I just re-read the awesome post from my friends David Loftesness and Raffi Krikorian, What Does A VP of Engineering Do Again? And while I agree with everything that they say, I think there is one crucial item missing, which has been present in every job I’ve had because all of them were user-facing internet services and a majority of my job has been working with product teams. Collaboration with stakeholders (especially with product) is key, but if you take it one step further, a VP of Engineering is actually measured by execution in a wider context across many teams or departments. You cannot look at engineering in isolation for your successes or failures.

But first a short story about my first months at SoundCloud. The CTO wanted more front-end work done because an important release was nearing. He asked me to hire more engineers to accomplish that goal. I started recruiting, but then I looked at why the velocity of the existing team was not meeting expectations. So, I went to all of the front-end teams (at that time it was Web, iPhone, and Android) and asked a very simple question “What slows you down the most in your day-to-day work?” To my surprise, everyone gave the same answer “We only have one designer.” They went on to say that although the designer was very good, she was completely overloaded so designs, changes, and simple clarifications took forever to get done.

Now that I knew design was actually the cause for delays, the solution to my problem was not to hire more engineers (which might have even made the problem worse with more work for the designer), but to start building a design team.

Engineering leads need to look at the whole product process (together with the responsible stakeholders) and not just at engineering in isolation. What I did was a very simple (but, in this case, effective) form of value stream mapping. Our self-improvement at SoundCloud continued. You can read Phil Calcado’s excellent post about the organizational aspects of microservices at SoundCloud.

The Best Engineering Leads Will Stop and Assess the Situation

Continually assessing situations in a holistic way isn’t just the job of an engineering lead — everybody involved should take responsibility. But, in my experience, the problem usually surfaces in engineering because when things are not moving fast enough (and when do they ever?) management’s first reaction can be to throw more engineers at the problem so more work will get done, but also (and this is the not so nice scenario), management thinks the engineers are not working hard enough. Other common responses from management include reorganizing the teams or adopting new methodologies. However, as an engineering leader, you are a lot like a doctor: you need to diagnose the illness before treating the symptoms.

Engineering leaders need to look at the whole value chain and to sit with the leaders from affected departments to review at the problem. The solution to a problem might not be to hire more people (which a lot of startups do), but to organize product development in a better way. And if you have to hire, it might mean that you have to move headcount around. When everyone has the same goal goal — delivering more business value — shifting headcount from engineering to design or to recruiting shouldn’t be an issue. Afterall, the goal is more business value, not having the biggest department. So, when I realized our problem at SoundCloud wasn’t going to be fixed by adding more engineers, we created a design team. But this was just the first step towards a better setup.

Even after creating a larger design team, it remained isolated from other departments and was not fully integrated with our workflows. The problems of turnaround and wasted resources were exacerbated by the increasing risk of misalignment between product, design, and engineering. Therefore, the next logical step was to improve the organization by creating a delivery team per product.

Shifting Organizational Structures to Deliver Business Value

A delivery team is a team that can deliver the vast majority (95%) of its backlog items to production without dependencies on other teams. Unlike more horizontally-oriented teams (for example, a front-end engineering team that relies on the back-end engineering team for any back-end changes), a delivery team has all the necessary skills inside their team. So, depending on your company and your product, these teams can look very different. In engineering teams that are infrastructure focused, these teams can consist of only engineers; but if you look at a team that delivers a consumer-facing web app, then the team looks more like this:

Traditional and Delivery Team Structure

Creating these delivery teams and then making sure you have the right staffing for them should eliminate a staffing mismatch between the affected departments. Some team members (like support) might just be a pointperson for the team, e.g., the support person only attends the daily standup and reports what is going on.

So, don’t look at engineering in isolation when trying to solve delivery problems. It is critical that each engineering leader (and especially the VP of Engineering, who can really influence the organizational setup) ensures that the overall product development process is set up in a way that reduces waste and delivers value to the customer which is the whole point of product development in the first place!

This post includes material from the upcoming book “Scaling Teams” by myself and David Loftesness, which will be published by O’Reilly in 2016. In this book, we will explain in detail the various scaling challenges of software startups.

Thanks to Laurel Ruma and David Loftessness

By: Alexander Grosse from issuu




Yes … You Can … Change Your Organisation Culture!

