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Tools > Process
A few weeks ago I read a post from Rafe Colburn about dysfunctional engineering teams. We happily have a very functional engineering team, but one dysfunction from the post in particular has stuck with me:
Preference for process over tools. As engineering teams grow, there are many approaches to coordinating people’s work. Most of them are some combination of process and tools. Git is a tool that enables multiple people to work on the same code base efficiently (most of the time). A team may also design a process around Git — avoiding the use of remote branches, only pushing code that’s ready to deploy to the master branch, or requiring people to use local branches for all of their development. Healthy teams generally try to address their scaling problems with tools, not additional process. Processes are hard to turn into habits, hard to teach to new team members, and often evolve too slowly to keep pace with changing circumstances. Ask your interviewers what their release cycle is like. Ask them how many standing meetings they attend. Look at the company’s job listings, are they hiring a scrum master?
For a long time I’ve had this idea running around in my head that truly successful product companies find ways to “productize” everything they do. Products, after all, are far more scalable than process, which requires constant training and reminding (as new people come on board you need to train them on your process). We talk to clients about this idea when it comes to creating social content and using Percolate, and we try to live what we preach as well.
As the company has grown we’ve spotted a few needs that don’t seem to be well-addressed by the market and we’ve tried to build some internal products to solve for those. I thought it was worth a few minutes to highlight some of those as a way to explain the way we think about building a sustainable company at Percolate.
We actually first wrote about Barista back in March. It’s a simple tool for asking/answering questions that come up in the day-to-day life of being an employee at Percolate. The elevator pitch for Barista is Quora for companies. Whether it’s where to eat in the neighborhood or why we do something the way we do, it’s really useful to have a store of easily searchable information in the form of questions and answers.
Every product company that ships a lot of code has the same issue: What’s on the roadmap. As we grew there were always questions about what was coming out and when it was coming. We pride ourselves on shipping a lot of code and it’s not easy to constantly keep everyone in the loop and while Asana is a great tool for keeping the product team on the same page, it’s a pretty overwhelming place to wade into if you don’t know all our nomenclature or where to look.
Hence Roadmap: An easy place for everyone to see what’s coming up next for Percolate. What at first was just a simple list of features and dates, has now morphed into priorities, comments, and even designs, enabling the entire company to stay on the same page. As the company has grown we have seen more and more value in Roadmap as a central place for collaboration and are actually making some big updates to make it a more important tool for the product team to stay on the same page as well.
Last but not least is our newest internal tool: MITs. MIT stands for Most Important Thing and is a workaround we’ve been doing for about a year now at our Monday stand-ups. Everyone would go around and say what they were working on for the week and then at the end of the week we’d check to see how everyone did. The goal of MITs is to give a little structure to the week, focus people on their most important goals, and ideally help give a clear boundary to the weekend (hence the Friday check-in). MITs worked pretty well and eventually as the team grew it got to be a little annoying to write them all down. So last week we introduced a tool that sends an email out before the Monday meetings asking what your MIT is. All you have to do is reply to the email and it will automatically add it to the site along with everyone else’s. Then, on Friday afternoon, you get another email asking how you did. Again, you just reply (if you write “complete”, “done” or “crushed it”, amongst other things, it will check it off as completed).
[We didn’t include a screenshot for this one because it hasn’t gotten the Percolate design treatment yet.]
Anyway, all this is to say that we try to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to products over process. We think this is a message marketers need to think hard about and we see it as core to the sustainability and growth of our business long term.