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The hitchhiker's guide to scaling - Chapter 1, people

By Hélder Dias
Hélder Dias
Sports lover, total comics and anime nerd, and compulsive shopper of Black High Tops sneakers (go well with just about anything).
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The hitchhiker's guide to scaling - Chapter 1, people
By any measure, growing up is hard work. We all remember our teenage years or seeing photos of us during our growth spurts, and how gangly and inadequate we felt for a while (or maybe it was just me). 

The great thing is that we eventually got used to having our longer legs and arms, and we found out we could move confidently with our bodies, play basketball occasionally,  and even be good at it.

Growing a team is similar, especially when we’re talking about hormone powered, teenage-like hyper-growth like the one we experience here.  

We grew the Engineering team that today is present in 6 offices worldwide.

Just like people are unique, companies are unique as well, so there is no recipe for success when you are doing something like scaling a team this fast. 
Nothing you can hear from a mentor, learn in training, or read from a blog somewhere.  However, while there aren’t recipes out there that tell you the right proportions, what you can know is what are the main ingredients to make something like this happen.

They are:

  • People. The single most important ingredient
  • Structure and the "Minimum Viable Process”. You may not always like it, but you are going to need it to support you while you grow - like a cast to help you heal a broken leg.
  • Technology. Not the products that you create for the outside, but the tools you build to use in-house to enable you. 
  • A culture of agility, in the real sense of the word. I don’t just mean using Scrum, Kanban, and XP; I genuinely mean "inspect and adapt” on steroids.
As with any good recipe, when you know what the ingredients are, it’s all about selecting the best of them, choosing the right proportions, cook for the right amount of time, and you should be fine (especially when you are a power user of food delivery just in case something goes south).

Why people are the first aspect that matters.

So you are on a journey to quadruple your team - of course, people are what it’s all about right? It’s a no-brainer. It IS in fact all about people and getting A LOT of them to join. However, you don’t want JUST any people. 

People don’t just work; they create a culture and an environment. So you want to get the right ones through the door, and you want to support and nurture them for them to achieve their goals, and consequently collaborate for you to achieve yours.

First of all, finding them.

When growing at this scale, it’s fundamental for you to have clarity around the type of people you’ll need, the skills you want them to have and where you are going to find them. This is where working with your HR Group (in our case our People Team) is fundamental. Very early on you need to talent map regions, understand how to get the word out there and become very proficient as talent sourcing. One of the requirements to massively scale an engineering area is to massively scale your team and processes to find the best engineers wherever they might be.

Secondly, onboard them in the right way.

So, you found an amazingly talented engineer that wants to join your team - step #1 done. But the next thing is - how are you going to make sure that person’s journey is amazing from the moment they step through your door? Having the right process to onboard people is almost as important as finding them. We have a huge variety of areas, scenarios, ways of working but we strive to have a common culture. So it’s really important that you think your onboarding process to have a common backbone where you share your company story and culture that all people need to know but that from that point it deviates into multiple specific threads that apply to your specific domain, cluster and team. And you want it to be repeatable at scale (so tooling and content building is really important), measurable (so data collection is fundamental) and continuously evolving (so team’s need to own their onboarding process). 

Third, support their growth and their aspirations.

And any amazing engineer you hire will want to grow. Be it in getting training (internal or external) in technology or soft skills, be it in career progression (as an individual contributor or as a people lead) or be it in just moving to different areas. We’ve put loads of effort into putting in place self-learning portals (our own and market tools), pushed down training plan ownership to domain and cluster leaders and have collaborated in building a very clearly defined career plan (we call ours "Go Far”) where each different level has a capability matrix highlighting what you are expected to have achieved to be able to be considered for that position.

Thank you for all the Fish (although I’m more of a meat person)

In spite of all I’ve written above we’re by no means perfect in any of those areas - even though do we did address all of them, they are continuously evolving and changing - I don’t think we ever implemented a measure that was perfect in the first try - so as in product development it’s all about MVP’ing and Iterating.

All in all, it’s an amazing journey - and when you start thinking you have it all figured out, the universe of technology throws you an "organisational quantum physics” curveball, and there you go having to adapt again. 
More on that on later posts!

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