Apr 19, 2016

Some management consultants claim that you can’t change an organisation’s culture.
This is nonsense.

Numerous other management and change consultants claim they can change an organisation’s culture.
This too is nonsense.

You can change your organisation’s culture … from the inside.
Indeed, a leader’s responsibility includes Shaping their Organisation’s Culture.
I am going to share two successful stories of leaders driving change in their companies. On both occasions, I was engaged as an external consultant with the brief to co-design and facilitate the process and selected interventions.


Engineering Inc.

From a loss-making conflict-ridden environment where indifference and lack of trust reigned, to a profitable integrated company with engaged employees. The company is now a unit in a global corporation and a Centre of Competence for its product line.

The Situation: A new CEO had recently been appointed to a company which had changed owners 3 times and been making losses for 8 years. The environment was poisonous: chaotic production processes, cynical, continuous conflict with customers due to delivery and quality issues, abuse of the system by middle managers who themselves were not trusted by the production engineers and technicians. Closure was a possibility with 300 jobs at risk.

Changes and Process: Three new engineers were brought in to fill critical positions: Chief Engineer, Senior Project Manager, Site Manager. We conducted individual interviews with all managers, held focus groups at all levels, engaged the works council. Product demand fortunately was not an issue. Customer relations unfortunately were a serious problem. The CEO appealed for support. He laid out a clear strategy with a message of the environment and changes needed to continue operating. Changing the focus from inward (protectionist silos) to outward (the whole business with customer needs as focus) we used strength-based approaches to realign around real business Questions, whereby employees were invited to contribute. The production and logistics process was changed completely; skills deficits were alleviated; product design now involved production; the management team began to work as an integrated unit; employees wanted to contribute to improvements. Three middle managers who resisted the changes were forced to leave. Additional jobs were created in production as demand rose. Within two years, the site was making a profit.

Key Change Success Factors: The need: without change, the company was in serious danger of closing. Leadership: A driven leader who everybody trusted – he was visible, approachable and walked the talk. His messages were clear and he listened. Involvement: People learned not only that their contributions were desired, they experienced that the invitations they received were genuine.


Finance Inc.

From a small sleepy company in which employees had a lackadaisical approach to their work and customers, to a dynamic market leader whose customers praised service quality.

The Situation: A small specialist data processing company was acquired by a global corporation. A new CEO was installed together with two experts from the parent company. The environment was friendly and relaxed. There was little engagement, people worked with an eye on the clock, problems were referred to management, error rates were high, clients were irritated.

Changes and Process: The new CEO laid out clear guidelines, expectations and his vision of potential opportunities. All employees were invited to play an active role in working groups that defined and implemented new more efficient practices and new customer interface processes. Customer orientation was prioritised. The two new specialists were appointed to lead functional units, otherwise, the only hierarchy was towards the CEO. Processes were defined, personal and team responsibility was expected, engagement levels improved significantly, the environment was noticeably more dynamic, problems were solved at the level at which they occurred, customer satisfaction indices increased dramatically. Within two years, the number of employees increased three-fold as new clients came on board.

Key Change Success Factors: Leadership, Trust and Recognition: Clear consistent Leadership; clear guidelines; employees felt valued and freer. Involvement: employees were able to see the impact of their contributions.


Culture is the continuously evolving dynamic interaction of the mindsets and gutsets of all the actors in the system. It is the Soul of the Organisation that drives the behaviours we observe.

In many if not the majority of organisations, observed behaviours reflect not the values of the people within the organisation, but those hidden values of the organisation as a system, frequently driven by inappropriate leadership. By inviting and encouraging the people to engage with the system, leaders can lead a change from a negative to generative culture. Indeed, this is their responsibility.

And in the fast changing world of the early 21st century, shaping an adaptable organisational culture is becoming a survival essential.

Yes … You Can … Change Your Organisation’s Culture!

By: Eric Lynn from CultureQs

Yes … You Can … Change Your Organisation Culture!

In the family way

Apr 29, 2016

It’s funny how things work out, what we see when we open our eyes and raise our curiosity.

In particular, two events this week that in one moment filled me with dread, then filled me with hope and possibility.

