How remote working has shown the benefits of our Squad Model
Like many start-ups, our tech team initially consisted of just a small group of developers. However, over the last 15 months, we’ve experienced a sustained period of accelerated growth. What was once a tech team of 13 people in March 2019, is now a team of 36 across two offices, making it much harder to coordinate each individuals’ workload. We realised that it was time for us to upgrade our tech team structure to ensure it not only aligns with our group-level outcomes but also enables our tech teams to get closer to our customers.
The Delio model is evolving but is inspired by many
Inspired by Jeff Bezos’ two-pizza model – which indicates that any team should not surpass the number of people that could be fed by 2 pizzas, we re-organised our technology and product teams into different cross-functional teams, or ‘squads’. We admired the agility within large companies’ tech teams, like Spotify, and chose to adapt our squad model accordingly, shaping it to our unique needs and to the requirements needed to scale further as a business.
But what is a ‘Delio squad’? At Delio, they’re small cross-functional teams, that involve Developers, Test Analysts, Product Owners and Designers. Instead of every single person feeding back to higher management, each team is self-organised and has a backlog empowered to develop their area of the Delio product. In doing so, their work aligns with our broader business outcomes, while we give them enough freedom to think outside the box. With our scrum master ‘function’ rotating within the team, everyone learns to facilitate better, compromise and communicate.
Reaping new benefits through this model
This way of working leads to greater independence, giving squads the responsibility to work on their product end-to-end, from ‘the customer to the code’. Additionally, it encourages each squad to work as if it was a separate company within four walls, minimising task blocking interdependencies. It doesn’t imply going completely rogue though. Squads still look to meet the more extensive business and product outcomes, however, it has become easier to distinguish which team should take ownership of specific areas within our product offering.
As a scaling company, it was vital for us to make this model versatile. While we initially had our business growth in mind, the flexibility and adaptability of the model unexpectedly came to light during lockdown – something none of us would have anticipated. It was the first time every single person in the team was working remotely. Thanks to our model, everyone was able to go home and set up everything they needed, communicating with one another within just a few hours. If we had stuck to our old model, this whole process may have taken days, forcing us to lose time which we could have been using to solve client issues or enhancing our product. It has clearly shown us that the benefits of this model are immense and go beyond our tech team. Since lockdown, we’ve started applying the squad model to the rest of Delio. In doing so, product, sales and marketing representatives are linked to some of the squads – further developing our project-based focus. Our model continues to evolve and is based on feedback from retrospectives, one-to-ones as the company expands to take on new challenges.
The re-alignment of people has also been coupled with a greater focus and investment in CI/CD practices – increasingly, squads own their own releases through pipelines and tooling that means they can act on feedback and release independently of other squads.
Regardless of whether we’re working from home or not, communication is crucial in this model. Every day, squads come together to discuss their tasks. It’s an excellent opportunity for squads to identify blockers and support one another before the team leaders from each squad come together for a short catch-up to update the other tech, delivery and product teams. Thanks to this model, everyone in the company understands where tech blockers may lie. Because of this, we’re able to adapt our working process, identify issues early-on and maintain both the team and client’s expectations.
While we have always benefitted from flexible hours, the current remote working situation has shown us that the times in which we may be at our most productive vary. Whether it’s at 6am or 10pm, bugs are fixed and releases are finalised, the pandemic has made us recognise that as long as communication remains a priority, the usual 9am – 5pm working day boundaries don’t need to constrain us.
Our top tip: Retrospectives
Since our squad model is still in its early stages, we’ve introduced bi-weekly retrospectives that align with our open work environment. They’re an excellent way for the business to reflect on what went well and what needs to change. Although this was initially limited to tech and product teams, we soon realised how beneficial feedback sessions in a more relaxed environment could be, which is why we quickly extended the retrospectives to the rest of the business. This process has not only allowed us to identify common obstacles and make changes, but it has also encouraged confidence in open communication and has strengthened the working environment.
Like many businesses, Covid-19 has opened our eyes and given us the time to reflect on our operational model. It’s been fantastic to see our squad model coming into fruition over the last few months and we’re enjoying reaping the benefits from it. Next to saving time and offering more precise guidelines, it has created a better working atmosphere. Our model will adapt as we scale, but at this point, we’ve got a sound system in place.
We’d like to include some of the authors that have inspired the work we are doing in product & technology at Delio, as we continue to strive for a feedback-driven culture:
- Nicole Forsgren PhD’s seminal book ‘Accelerate’ gives an evidence-based overview into defining and driving a high-performance IT organisation. Other book authors of ‘Accelerate’ include Jez Humble (Continuous Delivery) and Gene Kim (The Phoenix Project / Unicorn Project).
- Mik Kersten’s work on ‘Project to Product’ captures a wider step change in delivery being based around products/outcomes as opposed to an outdated ‘projects’ delivery methodology. Another good starting point in this area is Sriram Narayan’s blog post on ‘Products over Projects’.
- Delio is a scaling business with 6 ‘squads’ currently – as our teams grow so does the dependencies between them. Klaus Leopold’s ‘Rethinking Agile’ is an excellent ‘fresh look’ at applying agile at scale and also how delivery working software sustainably can be significantly improved through the identification, elevation and elimination of squad dependencies.
- Lastly Jeff Gothelf & Josh Seiden’s ‘Sense & Respond’ is a fantastic overview of embracing continuous change and ‘outcome-focused management’ with the customer’s view and needs at the forefront (and the operational changes needed to support and thrive in this).