Search
  • Digital Eleven

11 lessons on scaling tech teams

Updated: Nov 14, 2019

We have put together the 11 best learnings on scaling engineering teams.


The Power of iterating - Raylene Yung (Stripe and Facebook)

As organizations evolve, how you scale your team has an enormous impact on your culture, productivity, and employee engagement, and subsequently the success of the business. At quickly growing companies, conditions change rapidly and what’s working well today may not hold up tomorrow. While these practices have helped Stripe scale thus far, they'll continue iterating and develop new ones as they grow.


The power of understanding people - Tim Howes (Loudcloud)

Over 50 people, if you're not formalizing roles, everybody thinks they're a tech lead. And that gets bad. Watch out for the temptation to take your top coders and make them managers. In Howes’ experience, it's usually not the right fit. “They're different skills. The thing to realize is that management is about people, it's not about code,” he says. If someone comes to you with a desire to transition into management, by all means work with them on it. But don’t push.


The Power of writing things down - Gergely Orosz (Uber)

Writing and sharing that writing with others creates accountability. It also almost always leads to more thorough decisions. A simple way to increase code quality? Do code review in writing, before merging. A simple way to have a meeting be less of a waste of time? Have a written agenda before the meeting, then write up and send out decisions and actions afterwards. A simple way to run projects with fewer surprises? Have the team write down what they are planning to do and share it with others.


The epidemic of collaboration - Des Traynor (intercom)

The relationships and conversations get complex quickly. When we were a group of four, there were six unique relationships in total. Every one of us had three people we worked with. This scales quickly. There’s 15 relationships in a group of six people. And a group of 14 has 91 unique relationships. It’s n*(n-1)/2 if you’re curious. The point being that, even as a small company, the complexity of everyone jumping on the same thing increases.


The importance of building momentum - Mohannad Ali (hotjar)

When a team experiences a win, it sparks motivation, which produces additional wins. Winning has a snowball effect, where the more you win, the more you keep winning.


Amazon's ‘growth flywheel’ demonstrates this snowball effect. When an online reseller like Amazon gets quality sellers, they’re better able to serve customers. When customers are happy, they buy more products, which attracts more quality sellers. As the business grows, sellers compete by providing lower-priced products, which further improves the customer experience. Growth breeds growth, momentum breeds momentum.


Carve out a safe space - Jeff Gothelf (Author)

If you want to move forward with a product that defines the future of the company, then you need executive support. To get there, seek out the executive with the clout to carve out a safe space for you and your teams to try out continuous learning, lean startup and product discovery.


Run teams like accelerators - Kirill Bigai (Preply)

I would compare the cross-functional approach with building a business accelerator. Every squad is an independent mini-startup, and your VP level people are mentors. As mentors, they will provide with the right focus, metrics and their expertise when it’s needed. The squads will then execute it independently.


Give me someone who's shipped something - Ken Norton (Google Ventures)

This last characteristic may be the easiest to evaluate. Unless the position is very junior, I’ll usually hire product managers who’ve actually shipped a product. I mean from start to finish, concept to launch. Nothing is a better indication of someone’s ability to ship great products than having done it before. Past performance is an indication of future success. Even better, it gives something tangible to evaluate in a sea of intangibles. When checking references, I always make sure to talk to important colleagues from a previous project, especially the PM’s manager and their engineering and sales or marketing counterparts. (Incidentally, these rules are ordered for a reason, and as I mentioned under #1 I’ll still take a brilliantly smart PM over a dimmer experienced one even if the former hasn’t shipped before).

Give me someone who's shipped something - Alexander Grosse (issuu)

This last characteristic may be the easiest to evaluate. Unless the position is very junior, I’ll usually hire product managers who’ve actually shipped a product. I mean from start to finish, concept to launch. Nothing is a better indication of someone’s ability to ship great products than having done it before. Past performance is an indication of future success. Even better, it gives something tangible to evaluate in a sea of intangibles. When checking references, I always make sure to talk to important colleagues from a previous project, especially the PM’s manager and their engineering and sales or marketing counterparts. (Incidentally, these rules are ordered for a reason, and as I mentioned under #1 I’ll still take a brilliantly smart PM over a dimmer experienced one even if the former hasn’t shipped before).


Minimize tech debt - Edmond Lau (Ooyala)

In the early days of Ooyala, we were so overwhelmed with the queue of inbound customer work that we nearly caved in to lowering our hiring bar so that we could hire enough people to get all our work done. I’m glad that we didn’t, as the technical debt from lower quality code and weaker engineers on the team would’ve ended up hurting the team and the product.


Kill your darlings - Francis Nappez (BlaBlaCar)

Just like the best creatives, a CTO needs to be willing to let go of their hard work. Even if you’ve followed my advice and resisted the temptation to build a cathedral, it can still be difficult to deconstruct hours of work to go back to the drawing board.

But at a certain point in your growth, you must recognize that what got you there won’t take you any further.


#scalingtechteams

93 views

© 2020 by Digital Eleven GmbH, Luise-Ullrich-Str. 14, 80636 Munich, Germany. Responsible for the entire content, everything else related to this site and the company: Cassandra Jahn. To contact us with any legal questions, please write to cj@digitaleleven.de. For details on Imprint and Privacy, please click here. To upload your details to our talent pool, please click here. Congrats - you now made it to the last line, you are done with this page :)