Firstly, on Wednesday a colleague sent me an article from The Economist about the quality of managers in the UK. The article reflected on the following:

The low productivity of British workers has several possible culprits. Inefficient family-run companies are sometimes blamed, as are poor workforce skills. But whereas these problems are well documented, another factor is glossed over: the mediocre performance of British bosses. John van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, argues that the standard of British management is “significantly below” that in leading countries. His team carried out 14,000 interviews with employees around the world and found that British workers rated their supervisors lower than those in countries such as America, Germany and Japan. “We are not in the premier league,” he says.

Management as a skill has rarely been taken seriously in Britain, where the cult of the gifted amateur prevails. Ann Francke, the head of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), says that four out of five bosses are “accidental managers”: they are good at their jobs but are then promoted into managing a team or a department, without further training. Unsurprisingly, “they flounder”, she says. Mr van Reenen reckons that about half the productivity gap between Britain and America could be attributed to poor management.

http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21679215-business- gets-serious-about-running-business- end-accidental-boss?fsrc=scn/li/te/pe/ed/endoftheaccidentalboss

Inefficient family run companies? Funny that, because on the very next day I found myself in need of the services of a family run company. My wife’s lovely Michael Kors watch had used up all of it’s battery charge and a replacement power cell was needed. The most obvious place to get this done is my local Timpsons.

You may know of Timpsons. You may even be a customer of theirs – everything from key cutting, engraving, shoe repair to wrist watch maintenance. But do you know John Timpson’s approach to management?

In a recent article in The Independent, Mr Timpson explained his philosophy.

His way of avoiding top-heavy management is to do away with their jobs. “When I introduced my ‘upside school of management,’ which is putting the customer at the top of the matrix and management at the bottom – and giving staff the freedom to run their own shops – our middle managers didn’t like it at all. Many left.”

As he admitted, Timpson is a funny business. It does all the odd jobs that no one else wants to do, whether its key-cutting or, now, watch and mobile phone repairs. “This wouldn’t have worked if we hadn’t understood the importance of picking the right people and giving them the freedom to look after customers and to decide how to run their shops and to set their own rules. That is the core of our success.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/john-timpson- all-the- great-retailers- know-their- customers-does-ms-a6697471.html

So what was my experience? As someone who is often frustrated by lack of customer service, I find the whole Timpson experience leaves me with a smile on my face.

I took the opportunity today to ask the 2 guys serving, what is life really like as an employee?

Their answer was simple “Great!”

Why, I asked. “Because we are left alone to get on with it. This is our store. We get guidance, sure, but we make the decisions because we are with the customers every day”.

And how does that make you feel? “Trusted!” was the immediate response.

But does this upside down school of management work commercially?

Well, Timpson recently reported sales up 12 per cent to £189m and profits 38 per cent higher at £18.7m. Furthermore, over the past three years the company has grown rapidly – from 800 stores to 1,400.

Yet again, more evidence that shows having engaged staff not only results in a better, happier work place, it also brings commercial value.

By: Mark Manley from Gaia Leadership

If you would like to learn more about how to build engagement within your organisation, please contact me


I write these articles as part of my own learning. Thank you for reading it.

If you like it, please share it.

Nine things I didn’t know nine years ago

May 19, 2016


Image from page 400 of “The Palm of Alpha Tau Omega” (1880)

It’s coming up on nine years since I first started slinging code in a professional setting. Professional here meaning with a salary, in an office, with other engineers, decent coffee and unreasonable deadlines.

Back then I was barely newly minted from school, and what I lacked in understanding I certainly carried in hubris. I remember being vaguely offended not to be on the list of Sweden’s top coders that year. No idea how they would’ve found me, but I still remember being annoyed by it.

What I’ve lost in hubris in the last nine years, I’ve gained in experience. I thought it’d be useful to punch down a few things that it would have been nice to know nine years ago — maybe it can help you, if you’re just about to take your first steps out of school.

