In the Qumulo Engineering team, we strive to build an organization that self-organizes. We do this for two reasons: to effectively meet the needs of our customers and provide a rewarding work environment for our engineers. We believe this creates a virtuous cycle – people who enjoy where they work and make their best contributions each day are more likely to build high-quality products for our customers. Self-organizing engineering teams provide autonomy that encourages creativity. The results are seen in the daily contributions from each of our team members.
It is your teammates that drive both your work satisfaction and work quality – they are the people with whom you work most closely from day to day. We are very intentional about team selection and movement between teams. We want it to be something that fosters self-organization by the team members themselves, while also helping deliver compelling improvements to our customers every two weeks.
In the early years of the company, the engineering organization was smallish – about 4-5 teams. Most projects took about 3 months, so once a quarter team membership shifted to bring the people with the ‘right skills’ to the next set of projects that were starting. The team changes and team membership were largely determined by the VP of Engineering. This had a few unintended consequences:
Then in January of 2015, we decided to change how we organized teams. We wanted our teams to be high-performing, adaptive to product demands, and give members the chance to develop their own management skills. The structure we ultimately adopted looked like this:
The roll-out process we used was this:
Instead of engineers taking a few days to decide what their first choice team is, they all move their stickies in a flurry of activity, and within minutes every sticky is on a team poster.
Team founders and engineering leaders meet later in the same day to debrief. There is some speculation about which teams will be great, and which teams will have issues. We look over the elections, and there are a few places in which the constraints weren’t respected, mostly around having too many junior engineers on one team, and less than 6 people on another.
At first, there was a desire on the part of the team founders and engineering leaders to move people around right then and there. However, as this is an exercise to ensure self-organization, our agile coaches urged the group to simply go back to the Engineers, highlight the issues, and allow the individuals to work it out. We followed the agile coaches’ advice.
Within a few days, all issues are resolved. The teams started with team kickoffs a week later, and they were off to the races!
That was nearly two and a half years ago. Since then, we have learned many things. Those that stand out the most are:
As we’ve grown from 5 to 10 teams, these structures continue to work for us. For the foreseeable future, we believe they will continue to provide enough support going forward, but we do keep watch for tweaks that help keep us true to our goal of building a self-organizing engineering team and create an environment where we can do our best work while building products that continue to delight our customers. Interested in being part of a self-organizing engineering team? We’re always looking for the right people.
Molly is the Director of Engineering and is focused on supporting teams to provide a rewarding work environment while building a product that delights our customers.
We are always looking for new challenges in enterprise storage. Drop us a line and we will be in touch.
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