4 areas overlooked when growing Engineering Teams
“The secret to growing your engineering team is tripling the size without losing control of the teams”. You can reach your target fast, but bear in mind that a rapid growth could very well be disastrous when scaling. Managing a team of less than ten engineers is very different than leading hundreds of engineers. Nick Caldwell, Former VP of Engineering at Reddit, shares his experience in scaling engineering teams from a handful to hundreds, in multiple tech companies.
Scaling Engineering teams in various stages over a span of time, has often overlooked key areas that are important to address when growing engineering teams.
1. Finding Managers
Distinguish engineering managers from the architects by asking members of the team, “what do they care more, people or architecture?”. Design interview questions that are built to weed out people who are suited to be managers from people who are better at being architects.
A lot of organizations make the mistake of rewarding employees who had been there since the beginning, by promoting them to managers or team leads. They are invaluable to the organization, no doubt, but learn to evaluate if they are indeed the right fit to be leaders of their own teams, or they are better suited at being the architects in the engineering hive.
2. Roles and Responsibilities
Focused roles are fundamental for scaling. Giving a person a focused role is more effective in an organization when your engineering teams grow, like hiring product managers, engineering managers, directors, and specialized engineers. This helps streamline responsibilities and communications within the company.
However, when your organization is just starting to scale, it is normal for every team member to wear many hats or handle multiple responsibilities. For example, technical leaders usually have roles of being partially a manager and partially an architect at the same time. Eventually, when more people are hired, your company can push for a more specialized set of engineers to build teams responsible for a single product.
3. Execution at scale…Three problems you will need to overcome:
Awareness — This is rooted at the established culture in the organization. Either everyone knows what everyone else is doing or people keep to themselves and do not share information. Management needs to learn how to keep awareness balanced and in check. Some successful organizations reshuffle their teams as frequently as possible to find the best combination of people that delivers the best results.
When you attempt to reorganize your teams, it should be oriented around specific goals.
Coordination — More processes at different levels of the organization. When organizations start scaling, coordination becomes complicated. Keeping the processes in order at its earliest stage will beat a chaotic environment. You need tools and team meetings to keep things in check. Having a clear roadmap and structure, as well as right implementation in place, helps a lot too.
Bottlenecks — Missed dependencies can cripple your production roadmap in ways you don’t expect. Running and managing operations right on schedule is dependent on good planning, staffing, execution, monitoring and target launch.
The best kind of urgency is discipline in disguise. You can have all the tools in the world but it will not matter if your team doesn’t have the sense of urgency. Discipline and inspiration should be used to get teams fired up to understand the importance of their work. Having the engineering teams understand the vision and why it matters to the customers from the bottom up can help bring their best foot forward.
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 Reddit’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.
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