Focus points when growing your Engineering organization

Twitter brought the talk from Kris Gale, VP Engineering at Yammer to me. Kris talks about his experience on how to scale an engineering organization from 2 people up to more than 30 engineers.

“Why Yammer believes the traditional engineering organizational structure is dead”, Kris Gale – VP Engineering

My take-aways:

1) Small interdisciplinary teams ship faster. True. Experienced on my own. Don’t specialize to much – let people mix and keep the team at a certain size.

2) Don’t organize yourself in specialized domains (e.g. back-end, front-end, middleware, …)

3) Let the experts make engineering decisions as soon as possible. This needs trust. Hire people who are more expert than you are. Let them decide and keep the process flowing – not allowing any pauses in the flow. The experts are ways better decision makers than managers.

“I don’t think you should be building a product. I think you should be building an organization that builds a product.”

4) Yammer build features with three core metrics in mind:

  • Virality (attract customer)
  • Engagement (retain customer)
  • Monetization (sell to customer)

All features have to improve one or more metrics. Otherwise they change the product for no reason.

5) The 2 and 10 rule. Yammer assigns 2 to 10 people and let a project run 2 to 10 weeks. All other attempts proved wrong and created failure.

6) Avoid code ownership. Everybody owns the code. No heros defending their great code.

7) People assignment works with a “Big Board”. Every engineer has a magnetic button “now” and “future”. The board has all projects listed. Every engineer is asked to put his “now” button on where he’s working currently and his “future” button where he plans to work next. This is great to improve transparency and needs the organization to FOCUS.

Company values – Short-term revenue versus long-term success?

Company values are discussed controversial. Some people (especially managers) like them – others (especially employees) hate them. Often enough they turn out to be not more than words – but if used wisely they guide a whole business and turn managers into leaders.

One question I repeatedly discuss and hear is

“Why should a company focus on values, culture and all this fluffy stuff? Revenue is what counts!”.

Well, allowing 30 seconds think time about this sentence leads you – perhaps – to agreement with the message in this sentence. If you allow some more time and take sustainability, long-term success and reasonable growth into account, the answer might be different.

Here is a great blog entry by Brent Gleeson: Never Sacrifice Values for Growth

My takeaway:

Core values of a company – or guiding principles – set a framework for your employees and yourself when acting in the mind of your business. Sit down at least once in your organization and think about what you really care about.

However, core values tend to become very easily buzz words. To prevent this, consider:

  1. Be authentic – only define the core values if you’re really willing to follow them and let them guide your daily work and behavior. They will form your company culture!
  2. Recruit wisely – let the values guide you in recruiting processes. Only if the candidate fits into your core value system – hire him/her.
  3. Share with clients – talk about your core values – share them with your customers. Like-minded customers will become even more loyal.
  4. Live the values – define them, know them and let them guide you!