2 challenges of Scaling Engineering Teams: what the unicorn Traveloka had to overcome
Traveloka is one of the fastest growing technology and travel company in Southeast Asia. This Indonesian unicorn company was established in 2012 and quickly revolutionized travel through technology in Asia. The company is expanding globally and ScaleUp Academy is fortunate to have Traveloka’s VP of Engineering, Denni Gautama, as a guest mentor in one of its online mentoring sessions.
Companies especially growing Tech companies, at one point, will undergo challenges in their engineering departments as they scale. All to well, we have heard of popular companies face the difficult stages of scaling their engineering teams at the start and how they overcame these so called challenges.
Scaling Engineering Teams – Challenge 1
“The rise of inexperienced leaders”
According to Denni, the first challenge they faced was watching their superstar engineers fail at handling both management roles and doing technical projects at the same time. The company started with five engineers and at one point reached about a hundred. The pioneer engineers where young, motivated and did everything. With the impending growth, their best engineers were promoted to lead engineers and managing more than they could handle.
The promoted lead engineers became the technical trainers but have no experience in managing people. This quickly became a problem where conflicts arose and projects were not finished on time. As the lead engineers get sidetracked by minor problems in managing and overseeing the engineers’ day to day operations, they get overwhelmed and unable to perform what they were really good at.
So, realizing the problem at hand, they started to recruit and hire engineers and project managers outside Indonesia, who are experts in certain engineering fields and management aspects. They re-structured their organizational hierarchy that includes a CTO (Chief Technology Officer), from Project Managers and Lead Engineers, to entry-level engineers. The new structure enabled everyone in Engineering to focus on their jobs and follow a roadmap to where the company is headed.
Denni stressed that choosing one engineer who can manage himself and the team independently is a better choice than choosing to promote an engineer based on his seniority or expertice in a specific niche. He is quick to point out that not everyone grows when promoted to management level. Others thrive in their own fields and a management role would just make them stagnant and unhappy. These things should be taken into consideration by management when scaling talent.
Scaling Engineering Teams – Challenge 2
“Noise in the communication flow”
Another challenge they faced is the flow of communication between management and the rest of the engineering workforce. How decisions were conveyed and made, who approves projects and how the directions were given, are the main concerns of having an effective communication in the organization.
Denni mentioned that currently, they have built teams for specific products and within these teams, there are Lead Engineers. These Lead engineers then reports to their Project Managers, and the managers report to the CTO. Each of these teams work autonomously but from time to time, they may get instructions from the higher management that they need to comply to.
He is also quick to point out that sometimes, decision-making plays differently in larger organizations. This kind of structure is inevitable if for example, the employees number to about a thousand and having five hundred engineers in the company. Eventually, you will need to design a structure so that the current employees see the growth that they can be part of. They will see a career path. In terms of giving autonomy to the teams and empowering them with decision making, and hitting their matrix (e.g. conversions).
In larger engineering team set-ups, decisions regarding the distribution of resources, funds and work, needs to be thought of well so as to avoid conflicts among the teams. Company culture is also established early. Information and context, unless of course critical to the business, can be freely shared within the organization. Traveloka makes it very easy for their people to share information by implementing a tool and collaborating methods so that everyone can reach anyone within the company including the CTO’s, CEOs, VP’s, etc. Their top leaders are also implementing this kind of culture as well which is encouraging openness to avoid gaps between hierarchies.
In ending to this article, we all know that problems abound as companies start to scale. We can only look up to them, learn from these established and seasoned companies such as Traveloka’s mistakes and how they overcame challenges so that we may learn from their progress. Although needs and situations differ from one company to another, the ability to manage expectations based from other companies’ experience in the process of scaling, may all together bring forth success in your company as you scale. If you’re craving more, join the ScaleUp Academy community by subscribing our newsletter and get the relevant content about the scale up process and leadership development, as well the last news about ScaleUp Academy.