Scaling An Engineering Team Effectively: SVP Raji Arasu’s Advice | Hacker Noon

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Raji Arasu is the visionary mind and engineering leader that occupies the position of SVP of Engineering at Intuit, making her one of the few female leaders at a major technology company. She is aware of this thing and supports women leaders in technology both within the company and across the industry.

Her actions speak for themselves. Raji is an executive sponsor for eBay Women in Technology and, in 2011, she was recognized by the Business Journal of Silicon Valley/San Jose as a “Woman of Influence.”

We should mention that she is also part of various organizations focused on the advancement of women in technology, organizations worth mentioning Women in Technology International (WITI) and FountainBlue.

Building a successful engineering team is no easy feat, but scaling it for performance is a totally different ordeal. It is a challenging task, but throughout time people have proved to be able to thrive and evolve in adversity. One of these people is Raji Arasu, the person who leads the high impact transformations at Intuit as SVP of Engineering.

This is why, in this article, we will elaborate on all the advice that Raji has to offer on efficiently scaling an engineering team.

Many times the process of scaling the team proves to be what makes or unmakes a startup. This is supported by a research paper made by UC Berkley, and Stanford called the Startup Genome Report, where out of all the surveyed startups, 70 percent tried to scale too early. It also concluded that startups’ failure is premature scaling, as shown in 90 percent of the failed startups.

What makes scaling such a prevalent problem in the technology industry?

For one, the technology industry is highly competitive; thus, the pressure to improve performance is greater, and hiring more people seems like the way to go.

What people seem to forget is that hiring is not that simple. You can’t expect to hire people today and start full-scale production the next day. It may take up to nine months to start getting ROI for some positions, as human resources specialists can tell you.

Hire the right people

Hiring is an investment; this means that there is also the possibility of losing money. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has estimated that the average cost of hiring is $4,129, to this we must also add the working hours that will be spent by the current employees training the new hires.

This means that every team member needs to fit perfectly and collaborate seamlessly, which is very unlikely if you don’t give the needed attention to the hiring process.

You can’t afford to cut corners regarding the time and money you required for finding the best fit for your team. Giving up into the pressure of making a quick hire will only cause you to lose more money.

Software developers are a costly resource. Filling a job position for a developer takes 42 days on average – time when the company can experience a productivity loss of $33,251.

For instance, you need talent with a specific skill set for the role of a senior software developer. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for a senior software developer is $94,083.

Out of the 11 top-paying countries for software development services, the USA lead with an average annual salary of $106,816 compared to the last place on this list, occupied by the United Kingdom with a $40,356 average annual salary.

Trust your team

“Empowerment, trust, and psychological safety are paramount for any team, regardless of their discipline,” says Raji Arasu. As a leader, you have to define your teams’ clear objectives and then empower them to define their own path to achieve the outcomes in their terms.

If there is trust, you will be able to build an environment where failure becomes a stepping stone on the road of efficiency.

“Many people think that trust is a binary thing when actually trust is more complex than that. You trust different people differently in certain situations and for certain tasks,” explains Andreas Klinger, former CTO of Product Hunt. This means that if you hire a new employee, you don’t need to fully trust them, trust them with their task. Micromanaging doesn’t feel good for the employee and it will also take a lot of your time.

The solution for the trust conundrum is to “systemize trust, meaning you have to create and establish processes for how you manage trust, how you verify it, and how you give it and receive it,” as Andreas put it. Git Analytics tools can provide the visibility required to manage engineering teams at scale. It offers functionalities that help engineering managers intervene only when needed, allowing the developers to actually do what they enjoy – write code.

Start evaluating

There is no way to tell if your team has made any progress if you never start evaluating and assessing your teams’ performance. “While leveraging many of the agile metrics to measure team speed and velocity […] We strive to create a data-driven culture by reviewing these metrics together every week, celebrating progress and learning from the failures without judgment,” confirms industry leader Raji Arasu.

As Raji said, you can’t know if you’re succeeding or getting better at least, without measuring your team’s activity. Git Analytics tools, such as Waydev or Pluralsight Flow, can help you measure and evaluate your teams’ performance using reports and metrics aggregated in real-time directly from code, pull requests, and tickets.

Set expectations constantly

Without setting clear expectations, you might leave your employees lacking a clear direction. People require a challenge to evolve. In this way, they might achieve things they would’ve never thought possible.

