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Introducing Durable Teams

May
10th

Introducing Durable Teams

Posted by james conway
To prepare ourselves for our ambitious growth plans we are about to introduce some changes to how our developers and product managers work on our platform projects at tombola.

To prepare ourselves for our ambitious growth plans we are about to introduce some changes to how our developers and product managers work on our platform projects at tombola.

We define platform as anything, from a software development perspective, that isn’t a game. This includes things like safeplay tools, player signup, security etc. 

We’re considering this an evolution in how we work rather than a fix or restructure. tombola has achieved LOTS since the days of it being hosted from a couple of old desktop PCs plugged into a dusty cleaning cupboard in the basement of our first office. We love to celebrate this fact but with all of this success and growth we need to acknowledge and be comfortable with the challenges that are presented.

When I joined tombola 7 years ago, slightly wet behind the ears with, probably, more hair ?? , there was one platform development team with maybe 10 platform developers and there were 4 or 5 main stakeholders around the business looking after 3 territories. We mostly fit in one or two rooms so getting the right piece of work done at the right time was a lot simpler. 

Currently we have 3 platform teams totalling more than 40 platform developers, looking after 6 territories (8 if you include the territories we’re due to launch in soon) with stakeholders almost too numerous to count! This poses many challenges for the platform teams, stakeholders and their projects.  

To prepare ourselves for our ambitious growth plans we are about to introduce some changes to how our developers and product managers work on our platform projects at tombola.

platform team

The old way - Projects 

Now is probably a good time to talk about the platform teams project backlog. It’s a bit like A&E on a Saturday night except that the nurses and doctors are platform developers and product managers, and the patients are projects from stakeholders. The patients that aren’t considered emergencies by the nurses and doctors tend to have a ridiculously long wait and because of this some patients don’t even bother turning up to A&E even though they probably should. 

All of our development teams worked in an agile way but agility was limited by a completely un-agile project backlog.

Challenges 

There are numerous challenges presented with how we currently schedule projects: 

Prioritisation 

How do we decide which project is done before the rest of the projects in the queue? Should it be the one that’s been there the longest? The project from the stakeholder that is the most vocal? Or the project with the biggest impact on the business? 

Measuring success 

Because of the sheer number of projects in the backlog the teams never feel comfortable taking time to measure the success of a project when it is launched. There is an implicit pressure to quickly move onto the next project – mainly because of the sheer volume of projects and the length of time some of them have been waiting. 

overview

Resource  

We really don’t like to refer to our people as “resource” but let’s be grown up here. To deliver a project successfully we need developers, infrastructure engineers, designers, testers and product managers and we don’t have infinite numbers of people in our teams. Worse still is the ability for a large important project to consume all of the people we have. A project’s ability to consume the people in the teams is a difficult thing to measure and predict. 

The new way - Durable teams

Durable teams are a way of aligning people with the product that the players see. It is not aligning development resource to specific projects or stakeholders. It’s a collaborative and agile approach to product development that aims to keep ownership and decision making close to the product.

We have divided the non-game side of the tombola product into several areas and in each area we will form a squad. Membership of this squad is going to be durable but not permanent. These are the durable teams.

Reporting lines will not change and the divisions will remain structured in the usual way: 

division overview

How will this help? 

Because we have sliced up the overall product into areas, we think it makes managing the above challenges easier. 

Prioritisation 

Prioritisation becomes much more focused. We no longer have to prioritise certain initiatives in one area of the product against initiatives in another area of the product. 

Measuring Success 

We think durable teams builds in much more ownership of a focused roadmap. There is no more pressure to forget about a recently launched initiative and move onto the next one from the huge raft of ancient projects. Because stakeholders are members of the durable teams, we will have the luxury of having stakeholder engagement baked in from the beginning and we think this will form a culture of continuous improvement. 

Resource 

Durable Teams give us the opportunity to discuss “resource” in a much more focused way. Those all-consuming projects have a much smaller blast radius – only within their product area. We can have conversations about recruiting new people focused in a specific area without impacting the other durable teams. With Durable Teams, we actually hope to lose the word “project” from our vocabulary completely. 

When does Durable Teams start? 

Durable Teams is not something that can be kicked off overnight. We are currently going through a process of mapping business stakeholders with durable teams and fleshing out objectives and roadmaps in each team. I like to think of this process as spinning up the wheels of Durable Teams. 

Phew… 

It should be said that durable teams is a new direction of travel in terms of how we work. It’s the starting point not the final destination. We expect durable teams to evolve significantly. The vision is that we will build a new culture of ownership and collaboration around platform projects. With the following principles in mind: 

  • Focus on group strategy, objectives and KPIs 
  • Maximize ownership 
  • Minimize competition for resource and priority 
  • Reduce the need for signoff 
  • Continuous improvement 

It should also be acknowledged that durable teams will come with its own challenges. We will discover areas or projects that don’t seem to have a home. We think this is a good thing because it forces us to deal with this kind of ambiguity head on. 

It’s an exciting change to how we work full of opportunity and we hope that everyone will see the benefits very soon. 

 

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