When I was hired at ACV Auctions in 2019 as an Engineering Manager, ACV was very much still in startup mode and needed to quickly move to scaling mode. Growing pains are inevitable and at some point, your business will outgrow its former self.
You most certainly will face many confusing forks in the road, such as, how or should we:
- Grow the team(s) and hire more, or stay small and lean
- Raise capital
- Stay in your lane or expand to new market opportunties
- Acquire other startups or be acquired
The problem of scaling up is always a growth problem. We must prepare and adapt to growing teams, departments, responsibilities, and more. During hyper growth phases of your company, communication usually becomes an uphill battle.
The Growth Problem
When I first joined, my team only had 1 software engineer. It was fairly easy to keep track of in progress work, roadmaps, plans, and roadblocks. Fast forward 2 years and we have now grown to 10 software engineers, 2 product managers, a new name, and many more capabilities. We have expanded to create 3 sub-teams focused in the areas of order management, arbitrations, and titles.
On business operations, we needed to maximize efficiency, streamline communication, and bring clarity to myself and other teammates. I’d ask myself, what are people working on, what’s up next, and where they might be struggling? If you’ve ever asked these questions in your mind, trust me, you’re not alone. Understanding your team is the first step to getting things done and continuously improving. These critical questions form the foundation of how you can be more productive as a team. Thankfully, a simple, yet powerful tool exists for answering these questions.
Plans, Progress, Problems
Plans, Progress, and Problems PPPs is a management technique that provides some structure and clarity to traditional status updates (or daily standups). It’s simple and an effective way to view team work without adding a lot of unneccesary fluff and as such doesn’t take much time to complete nor to read.
To understand what’s going on within your teams you would need to answer a few questions:
- Plans – what is going to happen next?
- Progress – where is the work headed? What is currently being worked on?
- Problems – what barriers/roadblocks exist? Where is the work being blocked?
As a team leader, if you can understand these key aspects of your team’s work experience, you can be much more productive.
The questions you should ask are very simple.
- What are your priorities for next week? (Plans)
- What did you accomplish this week? (Progress)
- Is there anything you are stuck on? Anything I can do to help? (Problems)
Often, this is the information you would find out in a weekly team meeting, daily standup, or scrum of scrums, but the major downside is that you’d find out in the moment and have little time to prepare. When the update is captured in writing, you can better plan and prepare for how you might be able to fix the problem, especially in a remote friendly environment.
Asynchrounous Scrum of Scrums
I’m able to distribute these notes to the rest of the team to keep the communication flowing across our sub-teams and make them aware of an area of business operations that they don’t work in day to day. It’s an asynchronous version of scrum of scrums that has helped provide context to my teammates.
Writing things down is good
When this information is captured in writing (especially with fully distributed team), it is can be referenced later. By capturing this information in writing, you can hold people accountable for their work. It’s also a great way to avoid miscommunication.
Thanks for reading and stay healthy my friends.