This article includes key takeaways from Florian Jourda’s talk on how to scale engineering. You can view the full video on Youtube or check…
Florian joined Box as lead developer back in 2007. With less than 10 employees at the time, the scaling phase and the move to a company of over 1,300 employees by 2015 led to setting rigorous processes for the tech team. With a strong focus on management, Florian reveals the key mindsets and best practices to scale engineering in a booming startup.
3 key mindsets
Mindset #1: Growth
Adopting a growth mindset means operating under the assumption of abundance — not scarcity. When team members adapt to this assumption, they are less likely to view their work environment as competitive because they know that company growth will bring opportunities for themselves and their peers.
Mindset #2: Servant Leadership
A manager must focus exclusively on the team and delegate 100% of projects. That way new hires can learn the code base and take ownership of their projects. Instituting 360° code reviews allows younger team members to review senior team member’s code and learn faster. Also, positionning yourself as a resource at your team’s disposal will teach your tech team to proactively seek out your help before making mistakes.
Note: this may be less feasible for back-end developers than for front-end developers, but in both cases it is an ideal towards which you should tend over time.
Mindset #3: Don’t be a hero
It takes real discipline to make your team less dependent on you. This entails committing to code reviews, rich documentation, and simple code. In the long run, it pays off: less dependence on one early member of the team means less mistakes and the ability for everyone to move across projects and take on new challenges within the company.
6 key best practices
Best practice #1: run projects one at a time
Focus on finish, not on start. By not running projects simultaneously, you stand a better chance of hitting your milestones for each quarter. Your team’s efforts and focus is less scattered and pressure progressively eases off as objectives are completed throughout the quarter rather than in a final sprint.
Best practice #2: Keep written logs
A startup needs to leave oral culture behind as it grows to keep team members on the same page. Committing at the start of a project to a written set of constraints, parameters, and other specifications allows the team to stay aligned throughout and increase delivery.
Note: strategic objectives, product requirement docs, technical design docs, code documentation are all liable to be consolidated in written form and made accessible to the whole team.
Best practice #3: Keep improving the team with debriefs
Tech teams operate on long cycles. Shortening them with weekly debriefs, taking down key feedback, coming up with solutions for improvement, and committing them to the next sprint accelerates the rate of progression of your tech team. Also, it develops a culture of trust in which each member can speak up on any issue.
Best practice #4: Solve problems with 1–1s
Every week or every other week, set time aside for individual 1–1 meetings with each member of the team. The objective here is to gear them towards success. Tackling some of their pressing issues, giving and receiving constructive feedback, as well as by clearing the air should be on the agenda for each 1–1. Work atmospheres can get tense and evacuating that tension with frequent 1–1s can keep your team moving forward at all times.
Note: to make the most out of the 1–1 format, it is best if both participants come prepared with a list of items they’d like to discuss.
Best practice #5: Hire top talent
To draw in the best candidates, it’s important to get good at interviews. That means expressing clearly — for yourself and the candidate — what you are measuring and how you are measuring it. It also implies sticking to a core of scripted questions. The objective is to really be able to compare different candidates on a clear list of criteria that are important to filling the role.
Note: the importance of measuring a “culture match” in interviews is as important as some harder skills. Express company values clearly and test candidates on both skill and culture-based criteria, knowing that it is necessary to satisfy both requirements to be hired.
Best practice #6: Grow your talents
Instituting regular, fair and transparent performance reviews requires a lot of honesty and effort on the manager’s part. The idea behind this is to ensure that the same level of performance is equally rewarded across your entire organization. It is a hallmark of trust-rich companies and will take several cycles of quarterly performance reviews to put in place. But the benefits in terms of well-being for the team are tremendous.
About Florian Jourda:
Florian is Advisor at The Family and at Bayes Impact. Previously, Florian worked as principal architect at Box. During his time at Box the company grew from 7 to over 1,200 employees and Florian built the tech team’s culture and processes to match their massive growth. Follow Forian on Twitter.