One of the functionalities that Git Analytics tools offer is the ability to set targets for each level of granularity – from an individual level up to an organization level.

As a CTO, you need to know the strengths and the weaknesses of your team, also, as someone who has managed similar projects, you can estimate what can be done in a certain period of time.

A survey conducted by Gallup has revealed a concerning fact: 50% of workers don’t know what is expected of them or their role. One of your main attributions as a CTO is to make sure that expectations are discussed and set for each employee. Doing so will ensure to keep your engineers focused and reduce frustration among team members.

But you can’t only set expectations and think that everything will work out. You have to keep your engineers accountable and give them constant feedback regarding their performance.

Be aware of your situation

It is tempting to adopt the principles and practices used by other successful companies. Still, we have to remain aware of our own company background. There are a few questions that leaders should ask themselves, such as “Is it the same size? Does it have the same experience on the market? Do they have the same level of expertise?”

You need to be aware there is no recipe for success. What works for some organizations might not work for yours. This is why you have to look inwards to find why you need to scale your team and the scaling nature. Is it a case of expanding into a new, unfamiliar direction that requires expertise that your company doesn’t have? Or you just need more people for a department in order to increase its capacity?

No matter the needs of an organization, a good leader will always have in mind the organization’s particularities when implementing new practices.

Set principles and practices for your team

Success comes from aligning your organization’s values with the values your employees hold. This is the glue that helps you keep or find employees for your expanding teams.

To put it simply, your organization’s vision should be what you want to accomplish, and the values should be the how or the way you are going to do it.

An organization’s culture is born when the vision is clearly articulated, and you and your employees live and work by the values you set. In this way, we could define an organization’s culture as the way people within an organization interact and behave when working together.

Here comes into play another aspect: behavior scales, whether it’s good or bad. For this reason, you should address bad behavior early-on and make decisions based on the values of your organization. What seems like a minor problem in a company with 10 employees will become a disaster when there are 100 employees. Waydev’s Engineering Managers’ Handbook helps you identify and fix common negative work patterns in your team.

Accept that nothing is set in stone

Accept that scaling a team comes with changing things around. Maybe some processes made sense with a small team, but they don’t quite work when adding new members. In this kind of situation, a manager should admit that changes need to be made.

In the early days, your team had decided on methods for doing things. These methods have become „known facts.” You have to consider that, when hiring new people, all the embedded knowledge that seems common sense to your team will be actually hidden for newcomers.

All this hidden information will put newcomers into difficulty and create a hostile environment, where they feel as if they have to walk on the tip of their toes as not to make mistakes.

Pay attention to your hiring process

Basing job descriptions on successful team members is not a good long term recruiting strategy. What you should do instead is looking for hires with skills that are complementary to your team members. Take into account how the new employee contrasts with the other members of the team, whether they can cover their teammates’ weaknesses or, on the contrary, they accentuate them.

Create a solid onboarding process

Your new joiners should know their next milestones, and their onboarding process should be documented and shared. A solid onboarding process will help the newbies build bonds much faster and make them feel like they have what it take to become a valuable member of the team.

A well-documented onboarding process means your organization will have a replicable system that will give the new hires all the information needed to create a great experience in your company.

Choose the right structure for your organization

Every organization in the industry has a different approach to this issue. As a leader, you have to choose what works best at the moment. When there are 20 employees in your company, it might make sense that everyone reports directly to the CEO, but as you grow, it will become impossible.

This is a situation encountered by Michael Fey, VP of Engineering at 1Password: „We used to be a very horizontally structured organization, with everyone reporting directly to the CEO. As we grew from 40 to 100, it became clear that it wasn’t sustainable. Now that we’re approaching 200 employees, it’s downright impossible. We’ve been slowly introducing more hierarchy to spread the load. For example, we recently added VPs of Engineering to oversee things like server work, client-app work, and shared code work.”

Another example where the structure of the organization evolved over time is Atlassian. If in the early days they used to rely on a few very knowledgeable people to manage the teams, „as we grew, this was no longer scalable, and we had several setbacks when heroes weren’t on [the necessary] teams or hit their limits in terms of complete mastery over sprawling systems.” explains Sri Viswanath, CTO at Atlassian.

The solution they found instead of relying on those few hero individuals, was to find a pattern for how they designed and built software and then organize into smaller teams with more autonomy. More than 1,000 engineering leaders have chosen Git Analytics to help them create a framework for repeatable success.


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