Building a strong
engineering culture
Kevin Goldsmith
Director of Engineering

November 14, 2013
Hej!
What is culture?
What is culture?

Edgar Schein (MIT)
A pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group has
learned as it solved its probl...
What is culture?

Edgar Schein (MIT)
A pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group has
learned as it solved its probl...
What is culture?

Elaine Wherry (Meebo)
Culture = Artifacts + systems and values + truth

6
What is culture?

Henrik Kniberg (Agile guru)
Culture is the stuff people do without noticing it

7
What is culture?

Me
Culture is the manifestation of the shared values of the
organization as represented by the actions o...
9

What is culture?

Values	
  

Culture	
  

Processes	
  

Ar,facts	
  

Rituals	
  

Beliefs	
  
10

Spotify’s Values

photo	
  credit:	
  ©	
  Leigh	
  Ann	
  Shaffner,	
  used	
  with	
  permission
11

Spotify’s Values

Learn from failure
Innovation at every level

Continuous improvement
Shared Responsibility

Iterativ...
What is culture?

What culture is not
Free food
Slides in your office
Photos with Daleks
Concierge Services
Rock-climbing Wa...
13

What is culture?

Values	
  

Culture	
  

Processes	
  

Ar,facts	
  

Rituals	
  

Beliefs	
  
What is culture?

What culture is not
Agile/Lean

14
You have a culture
What is it?
What is culture?

16
What is culture?

17
What is culture?

18
What is culture?

19
What is culture?

20
What is culture?

You are the average of the five people you spend the most
time with
Jim Rohn

21
Why is culture important?
23

Why is culture important?

If vision is where you
are going, culture is
what makes sure you
can get there.

photo	
  c...
Why is culture important?

24

Apply the same level
of deep thinking
about building a
culture as you would
about building ...
Why is culture important

A good culture
isn’t the same
thing as a good
business though
Still need a vision, a product and...
26

What is Culture

Culture enables
success, but it does
not cause success.
Patty McCord
What makes a good
engineering culture?
28

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
Stuff gets done

29
30

Stuff gets done

Learn from failure
Innovation at every level

Continuous improvement
Shared Responsibility

Iterative ...
31

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
It gets done well
It gets done well

32
It gets done well

33
34

It Gets Done Well

Learn from failure
Innovation at every level

Continuous improvement
Shared Responsibility

Iterati...
35

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
It gets done well
People are happy
People are happy

36
37

People are happy

Learn from failure
Innovation at every level

Continuous improvement
Shared Responsibility

Iterativ...
38

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
It gets done well
People are happy
Leaders provide direction and...
39

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
It gets done well
People are happy
Leaders provide direction and...
What makes an engineering culture great?

40
41

Leaders provide direction and guidance and get out of the way

Learn from failure
Innovation at every level

Continuou...
42

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
It gets done well
People are happy
Leaders provide direction and...
Success is Celebrated

43
44

What makes a good engineering culture?
Stuff gets done
It gets done well
People are happy
Leaders provide direction and...
Failure is used as a way to learn

45
Failure is used as a way to learn

46
47

Spotify’s Values

Learn from failure
Innovation at every level

Continuous improvement
Shared Responsibility

Iterativ...
Protecting your culture
49

Protecting your culture

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Walk the talk

Culture is the manifestation of the shared values of the
organization as represented by the actions of its ...
51

Protecting your culture

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
52

Hiring is crucial

?
53

Protecting your culture

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
A lot of people say don’t fire great engineers – but
they’re wrong. Even if you have an engineer who is
exceptional, but an...
55

Protecting your culture

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
Communicate yo...
56

Protecting your culture

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
Communicate yo...
57

Protecting your culture

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
Communicate yo...
Protecting your culture

58

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
Communicate yo...
Protecting your culture

59

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
Communicate yo...
Protecting your culture

60

Protecting your culture
Walk the talk
Hiring is crucial
Firing is also crucial
Communicate yo...
Fixing broken culture
62

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care

“Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satte...
63

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care

“Bored people quit.” – Michael L...
64

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care

Disenfranchised people quit.

“B...
65

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care

Disengaged people quit.

“Broken...
66

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care
(Good) People are leaving

“Broke...
67

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care
(Good) People are leaving
You spe...
68

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care
(Good) People are leaving
You spe...
69

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care
(Good) People are leaving
You spe...
70

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care
(Good) People are leaving
You spe...
71

Fixing a broken culture

How do you know if the culture is broken?
People don’t care
(Good) People are leaving
You spe...
Fixing a broken culture

“It’s not you, it’s me”

72
Fixing a broken culture

“It’s not you, it’s me”
Sometimes, it is you.

