Get More from Your Engineer...
People say you can never hire enough engineers. But that’s wrong: Beyond a certain threshold, additional developers will slow you down. It’s a byproduct of human nature and organizational dynamics, and something I’ve found to be true at the earliest-stage startup and at Google, where I ran a big chunk of engineering for over eight years.
The best development teams are almost always two to eight great engineers who work in a single room and have no overhead. Such teams are large enough to get most anything done, but still small enough that they don’t require a lot of managerial oversight.
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your engineering efforts:
1. Start with teams organized around specific products. When they get too big, start organizing them around features. This model scales well. Your company, as it grows, can exploit the small-team approach if you keep narrowing the focus of what a group works on. When you get larger, you can hire more senior people to serve as traffic cops between the different groups and activities.
2. A small team with good people can steer itself. Avoid conventional command-and-control setups for as long as you can. Companies will reach the point where they need this kind of structure at different points. But I’ve seen companies as large as 4,000 that still use small teams effectively.
3. That said, you need to make sure you enforce uniform standards across the groups for things like look and feel, APIs, etc. Designate a senior engineer or a technical product manager to serve as the intermediary between these teams. This will also help make sure that the teams don’t get siloed or feel detached from one another.
4. Talk to your senior employees about what it means to grow the team. You’ll need to bring on additional talent if you want to scale. Everyone accepts this and the fact that it may take a time for new employees to get up to speed.
The thing that the people on your current team likely thought about is that they will have to cede responsibilities to these new hires. That’s hard to do if you aren’t prepared for it. In the worst cases, it can lead to an us-versus-them mentality that will cripple your engineering team. Be sure your senior employees understand why bringing on new people—and the accompanying role changes—is key to fulfilling the company's mission.
5. Lastly, as your company gets bigger, resist the urge for standing meetings. They kill productivity.
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