Q&A with Paulo Andre, Director of Engineering at HelloFresh
#Topic: From Engineering to Engineering Management
I have been with HelloFresh since 2015 and started as a member of the engineering team. As the company grew, I took in more of a leadership role, building and managing a team, then later directing teams. HelloFresh is a food service company that delivers meal kits to its subscribers.
What we do:
The company literally removed the barriers to home cooking — no planning, no shopping, no stress.
Core Ideas when you’re transitioning to a leadership role:
1. Your output is no longer just your output but the output of your team. The good thing is you know what it’s like to be on the other side of the fence and that gives you an advantage of knowing what works and what doesn’t.
2. Your job is to win and to increase your capacity to win. Think of how you can succeed and do better now.
3. When you’re leading a team, be goal driven, results oriented. Be specific with your goals and care about the results. Understand your product and your customers.
The Engineering Management Role
– Unblocking the road to achieve goals
– Aligning everyone to ensure the goals are reached
– Building the ideas and engineering for experiments and tests like Rapid Testing and AB Testing
Rapid Testing — experimenting quickly with different things to understand what works and what doesn’t.
AB Testing — Comparing two sets of experiments to determine which one is better
Key Question 1
Do you think there’s any difference between promoting an employee from the current pool of talents and hiring outside the company?
My experience with the company is that they mostly promote from the team. I’m not sure how other companies do it but in my opinion, I think it’s with senior level roles like VP’s that companies tend to hire outside their organizations.
Key Question 2
How do you increase the capacity to win with a team that is multiculturally diverse?
First, it will depend on the people that you have. From the start, think long and hard about your recruitment process and how you hire people. It’s extremely important to get the right people on the bus. Sometimes, you also need to get the wrong people off the bus. In reality, some people are not suited for the job or they’re not the right fit to the company. Figure out what you are and what you aren’t. It’s about building the culture.
Second, communication plays a vital role as you keep growing. Figure out your communication structures. If your team is small enough to fit in a room, you don’t need to care much about communication because everyone is together. It’s when the company starts to grow and expand geographically that the communication flow have a tendency to get disrupted. Find ways to make sure everyone is communicating and understanding each other.
Key Question 3
Is building communication structures enough as the team grows, especially when you have to manage other teams in different locations?
When you start going into different geographies, you have to deal with a lot of challenges in communication such as different timezones. Also, what works for 10 people will not work for a hundred people. And what works for a hundred people will not work for a thousand people. You will need to keep reinventing yourself and everyone needs to continue learning in the process. So you have to think in terms of what you have to do that you don’t have to reorganize structures every six months, every year, or start from scratch. Having cross functional teams helps to reduce the dependencies between the teams that you have, so that you can move fast without having to depend on everybody else to get every little thing done. See what works for you and treat everything as an experiment.
Key Question 4
How do you set your goals so that success is determined in as little as a year?
It’s a complex process especially if the company is quite big. Consider how long it takes to develop something. What is the effort or the cost in developing the product? In productivity, success can be measured in terms of a working product and if it delivers value to your customers. It’s also a debate between efficiency and effectiveness. You can set goals by doing OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework. The objective part asks “where do we want to go?”. The key results part is asking “how do we get there?”.
Key Question 5
What is the test you do before launching a product?
There’s always different kinds of experiments that can run either on our core product or whatever innovation we’re working on. For example, on new product developments, when we try to see how it will work for us, we do “no operations testing”. What we do is we gather a small group of customers to try the new product that we don’t have the position to fulfill yet and then we gauge their interest and excitement before we plan on launching the product.
Key Question 6
Do you have any recommendations on how to engineer management for a 12 to 15 member team doing a mass recruitment of managers and training them within six months?
It’s inevitable to put effort up front and the quality of this effort is going to dictate how successful you’re going to be in bringing up a set of managers. Effort in terms of these managers being self sufficient. Having mentors and coaches are relevant too. You have to make an investment. Be aware of your priorities. Also, it’s important to help and support the struggling people instead of the ones who are already ahead because these people in turn will likely help the struggling ones and you will have a multiplier effect that will pay off in the end. Encourage people to read everything they can get their hands on as reading is super power. Crucial thing to do is to nurture the people you already have and help them become the best versions of themselves.
Key Question 7
Is it possible to forego having an engineering manager for companies that are in the stage of scaling up?
I believe it can work for a little bit because leading people is leading and motivating people. Motivating people has a lot to do with non-technical matters. However, if you want to attract the right talent, it’s important that your tech organization is led by someone that can be respected by people from the inside and outside. Someone who has a strong technical background too.
Key Question 8
What is the right process to ensure that there is a balance between hiring/promoting the right people and letting go of people who don’t perform when the company is scaling up?
When a company is scaling up, it’s important to keep breeding the next wave of talents for the organization to keep growing and to keep reinventing itself. Find out the strengths and weaknesses of these people in the organization. You need to engineer a way to mitigate those weaknesses and harness the strengths so these people can keep growing in their careers. But some companies have the culture of letting go of their own people if they’re not performing. Some people thrive in this set up. It doesn’t mean that because it worked for this company then it should work for your organization too. Find the right fit for your organization. The fundamental thing is to think of ways to make the people who are in your organization already better and better.