management

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Scaling Agile at Gilt

Spotify recently documented their progressive approach to scaling Agile development with a fairly large team. Gilt’s approach has many similarities, but since some Spotify best practices are Gilt anti-patterns, it’s worth a closer look.

The Gilt tech team is about 100 strong. Most of our development is done in Manhattan. We’ve also got a small team in Portland, Oregon and a larger one in Dublin, Ireland.

Initiatives

The cornerstone of the Gilt process is the initiative. We define an initiative as “a project that we expect to work on for the foreseeable future.” Our foreseeable future is typically 3-12 months, depending on the area. An initiative might be to increase organic search traffic to the site.

We work on the order of 10 initiatives in parallel. The decision to green light an initiative depends on a number of factors. The most significant factor is a mathematical model of how we expect the initiative to perform, but we also consider softer factors like direct customer happiness and innovation.

Prioritizing a set of initiatives focuses the technology group on an initiative portfolio. This portfolio makes a clear statement on what is important, and indirectly, what is not. This has had a profound effect, halting our previously unending feature level prioritization discussions. This change has made not only our team happier and more productive, but also our stakeholders.

Unlike Spotify, we don’t maintain a roadmap document. Our roadmap is simply the sum of active initiatives. We revisit the set of prioritised initiatives every few months.

Read the full post on The Gilt Tech Blog.

Employee of the Month Award - Good or Bad?

The employee of the month award is pervasive in our corporate culture. Websites offer Step-by-step guides and will sell you blank merit certificates by the hundred. But is it a good idea? The system typically works as follows: Once a month a manager, or committee of managers, picks a single outstanding individual as employee of the month. An announcement is made and the employee enjoys a set of benefits typically including an item of memorabilia. Read the full blog on Employee of the Month Awards.

A look at Google’s Peer-to-Peer Bonus System

Google are associated with innovation in every aspect their business. Their management techniques are no exception. Google employ multiple award systems to motivate employees and perhaps the most notable is their peer-to-peer recognition program. This program allows Google employees to proactively recognize their peers for doing something big or small that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Peers often reward an activity that would have gone completely unnoticed by managers.

Read the full blog on Peer to peer recognition at Google.

Leadership

Is great leadership the key to an organization's long term success?

Check out Jeffrey Cohn's great piece on the subject, where he discusses the need for integrity, passion, courage, vision, judgement, empathy and emotional intelligence from our leaders.

Managers! Become the Flywheel.

Arguably, the job of an engineering manager is to hire and sculpt a development team that is not only highly productive, but also precisely resourced for immediate business priorities.

Easier said than done. Businesses are highly erratic organisms. Especially start-ups. From week to week our business environment changes and company priorities evolve accordingly. In response to this, so does the position of senior management on the best way to adapt.

The Hungry Academy - An Innovative Way to Hire Developers

It’s always hard to hire great developers. If you want to hire them in volume you need to think outside the box. It looks like the team at LivingSocial and JumpStartLab have done just that with their new Hungry Academy program. They have setup an engineering training academy with some of the “industry’s best programmers” and are offering market compensation to anyone that gets accepted.

Building Great Tech Teams: 12 Critical Questions

I recently had the pleasure of talking at First Capital's CTO summit. I hosted an interactive discussion on team building for around 100 CTOs and VPEs of small to medium sized, venture backed technology companies.

Here's how the audience voted on 12 critical questions:

#1: Should you hire specialists or generalists? (52 Votes)

Technical Phone Interviews

I spend a lot of my time hiring. Recently I’ve streamlined my technical phone screening. I’ve defined a “Technical Bar” that focuses on seven skill areas.

Read more on my technical phone interviews blog

REWORK your Hiring Practices

REWORK, the latest book to emerge from the 37Signals.com, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, delivers some strong opinions on hiring.

I loved the book (and the attack ad below promoting it). I spend a good deal of my time striving to hire world-class web developers, and much of what Jason and David had to say resonated with me.

I cracked a smile at the book’s opening assertion; resumes are ridiculous documents, beloved by the mediocre, filled with half-truths and exaggerations and perfect for spamming hundreds of potential employers. And my heart warmed at the suggestion that cover letters, on the other hand, are potential gems, written in the voice of the candidate and often specifically directed at the position in question. I always read the cover letter first.

Read the full blog

Managers, stay out of the way!

Successful managers learn how to stay out of the way and let their teams work effectively and independently. Staying out the way doesn’t mean putting your feet up on your desk and playing Angry Birds on your iPad while your team does all the hard work. It means creating an environment where smart people feel empowered to recognize, own and solve problems.

Here are some ideas to help you as a manger. I’ve included a few quotes from General George Patton, since apparently even our great military leaders advocate staying out of the way.

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