Creating a Global Engineering Culture - Agile india 2014


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A short (and incomplete) telling of how we got to where we are as an engineering organization for Groupon. A little philosophy about what motivates individuals and teams. And finally a little bit about what we're doing at Groupon.

When it comes to creating a global culture, remember that you are more archeologist than architect. Uncover the good that is already happening and help to share it rather than trying to design something new.

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  • Social Media Company designed to get groups of people working together to solve problems
  • One of those groups launched a “campaign” to save money by buying as groups - leverage for discounts.
    This became a popular way to use The Point in APAC. It got our attention.
  • November 2008, Groupon was born
    Show original logo
  • with 10 people in the whole company
  • 2010 - 300+ people
    CLICK - “And then we took off like a rocket ship!”
  • 2012 - 10,000+ People
    Acquisition was a significant part of our growth strategy.
    How we spread to countries.
    How we expanded our offering.
    Easily repeatable business model - rush to capture markets was only chance.
    Development centers in Brazil, Chile, Germany, India, Japan, US
    Different languages, platforms, and practices
    Over 1000 engineers worldwide
  • 8+ Platforms
    48+ Countries
    40M+ Customers
    400M+ Deals
  • Groupon
    And more
  • Teams in Chennai
    Getaways - Entire Front End
    Goods - Did not exist 2.5 years ago. 2B+ last year
    This is all context.
    Now - Let’s talk about Culture.
  • 2012 - US => Low morale. High Attrition.
    Monolithic code base. Can’t make changes. Major redesign attempt failed. People demoralized. Company unhappy with slowing rate of innovation.
    Lot of frustrated employees. Lack of trust.
    People looking out for themselves first.
    This is a world saturated with Dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel good about an individual achievement. In toxic environments. Dopamine is too high and people stop thinking about anyone else.
  • Start by Listening. Genuinely Listening.
    Two or more times per week, I meet with an Engineer from somewhere in the world and talk to them about their experience at Groupon. For offices with high turnover or other issues, I may focus on them for a while and even meet with people in small groups.
    Things we learned and did:
  • These things all helped.
    But how do we get continuous feedback?
  • Lack of Mobility
    Frustrated at lack of opportunity to move around the department.
    Engineering Internal Transfer Procedure - No employee can be denied a transfer. It is only a matter of planning.
  • Unclear career path
    Created job ladders for Engineers/Managers. Clarify expectations for each role and attributes to display for advancement.
    Salary bands
  • Management Issues
    Instituted Career Training for all Managers and above
    Manager Mentoring Programs
  • Hard to move code or get other simple things done
    Internal operations teams - streamline process, allow for smooth exceptions.
    Paperwork close to eliminated.
    Get on schedule - drop event on Ops calendar
    Do the things - Get in HipChat room and “chat”
  • Hard to get your machine configured or a project started
    Internal Tools team created Skeltor and other tooling. Skeletor exists for rails, node, java, and Clojure. Pre-configured base environments that include standard logging, A/B testing, and other fundamental requirements.
    Fork keldor => Update Configuration => Start Coding
    Created pre-installed Engineering VMs
  • Lack of learning opportunities
    Personal Growth Benefit
    Brown Bag Meetings
    Internal Knowledge Share
    Safari Books Online
    Code School
  • These things all helped.
    But how do we get continuous feedback?
  • Director’s Office Hours
    Anyone can submit a topic
    Anyone can drop in
    Q&A / Open Discussion
  • Employee Engagement Surveys - one per quarter.
    Results are shared with all employees, including plans for addressing any known items.
  • Engineering Check-In
    Form => Histograms => Overall
    01 - I know what's expected of me at work.
    02 - I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
    03 - At Groupon, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
    04 - In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
    05 - My manager, or someone at Groupon, seems to care about me as a person.
    06 - There is someone at Groupon who encourages my development.
    07 - At Groupon, my opinions seem to count.
    08 - The mission/purpose of Groupon makes me feel my job is important.
    09 - My co-workers are committed to doing quality work.
    10 - I have a best friend at work.
    11 - In the last six months, someone at Groupon has talked to me about my progress.
    12 - This last year, I've had opportunities at Groupon to learn and grow.
  • This is what we wanted you to see…
    Beautiful modular home
  • This is what it felt like behind the scenes
    Remember one attempt at a redesign (new look/feel) had just colossally failed.
  • Rolled up our sleeves and made a new plan
  • and in 2013, we set to work on fixing up our platforms
    SOA with a node front end
  • Stressed out
    Tight deadline - done before Holiday rush
    Lot of pressure
    Late nights
    Concerns over quality
    Silent compliance
  • Ran retrospectives
    Shared the results with everyone and made adjustments
    project planning
    Call Bullshit
  • Project Unity
  • 30-thousand foot view of our future “simplified” architecture
    Each of those boxes represents another diagram equally as complex
    As part of this effort, our Chennai office will be staffing up to take on consolidation of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, TicketMonster, and all of APAC.
  • Animosity / Differences / Blame