73
Fixing a broken culture

Fixing it

74
Fixing a broken culture

Fixing it
Start with yourself

75
Fixing a broken culture

Fixing it
Start with yourself
Then your team

76
Fixing a broken culture

Fixing it
Start with yourself
Then your team
Build on successes

77
Fixing a broken culture

Fixing it
Start with yourself
Then your team
Build on successes
Recruit others

78
Fixing a broken culture

Fixing it
Start with yourself
Then your team
Build on successes
Recruit others
Grow bottom up

79
Conclusion
81

You have a culture
Whether you think you do or not
82

Work on your
culture
It will determine how things get (or don’t
get) done
83

If you have a good
culture, protect it
Make sure everyone understands what you
value as a team. Make sure everyone you...
84

If you have a bad
culture, transform it
A long process, start small and grow. Don’t
try to rush it.
85

You are the culture
The culture is the intersection (average) of
the values of the people in it. Want to
improve your ...
Tack!
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Building A Strong Engineering Culture - my talk from BBC Develop 2013

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This is the keynote talk I gave at the BBC Develop conference in London, UK in November of 2013. In it I talk about what I believe makes a strong engineering culture, how to protect it if you have it, and how to fix it if you don't. I use a lot of examples from Spotify (where I am a Director of Engineering). As usual, I go a bit light on the bullets, since I prefer to talk, but I think you can still get the gist of my points.

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Building A Strong Engineering Culture - my talk from BBC Develop 2013

