5 important lessons I learned from the scaling up of my company

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from scaling a business? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Arnaud Lucas, Director of Engineering at Wayfair, on Quora:

Scaling an organization well is important, not just because of its impact on efficiency, ownership and overall happiness, but also for how it influences the final product the company is producing. As inspired by Conway’s law, any organization will inevitably produce a product whose structure is a copy of the organization’s. This has been my experience again and again and again.

There are two kinds of organizational scaling, just like in infrastructure: vertical and horizontal scaling. Ops engineers know that scaling vertically has a limit – there is only so much memory and so many CPUs you can add to a computer in a cost-effective manner. This is the same for an organization; how many layers of management can you add and stay nimble? At some point in time, an organization has to scale horizontally, or in other terms for a native app organization, it has to decentralize. However, just like in software, scaling horizontally is hard, and its biggest danger is siloing.

Usually companies start by scaling vertically, which has been the case for the app team at Wayfair. The team was small and hyper focused on delivering awesome apps on Android and iOS. Of course, it had to collaborate with many teams in order to build the right set of features, but it needed to stick together in order to come up with brand new apps, sharing knowledge across its members. As the native app team grew, we recognized a need to rethink our team structure to continue delivering an outstanding product.

We knew that we wanted to make sure that we were structuring teams in a way that incentivized collaboration, agility and clarity of ownership. To achieve this, we first came up with a vision for our native apps and some guiding principles that would provide a clear blueprint for us to implement. This meant first identifying exactly what the new org structure would look like in each feature team and in the platform team, and prepping all stakeholders for the change.

A lot of communication went into it, but I want to call out a few important things to keep in mind in any reorganization:

  1. We sought continuous feedback from all stakeholders involved, every step of the way. We circulated a monthly self-assessment survey for leads, some specific follow-up surveys and quarterly employee surveys. For areas where we saw opportunities for improvement, we had in-person discussions with a trusted facilitator to get actionable insights.
  2. As the restructuring unfolded, we understood that the roles and expectations of key stakeholders would change, and we created a document describing these new expectations with some best practices across all impacted functions. We then met with each function leadership to go through those expectations and get buy-in. We also reinforced those expectations during performance calibrations.
  3. We seriously thought about how native app stakeholders, including engineers, could collaborate and network closely even as the organization is distributed. We launched an internal App Cohesion Initiative to ensure that we were meeting this goal. This initiative prioritized communication, with exercises such as monthly lightning talks, when volunteers have five minutes to talk about any topic at heart, from creating an app on the side to fostering cats.
  4. This constant feedback and communication helped us recognize various team needs and adjust processes accordingly like technical design reviews.
  5. We learned a lot along the way and the continuous feedback loop allowed us to make changes on the fly when necessary. We experimented with some distribution pilots that gave us very mixed results, which we were able to learn from and create new distribution criteria to achieve a more impactful result.

Scaling is hard and it is highly dependent on the culture of your organization, but with a proper vision for the product you are building and some guiding principles, you can make sure that whatever org structure you choose meets the business and culture needs.