9 Considerations for an Engineering leader approaching hyper-growth

Scaling an engineering organization can be quite the ride - at Castor, we’ve seen 500% growth in the last two years. As an engineering leader, what to keep in mind when embarking on the hyper-growth journey? Our Head of Engineering, David Sigley, wrote 9 learnings from his journey to date at Castor. Buckle up and read on!

1. Make an organization that is built to scale
Scalability needs to be at the heart of an engineering organization, and not just the technical kind. When a company is showing signs of moving to the scale-up phase, it is important to preface the journey with expectation management:
To hiring managers: We’re planning to grow by 500% in the next 20 months. In order to hire the right people, this will be time-consuming. Expect 50% of the time to be spent building the team of the future.
To everyone in the department: Be committed to giving engineers autonomy over the 4 T’s; Time, Task, Team, and Technique. Build your dream team and, in doing so, break your techniques. We will provide appropriate time, training, coaching and resources to ensure we are ready to adopt new processes.

In the last 20 months, it is safe to say we have broken every technique in Castor’s 2020 arsenal. Our new arsenal is equipped with the necessary knowledge to keep us moving forward. In true agile fashion, we’re good for “at least one more sprint”.

2. Be critical of your gearing ratios
Ramping up a new recruitment funnel takes time. Therefore, it is essential to understand where the organization could bottleneck long before it happens. Decide on your team compositions and ensure you’re hiring evenly across all disciplines. For this, communication with other departments within the delivery arm is crucial: Product, Platform, QA, Backend, Frontend, Designers and Research, Managers, and so on.
Also, consider seniority in your gearing ratios. Happy, healthy teams have diversity in experience, encouraging continuous learning and mentoring.

3. Incentivise the right things
There are countless conflicts of interest in a company during the scale-up phase (or any phase, for that matter). The classic one is a company’s desire to continue at a velocity that cannot sustain itself without changes in process and documentation or without reduction of accidental complexity, lowering the codebase’s barrier to mastery.
A lesser-known conflict could occur between your hiring managers and your Talent team.
Often hiring is focused on quantity & speed: this is where TA teams and Engineering might look at recruitment from different angles. It’s essential to partner with the TA team to align on what success looks like in this process. Ask them to focus on volume and diversity at the top of the funnel. Later in the funnel, the engineering team can focus on meritocracy.

4. Discourage bias
Ensure that most of the interview stages are structured and have scoring frameworks. Open discussions lend themselves to bias and generally don’t help you evaluate one candidate over the other. Make sure you know what you are searching for in advance, create documentation, and apply it to every candidate to promote the same approach to everyone. This article provides excellent ideas on how to remove bias from your interviews.

5. Focus on diversity
Diversity in culture, race, gender, age, expertise, background, education, and more - the benefits of a diverse team are well documented, but what I seldom see is the benefits of a diverse hiring committee. Aim to engage a hiring committee that represents the diversity you are looking for in your organization. This ensures your final evaluation will be well represented.
Consider also communicating about your diversity efforts to attract candidates who consider this an important aspect of the team they are looking to join. Take a look at Castor’s Women in Tech -interviews, for example.

6. Consider Conway’s Law
Conway’s law suggests that “Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure.”
As a start-up, communication is rarely an issue. Still, as you grow, you are likely to see the need to either build more formal communication lines or organize teams in ways that lend themselves to cross-functional communication.
At Castor, we decided to focus on building multi-disciplinary teams to bring SMEs closer together and prevent silos across different roles. Could this also work in your company?

7. Understand performance management
Performance management carries a critical role in safely scaling your organization. Individual contributors know when they are carrying “dead weight", which kills motivation, performance, and retention of the people you need. Your top performers want to be on a high performing team that makes them better.
Setting reasonable and measurable goals and being upfront about your expectations of people is a great way to manage underperformance in your teams.
Not everyone will be a good fit in your company, so make sure no one is surprised when you have to deliver the bad news.

8. Make your onboarding experience exceptional
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Crafting a great onboarding experience can truly set everyone up for success. Give all the newbies the same, standardized training and introductions to everything necessary in your company. Remember, onboarding doesn’t stop at technical or domain knowledge. A good onboarding experience introduces new joiners to the company culture, demonstrates company values and is widely known to correlate with productivity, engagement, and tenure directly. This is why your onboarding efforts need to transcend just the Engineering team. If your company’s onboarding experience is lacking, partner with your People team to see what improvements can be made. It’s an excellent opportunity to draw the Engineering and People organizations closer together and shape your onboarding in a way that helps solidify the feeling that people are joining a tech-driven company.

9. Encourage courageous authenticity and resilience
During times of transition, it’s crucial to build a resilient culture, one in which everyone feels comfortable providing quick and direct feedback when problems arise. It’s also key to frame your environment so that it doesn’t lead to dissatisfaction when chaos ensues… because If there’s one adjective used to describe a department growing fast, it’s chaotic.
Make sure your team knows that this is to be expected and is part of the journey at a scale-up.

Keep a cool head when challenges arise and enjoy the ride!

Did you find the strategies in this article helpful? Don’t shy away from leaving a comment or connecting with me on LinkedIn to chat further!

David Sigley, Head of Engineering

David Sigley is the author of this article. He is the Head of Engineering at Castor since August 2020.

Working with the latest technologies, Castor’s Engineering team is bringing clinical trials to the 21st century.