  1. 1. Building a strong engineering culture Kevin Goldsmith Director of Engineering November 14, 2013
  2. 2. Hej!
  3. 3. What is culture?
  4. 4. What is culture? Edgar Schein (MIT) A pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group has learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. 4
  5. 5. What is culture? Edgar Schein (MIT) A pattern of shared basic assumptions that a group has learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems. 5
  6. 6. What is culture? Elaine Wherry (Meebo) Culture = Artifacts + systems and values + truth 6
  7. 7. What is culture? Henrik Kniberg (Agile guru) Culture is the stuff people do without noticing it 7
  8. 8. What is culture? Me Culture is the manifestation of the shared values of the organization as represented by the actions of its members 8
  9. 9. 9 What is culture? Values   Culture   Processes   Ar,facts   Rituals   Beliefs  
  10. 10. 10 Spotify’s Values photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  11. 11. 11 Spotify’s Values Learn from failure Innovation at every level Continuous improvement Shared Responsibility Iterative development Agile-first Data-driven Autonomous Teams Transparency Trust Servant Leadership photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  12. 12. What is culture? What culture is not Free food Slides in your office Photos with Daleks Concierge Services Rock-climbing Walls 12
  13. 13. 13 What is culture? Values   Culture   Processes   Ar,facts   Rituals   Beliefs  
  14. 14. What is culture? What culture is not Agile/Lean 14
  15. 15. You have a culture What is it?
  16. 16. What is culture? 16
  17. 17. What is culture? 17
  18. 18. What is culture? 18
  19. 19. What is culture? 19
  20. 20. What is culture? 20
  21. 21. What is culture? You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with Jim Rohn 21
  22. 22. Why is culture important?
  23. 23. 23 Why is culture important? If vision is where you are going, culture is what makes sure you can get there. photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,   used  with  permission
  24. 24. Why is culture important? 24 Apply the same level of deep thinking about building a culture as you would about building a product Tim O'Reilly
  25. 25. Why is culture important A good culture isn’t the same thing as a good business though Still need a vision, a product and customers 25
  26. 26. 26 What is Culture Culture enables success, but it does not cause success. Patty McCord
  27. 27. What makes a good engineering culture?
  28. 28. 28 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done
  29. 29. Stuff gets done 29
  30. 30. 30 Stuff gets done Learn from failure Innovation at every level Continuous improvement Shared Responsibility Iterative development Agile-first Data-driven Autonomous Teams Transparency Trust Servant Leadership photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  31. 31. 31 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done It gets done well
  32. 32. It gets done well 32
  33. 33. It gets done well 33
  34. 34. 34 It Gets Done Well Learn from failure Innovation at every level Continuous improvement Shared Responsibility Iterative development Agile-first Data-driven Autonomous Teams Transparency Trust Servant Leadership photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  35. 35. 35 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done It gets done well People are happy
  36. 36. People are happy 36
  37. 37. 37 People are happy Learn from failure Innovation at every level Continuous improvement Shared Responsibility Iterative development Agile-first Data-driven Autonomous Teams Transparency Trust Servant Leadership photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  38. 38. 38 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done It gets done well People are happy Leaders provide direction and guidance
  39. 39. 39 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done It gets done well People are happy Leaders provide direction and guidance and GET OUT OF THE WAY
  40. 40. What makes an engineering culture great? 40
  41. 41. 41 Leaders provide direction and guidance and get out of the way Learn from failure Innovation at every level Continuous improvement Shared Responsibility Iterative development Agile-first Data-driven Autonomous Teams Transparency Trust Servant Leadership photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  42. 42. 42 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done It gets done well People are happy Leaders provide direction and guidance and GET OUT OF THE WAY Success is celebrated
  43. 43. Success is Celebrated 43
  44. 44. 44 What makes a good engineering culture? Stuff gets done It gets done well People are happy Leaders provide direction and guidance and GET OUT OF THE WAY Success is celebrated Failure is used as a way to learn
  45. 45. Failure is used as a way to learn 45
  46. 46. Failure is used as a way to learn 46
  47. 47. 47 Spotify’s Values Learn from failure Innovation at every level Continuous improvement Shared Responsibility Iterative development Agile-first Data-driven Autonomous Teams Transparency Trust Servant Leadership photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  48. 48. Protecting your culture
  49. 49. 49 Protecting your culture Protecting your culture Walk the talk
  50. 50. Walk the talk Culture is the manifestation of the shared values of the organization as represented by the actions of its members 50
  51. 51. 51 Protecting your culture Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial
  52. 52. 52 Hiring is crucial ?
  53. 53. 53 Protecting your culture Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial
  54. 54. A lot of people say don’t fire great engineers – but they’re wrong. Even if you have an engineer who is exceptional, but an asshole, you should fire them immediately. Your team will thank you for it afterwards. It only takes one asshole to destroy an entire team, so act quickly and remove any bad seeds no matter how good they are at writing software. Joe Stump
  55. 55. 55 Protecting your culture Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial Communicate your values photo  credit:  ©  Leigh  Ann  Shaffner,  used  with  permission
  56. 56. 56 Protecting your culture Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial Communicate your values
  57. 57. 57 Protecting your culture Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial Communicate your values
  58. 58. Protecting your culture 58 Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial Communicate your values Measure against your values
  59. 59. Protecting your culture 59 Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial Communicate your values Measure against your values Your organization reflects your values Credit: Henrik Kniberg
  60. 60. Protecting your culture 60 Protecting your culture Walk the talk Hiring is crucial Firing is also crucial Communicate your culture Measure against your values Your organization reflects your culture Watch out for warning signs
  61. 61. Fixing broken culture
  62. 62. 62 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  63. 63. 63 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care “Bored people quit.” – Michael Lopp “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  64. 64. 64 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care Disenfranchised people quit. “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  65. 65. 65 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care Disengaged people quit. “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  66. 66. 66 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care (Good) People are leaving “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  67. 67. 67 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care (Good) People are leaving You spend time on the wrong things instead of building your product “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  68. 68. 68 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care (Good) People are leaving You spend time on the wrong things instead of building your product dealing with “situations” “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  69. 69. 69 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care (Good) People are leaving You spend time on the wrong things instead of building your product Focusing on your internal customers instead of your actual customers “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  70. 70. 70 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care (Good) People are leaving You spend time on the wrong things instead of building your product Managing up “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  71. 71. 71 Fixing a broken culture How do you know if the culture is broken? People don’t care (Good) People are leaving You spend time on the wrong things instead of building your product Dealing with process “Broken Dreams” by Brandon Satterwhite is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  72. 72. Fixing a broken culture “It’s not you, it’s me” 72
  73. 73. Fixing a broken culture “It’s not you, it’s me” Sometimes, it is you. 73
  74. 74. Fixing a broken culture Fixing it 74
  75. 75. Fixing a broken culture Fixing it Start with yourself 75
  76. 76. Fixing a broken culture Fixing it Start with yourself Then your team 76
  77. 77. Fixing a broken culture Fixing it Start with yourself Then your team Build on successes 77
  78. 78. Fixing a broken culture Fixing it Start with yourself Then your team Build on successes Recruit others 78
  79. 79. Fixing a broken culture Fixing it Start with yourself Then your team Build on successes Recruit others Grow bottom up 79
  80. 80. Conclusion
  81. 81. 81 You have a culture Whether you think you do or not
  82. 82. 82 Work on your culture It will determine how things get (or don’t get) done
  83. 83. 83 If you have a good culture, protect it Make sure everyone understands what you value as a team. Make sure everyone you hire will be happy in your culture.
  84. 84. 84 If you have a bad culture, transform it A long process, start small and grow. Don’t try to rush it.
  85. 85. 85 You are the culture The culture is the intersection (average) of the values of the people in it. Want to improve your culture? LIVE THE VALUES
  86. 86. Tack!
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