    SOA allows us to write our own way, in our language of choice
    But there are still integration points.
    - Integrate with the checkout page/service
    - Drop a widget on a page
    - Add something to the primary navigation
    - Add functionality to a shared service or module
    Add to that all these teams that never had to work together before
  • And then came the demand for standards
    We need to establish standards and enforce compliance. That will solve this.
  • It’s not how smart the people in the organization are; it’s how well they work together that’s the indicator of future success. - Simon Sinek in “Leaders Eat Last”
  • Focus on Compliance and get Complacency. Focus on connection and get consistency. - Doc Norton
  • Daniel Pink - Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose are what motivates us.
    I think he left out Connection.
    Martin Fowler told us this morning that you need a good group of people that work well together
    Social creatures.
    Dominated the world not through independence, but through interdependence.
    Only animal that communicates at this level.
    Only animal that has established markets for trade.
    Biologically programmed for connection.
    Serotonin when we get and give support. Oxytocin when we feel deep connection. When we don’t get enough of them, we substitute with placebos
    We biologically need one another.
    Well maybe not you and me specifically, but in the broader sense. Humans need connection.
    Let’s look at Groupon’s social network.
  • The connections between verticals/offices are too few.
    Some are barely connected at all. So lightly, it is not worth mentioning.
    These are not dependencies. These are social networks - real connections between real humans. The conduit through which most valuable information actually flows. The path of influence and cooperation.
    Let’s zoom in.
  • Let’s zoom in on one
  • Some teams are not well connected
  • Some are worse
  • And worse still.
    Let’s look at those connections between verticals/offices again.
  • They are weak. In some cases teams have no clear path.
  • This leads to “They” thinking
    They don’t get it
    They are NOT as good as us
    They are hard to work with
    They have bad ideas
  • We want “We” thinking
    We are in agreement
    We rock
    We’ll work on it together
    We can figure it out
  • Multiple connections.
    This is more like what we want. Multiple pathways. Multiple connections. A tight network.
  • And this at a bigger level.
  • Cohorts
    When we bring new people in, the spend a week on-boarding.
    Share the environment, tools, teams, people.
    What they need to know to make connections and be successful at Groupon
    They are a cohort. We encourage them to stay in touch.
    We set up a couple of initial monthly meetings where they get together and share. In the last meeting, we have them come up with possible topics or ideas for future meetings. It is then up to them.
  • GeekOn
    Two (or more) times per year - Engineering and Product take a week to hack.
    Cannot be part of your regular work
    Have to be able to squint at it and see Groupon
    Projects are voted on and Executive team funds them for additional 20% time
  • G-Stack - Internally built tool like stack overflow. Ask questions. Get answers. Vote on answers.
    Click - Rubber duck award randomly given out for awesome answer
  • Love Monster
    Reinforcing Feedback
    From peers to peers - realtime, positive, 360 feedback
    Integration with HipChat
    Integration with G-Stack
    Possible future integration with Groupoin (internally built bit-coin; Groupon only)
  • Interest Leagues
    Communities of people with common interests, related to work, but not directly about delivery of a Groupon project.
    Java League, Node League, Ruby League, On-Boarding League, Speaker League
    These groups create our standards. Standards come from the people who do the work. They come from a team self-selected and self-organized people from all over the globe.
  • Culture Clubs
    Volunteers in each office. Plan office events - parties, charity drives, in-chair massage
    Culture clubs meet to share ideas and tips. Coordinate events across offices for some occasions. This past Valentines Day, one of the members created an add-on for Chrome that turned Love Monster into this.
  • Love Monster “screen saver”
    Here’s what I love about all of these things.
    All of them already existed at Groupon. These are things the people wanted and willed into existence.
    That’s beautiful.
  • I didn’t talk about vision statements or values. Valuable and Important.
    It takes a cult of personality to impose a culture. Cult of personality fails when the “leader” leaves.
    Instead - find pockets of excellence and spread the word. You’re not creating it, you’re uncovering it. You’re not an architect, your an archeologist.
    Culture changes. Keep listening. Keep digging.
    Focus on connection and much of the rest will fall into place.
  • I talk about this stuff all the time.
    Every now and then, somebody asks me what book I get these notions from or what book I suggest they read to better understand
  • Creating a Global Engineering Culture - Agile india 2014

    1. Creating a Global Engineering Culture Michael “Doc” Norton - @DocOnDev
    2. 2007 The Point
    3. 2008 Campaig n
    4. 2008 Groupon
    5. 2008 10
    6. 2010 300+
    7. 2012 10000+
    8. 8+ Platform s 48+ Countrie s 40M+ Customer s 400M+ Deals
    9. Lack of Mobility Unclear Career Paths Management Issues Hard to Move Code Hard to Start a Project Lack of Learning Opportunity
    10. Continuous Feedback
    11. Recall that Rapid Growth?Well …
    12. The
    13. W
    14. Groupon all faith commitment compassion patience tenacity coffee Listen - not just the words, the message - listen to the buzz find pockets of excellence - Give them a platform - Spread the word Teach, don’t train
    15. Creating a Global Engineering Culture Michael “Doc” Norton - @DocOnDev Thank You!