Building A Great Product Development Team & Culture
- Deepak Mohapatra
- June 12, 2018
To be successful, any product development company needs a great engineering team and culture. At Spraoi, we realized this from the beginning and have endeavored to create a global product-focused engineering team, spread across US and India, and an engineering culture that operates on the pillars of sincerity, openness and teamwork while keeping the customer at the center.
We focused on a three-point action plan toward accomplishing this objective:
- Build the right team and enable an environment for high individual impact.
- Tap into the global talent pool, especially in India, and leverage its benefits for our customers.
- Create a single integrated unit that collaborates towards achieving our shared goals.
Here we share some of the insights and learning from our experiences.
Building a Great Engineering Team
The right individuals making the biggest impact.
A team is, indeed, more than just a group of individuals. However, without the right individuals, there is no team. It’s important to hire right people, in terms of talent, skill, temperament and experience and ensure that their vision aligns with the culture you wish to create. For us, some traits such as humility, ability to admit mistakes and desire to learn and participate were as important as competitiveness, problem solving skills and technological competency.
Further, to enable these individuals to shine in their individual capacities, it is best to organize them in small teams. Small teams ensure clarity of individual roles and responsibilities and ownership of product areas.
Ensuring diversity in skills, backgrounds, attitude and temperament.
Diversity is not just a buzzword. In fact, a truly diverse yet cohesive team is advantageous for the long term success of a company, as it tends to focus more on objective facts and information, is more innovative, and assimilates information in creative ways – things that are critical to a quality product development process.
Creating an open and conducive environment via shared goals and understanding.
Once a diverse team&mdashwith varied capabilities and strengths&mdashis in place, it’s essential to ensure that they all pull together in a desired direction. Every single individual must be aware of the what, why, when and how of both their part and the overall product. They must have a clear picture of the end product vision and the product roadmap, and their role in it. An outcome-based approach for every person is most suitable for individuals to have clarity on and responsibility for their roles.
Encourage fully transparent and honest communications across all stakeholders including clients and partners, and open debates and discussions in the company.
Diversifying talent pool to India to derive maximum benefits.
Every product company wants to tap into the benefits of engineering talent pool available in India. There is a certain lack of clarity, however, on the part of companies. Companies need to have a clear vision of whether they are looking for “good engineering talent” or “cost-effective offshore resources”. These two pools are different. While “cost-effective resources” have high availability and lower costs, “good engineering talent”, in India or anywhere, requires time and effort to hire and is competitively priced as was evident from our hiring ratio of 1 out of 40 resumes. Further, there are additional challenges of retaining this talent pool due to high demand for them in the start-up/product space.
As a start-up, we have invested abundantly to build a solid foundational team of engineers that will have significant impact on the long-term success of our products and customers.
Integrating teams across locations into one cohesive unit.
Cultures are easier to create at the outset than to change later. From the start, we focused on creating “One Spraoi” with a cross-functional focus on quality product development for our customers. To the end, it was imperative for us to create a non-hierarchical, transparent and open environment for all to contribute and participate.
Creating the right structure for “One Company” environment.
Create regular forums for practitioners around the globe to participate as one team, including virtual town-halls, All Hands Meetings and Engineering sprints, irrespective of locations, units or expertise.
Allow for uninhibited and open communication across all levels through a focus on peer-to-peer communication. While practitioners may feel limited freedom to express new or untested ideas during upward communication to supervisors, peer-to-peer communication has been shown to facilitate a more open exchange.
Encourage everyone to share ideas and critiques. The more ideas a company considers through the evaluation and product development process, the better the final product will be. Furthermore, the smaller product features or design suggestions that are key to a great product are more likely to come from people directly involved in those areas.
Trusting and assigning ownership to everyone
As Emerson once said “Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” Trusting and assigning ownership to every individual on team, creates create a virtuous cycle for both the individual and the company.
Effective management and regular feedback at the individual level.
Finally, it is critical to tailor your approach to team management at the individual level, as every practitioner comes with particular strengths, weaknesses and needs. A continuous process of 1:1 discussions, tailored learning and development approach and personal feedback builds trust while improving overall performance of the team.
Indeed, building and nurturing a great engineering culture is a continuous journey that requires organizations to focus on many fronts, from company and product strategy to practical, day-to-day operations. At Spraoi, we embrace each stage of this process fully as we strive to create customer centric products for our customers.