company through day to day scrums and one on one meetings. As the company grow, it's necessary to have separated vantage points for executives and 2nd level leaders. Executives need to look at the big picture and provide goal clarity to their leaders and the rest of team. In this case, we created a quarterly process to evaluate our main focuses at the company level. This provided the guiding principles for the rest of team to prioritize and manage their product features/ work scope. Second, communication is critical for growing companies and it can't rely on ad hoc updates. We created a source of truth Execution Roadmap collaborated between product and engineering leaders across all product areas This Execution Roadmap aligns product features to priorities, accounts for cross team dependencies, and adjusts for the needs of none feature work, such as production support and tech debt management. This source of truth roadmap greatly reduced the communication chaos between product and engineering teams, and with the rest of company. Third, company growth is never proportional in all areas all the time. We implemented a semi-permanent team structure. Based on the quarterly focus, we built the execution roadmap, and adjust team sizes to reduce cross team dependencies, enable appropriate resources for the most impactful work or identify gaps to prioritize hiring.

Lessons learned

It took us four months to transform the organization. After we took the actions detailed above, our company was able to release features at a much more efficient rate while keep the team motivated and engaged. Like the growth of human babies, changes to the team and process of an organization are much more drastic during the early stages of growth. At key stages of a company's scaling, leadership must reorganize both teams and processes because the structure of the previous phase will not work anymore.Some common inflection points are less than ten employees, 50 employees, 250 employees, 1000+ employees.

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