Scaleway is scaling fast, and while this growth is exciting, it is also extremely demanding for managers and for the company itself. In order to keep up with the company’s growth, and to take things to the next level, managers are constantly (and that’s the way it should be) focusing on the challenges of team organization, recruitment and processes.
Here is my take on a product’s team (re)organization within a hyperscale environment. I truly believe it can be transposed to any other team or company.
After a while in the telecoms industry as a field application engineer, I was a Product Manager (PM) for nearly six years (before I joined Scaleway). As VP of PaaS Products, I’ve been managing Product Managers for two years now, and I’ve seen the team grow from one to seven Product Managers. My duty is to make sure we deliver products that make sense for our clients.
Back in early 2021, the team was composed of four Product Managers. This was feasible from a management perspective - the team already grew by 100% in 2021. The dilemma is clear: it’s impossible for one person to have eight direct reports (well that can depend on seniority and experience within the team…), with eight more to join in the next 12 months. Individuals deserve a manager that can follow their career path, help them grow, mentor them, coach them to find the right solutions for their products.
That deserves and needs a precious resource: time.
Juggling between my output and my collaborators could have led to “bad things” happening, like missing something pretty important or even worse, making individual contributors feel overlooked. So, that was the problem I aimed to solve.
It really is a trade-off that was unnatural to make for me since, as a manager, I am deeply involved with the individual contributors. Also, I am a huge product fan, as my job title suggests. Being dragged into daily product discussions and decisions has always been a driver for me.
However, in order to keep moving, and not be a burden for the company, I needed to make some changes, and focus on higher level concerns, overall product strategy, and at the same time make room for the Product Managers that I trust most to take on more responsibility.
From strategy to organization
In order to prepare for the future organization of the team, I needed to make sure our PaaS product strategy was clear. I need to have a 12+ months vision of what we are going to do before I can dive in, and get the team to follow. As a leader, I need to ensure everything is (as) safe (as possible) before asking everyone to commit and follow me. So that’s exactly what I did. With the help of all the Product Managers, we ended up building a product strategy that is aligned with the company’s objectives, challenging as well as adapted to the market, and ambitious enough to make the company unique and stand out.
Once the strategy was written (not in stone though :) ), how the team should be organized became obvious. Who, what, when, all the pieces of the puzzle came together.
The fact is, with a clear definition of why we’re doing things (aka definition of the strategy), the “how“ was obvious.
With this definition of “why”, I am, at the same time, making sure that every new team/squad/group of PMs that are created and will arise have a north star to rely on every time they are searching for the right direction to go in.
In a nutshell, this way of thinking about strategy first before looking at the way a team is organized, ensures we keep a consistent product mindset for the company’s future.
So now began the “easiest” part of the plan: recruiting middle management.
Help individuals grow
As explained, the team was at its peak composed of eight Product Managers (more than the maximum one individual can handle as direct reports), when we made the decision to hire (or promote) middle management. It was now time to (re)discover individual wills, and see who can pick up the baton internally. Luckily, Emma took the opportunity in her stride. She was my #1 candidate right from the start. For me, the most important thing was that she had the blessing of all the other team members, and she did as they know that they are in good hands. Then, I also was lucky to have come across Jon who will join the team shortly to take the second role of Lead PM.
Now, if you’ve been doing the math, that makes two out of three middle managers checked off. So, what about the third one? Well, let's say that there’s always room for improvement, and thus we/I need to see how it goes with two Lead PMs for a couple of months before going all in. This won’t slow us down as it already addresses the 12 month roadmap, and gives me the ability to think longer term.
The first take on this new organization was that I get more time. I decided to stop my weekly 1:1’s with everyone but decided, in agreement with everyone, to keep skip-level meetings every three weeks so that I don't lose contact with the PMs and the products.
After a little while, this updated organization did have another significant side effect: increased autonomy and empowerment. By setting expectations and a framework around the organization of the team, and thus process, individuals felt more freedom in their daily work. With this freedom came more ideas, and improved focus which in turn improved results.
My approach was, as far as the “teams” are concerned, to focus first on the manager role rather than the team itself. In a hyperscale environment, teams move quickly, and I believe the stability of the manager helps. The drawback is that it's actually not “evident” to decide how to name teams!
We currently have a few Product Manager open positions if you want to come build product at Scaleway with us!