In no particular order, here are nine things I wish I’d known when I started out:

  1. Experience counts for something. This is obvious, and maybe a bit condescending. But I remember the first time I saw a colleague in a live, heated situation pull up YourKit and hone in on the fact that we’d have two ServerInstanceFactories, not one, and that caused the entire app to go belly up. Or when I got literally smacked on the fingers for not using two-phased locking correctly. And a thousand other things. My first two years of working, what I mainly learned was that I basically didn’t know shit.
  2. People are messy. I’d love to know how many hours humanity as a total spends every day mediating between two or more angry 40-year old men. Most of the time, you’ll find reasonable people that don’t share your point of view on things, and you are not obviously right. There are tradeoffs. And sometimes people hold on to stupid ideas longer than they should, simply because they’re people. It’s a great irony that software development demands literal, logical, unambiguous reasoning while being complicated enough that you need to collaborate with ornate, arbitrary, ambiguous humans.
  3. You’re not logical, you’re biased. If there was one thing I was certain of was that I reasoned with logic and soundness and that I thought things because they were true. Things such as — we hire people only because of merit. Obviously. What I’ve learned is that any point can be argued from many angles, and who I am, where I was raised, what I studied and who my friends are all influence what I think is obviously true. I’ve also learned that I’ll likely never be Spock, and that the only reasonable defense is to invite different points of view, and accept that reasoning from different premises can lead to different conclusions, and still be logical and sound.
  4. You can use engineering for other stuff. As a flipside to above, I’ve also learned that the method of engineering that you learn in school and hone over the years is useful for a ton of other stuff than just programming. What engineering is to me is a way to define, decompose and reduce a problem space, and from that reason a solution under balanced constraints. Really, figuring out what you’re asking, and then answering that. And turns out that anything from sales, marketing, finance, design to analytics are super-susceptible to this. Don’t be afraid to dive in. It’s usually pretty simple to get stuck in.
  5. Users are not stupid. This one is a big one. When users complain about your product, it’s usually not because they’re stupid. Your dad, uncle or whatever that don’t really understand Facebook are not stupid. They just know other shit, and they haven’t learned this stuff yet. And that’s Facebook. They have literally hundreds of user researchers making Facebook simple. When your uncle doesn’t understand your app, it’s probably because it’s pretty unusable. Don’t blame users for that.
  6. Engineers have professional responsibilities. If you work with software in a company that makes money, chances are you have users. Even if you’re building Spotify, not a pacemaker, you still have a responsibility to your users. They’ve chosen your product, and if it sucks, they’re suffering and it’s your fault. This means that if you’re out chugging beer, the systems you maintain go down, and no one else can pick them up, you get a cab home and fix it. Obviously, don’t let a company take advantage of this responsibility. You should get reasonably compensated. But it’s still a responsibility. You can’t laugh off service disruption.
  7. Inverting a tree is useful, but not in the way you think it is. I’ve always been a strong believer in academic knowledge, and I loved taking the hardest courses. Particle filtering, non-linear signal processing, abstract algebra, advanced algorithms, etc. If it looked hard I wanted to know it. However, the point of Red-Black trees is not Red-Black trees. The point of graph traversal is not graph traversal. The point is, the tools you have shape how you solve problems. And the deeper the understanding of graphs you have, the easier it will be for you to see that a problem is a graph problem. Just like if you know enough economics, you can see business problems as market problems. And so on.
  8. Integrating early is always better. This is really mundane compared to all the other grand advice, but if you’re a bunch of people working on a piece of code, avoid branches and avoid submodules as much as possible. It’s really not better to work on your own branch until all is nice and then merge back. Merge early. Merge often. Otherwise you’ll spend a month merging. I promise. Like, I really, really promise … and actually, I guess there is grand life advice here as well. If you and someone you depend on disagree on something fundamental, don’t hold a grudge. Hash it out, as early as possible. Make sure you see eye to eye. The process and the product will be all the better for it.
  9. Simpler is literally always better. I saw someone write something like “Software engineers spend their first two years building complexity, and the rest of their careers managing it”. This is true. Really true. If you can avoid it, never write a dispatcher. Never write an orchestration framework. Don’t use Java if a bash script will do. Solve the problem you have now, not the problem you might have later. Nothing makes you feel as smart as a well architected, abstract framework for solving really complicated, general problems. Nothing makes you feel as stupid as not understanding how to debug it.

Anyway. This is my list. The nine things I wish I knew nine years ago. It strikes me now that current me would love to see the list Nine Things I Wish I’ll Remember In Nine Years. What stuff have I forgotten that would warp my perspective? I’d love to hear your take on either this, or what I missed on this list.

By: Marcus Frödin from Spotify


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