How to Design Teams that Build at Unbelievable Speeds

“We ship fast, and we focus on things that are useful” is what we say to engineering candidates. It isn’t until their first week at Drift that they understand what we mean by fast.

Teams here consist of two engineers (frontend & backend), a designer, a product manager, and a tech lead.

Each team focuses on meeting the needs of several related jobs to be done (JTBD). Teams are autonomous, but not without accountability. Each are expected to show visible progress every week (if not daily). It’s not unusual for folks to go the extra mile to ship particularly thoughtful or valuable work. It’s a side effect of a teams working on a well-understood problem.

Small teams isn’t a new concept. It was introduced to HubSpot by Drift Co-founder David Cancel, and it continues to work for us today.

“Every company in the world will tell you they are customer-driven. They’ll believe in the principle. They’ll have framed posters on the wall about it. “Solve for The Customer.” But none of that means anything unless you actually make the structural decisions to ensure it.”

— David Cancel, How we transformed HubSpot into a Product Driven Company

This team size keeps the number of connections between people small. Collaboration happens without excessive tools, meetings, and planning infrastructure.

Digestible Work

The small-teams structure alone doesn’t create momentum in your product team. At Drift, we have a unique combination of cadence and ownership that allows us to deliver our work with confidence.

Each team owns their work, end-to-end. We are responsible for internalizing the customer pain we’re solving for, and then getting to work. We take the shortest path to validate our solution (while still shipping code). We do the best we can with what we have. There’s no cavalry, no borrowed resources.

Just us and the customer.

This acts as a forcing function to seek out shared understanding of the problem, to minimize the scope of our solution, and to proactively validate what we create. We end up with small tasks that generate big impacts.

Multiply these small tasks and their high impacts across several autonomous teams, and a 10-engineer organization can match the output of one 5 times that size.

The Drumbeats

Cadence is the special sauce here. It’s how we go from burger to Big Mac™.

There are many kinds of work engineers do a Drift. We build out Marketable Moments. There are bugs, customer support requests, issue triage to attend to. We each have support shifts, and will jump on customer success or sales calls to help out the team. To top it off, you should contribute to the success of your team’s JTBD.

Our performance is measured by the consistency with which we ship work that is valuable to customers. We demonstrate consistency at a weekly, company-wide demo called Show & Tell. Every department shows what kinds of wins they’ve created for customers. Everyone is coached in this approach.

See it in action

If this sounds like a welcome change, we are hiring. It’s an opportunity to expand your engineering mindset as well as your toolset. 🚀

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