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Optimizing Productivity for Remote Engineering Teams

with Doug Gaff & Emma Tang

August 30, 2020
Optimizing Productivity for Remote Engineering Teams
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Doug Gaff - VP of Engineering @ Zapier

Doug is the VP of Engineering at Zapier, the software solution that helps your other software work together more effectively. As the leader of an organization with over 100 engineers, he has learned a lot about effective management and leadership. Doug currently resides in the Greater Boston Area.

“Personal stuff is totally in bounds and people just listen. And they don't try to solve a problem for you. And I might be like, I'm red today. I didn't get any sleep. I'm stressed about this thing. I'm not sure I'm going to get it done or this thing's happening personally. I'm worried about a friend who's not well... and it requires a certain level of vulnerability and you've got to have a trust, comfort level, but, that's another thing like as leaders, the best thing you can do is demonstrate this kind of behavior so that other people know it's okay to do it.”

- Doug Gaff


Emma Tang - Engineering Manager @ Stripe

Emma is an Engineering Manager in Data Infrastructure at Stripe based in San Francisco. Her team focuses on building distributed computation infrastructure to support Stripe's business. At Stripe, we believe in investing in our remote culture, and have built out the remote engineering hub, and tripled the number of remote engineers in the last year.

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Show Notes

  • Ideas for Remote “Offsites” (3:27)
  • How to ensure clear, high-bandwidth communication (5:44)
  • How to make engineers feel connected to the mission and company (9:44)
  • Measuring productivity with “Innovation Accounting” and “Waterlining” (15:03)
  • It's time to trust your people and fix your cultural anti-patterns (21:19)
  • How to prevent developer burnout (25:03)
  • How to influence leadership teams remotely (28:26)
  • How to communicate priorities to multiple groups and teams (33:00)
  • Health metrics to track your team - Happiness surveys, pull requests, and “innovation accounting” (35:11)
  • Takeaways (38:34)


Emma Tang: it's really nice to meet you, Doug. I know we've been into it already, but it's always nice to put a face to the name. Cool.

I I personally, and really excited to join this session. I know Zapier is one of the best fully remote companies out there. know there's going to be a lot of great lessons to learn right here. and specifically I want to learn about like what your philosophy around remote work is, and also feel free to dig into the nitty gritty tactics of how things are. one thing that has been a challenge for Stripe is that we have a very strong remote culture, but going to fully remote. is actually something that's very new to us.

Ideas for Remote "Offsites"

do y'all do remote offsites in these days and how it's worked and what's not worked.

Doug Gaff: this is something I've experimented with since I took over engineering here. I've done it twice now. And we call them remote retreats. what it really feels is more like a hackathon. So I can know, I can only speak for engineering. I'm not going to try to cover the other departments, but the engineering retreats feel like hackathons.

And so the way we structured it is. Essentially there, people contribute a bunch of different project ideas or things that they want to spend a week on. And the instructions are, completely clear your calendar. There's no product deliverables. there's absent like a major outage or something. There's no production work that we're going to be doing. and decide what you want to work on.

We organized around teams, so we said you don't have to pair with your team. But because like I said, we're in 30 something countries... from a time zone perspective, you have to, your teams already know how to work together from a time zone perspective. So we encourage people to organize into teams. And some people floated around. And then people just did a hackathon, essentially.

So that's the thing that's worked the best. The first time we did it last year, we tried to mix in retreaty style things like, keynotes and workshops and stuff like that. And they weren't as great. Like it's, you can't replace the comradery of an in person event,

Emma Tang: Yeah,

Doug Gaff: but sometimes it's better not to try. Like we did have like happy hour and stuff, but again, happy hour is a different hour for when you're 24/7, it's a different hour. So that doesn't totally work either. but we still tried some of it, but it's better to acknowledge that you can't do some of those things and instead play to your strengths, which is... we just cleared our calendars. We've got a bunch of ideas. Let's crank on some stuff for the week. And we did like 25 different projects in the retreat. We did a couple of months ago, so...

How to ensure clear, high bandwidth communication

Emma Tang: that's really incredible. awesome. I'm going to pivot a little bit, in terms of like communication, ensuring that it's clear, ensuring that it's high bandwidth and ensuring that things are coming across the right way. what are some tips and tricks for us to ensure the communication pieces there?

Doug Gaff: Zapier is a written culture, and it's a reading and writing culture. So you have to like to read and you need to get good at writing to be successful here. That's, a muscle you have to develop.

And we have a lot of things that are structured around this. So we, everybody writes a Friday update, for example. It can be short and sweet. Like this is what this is my top priority for the week here's what I got done on it. Here's what I'm planning for next week. And maybe a little bit more stuff like people talk about what they're going to do on the weekends, which is a social thing. here's a window into my personal life. Here's what I'm gonna do on the weekend.

But we have a, an internal, blogging tool that we built to support this. It does other things, but one of the things that does is it provides a structure for writing these updates. we do written documentation for all decisions. so we'll create a DACI framework. If we've got to make a, whether it's a technical decision or a major team restructure or something like that, we create a DACI around it so that we gather inputs, we typically structure a few different options and people can weigh in on the options. But that's also very written focused.

The other big thing is that, in co-located companies or in multisite companies, hallway conversations tend to dominate, right? You have these serendipitous conversations and they produce information. those don't happen obviously in a fully remote environment, but you can still get one to one kind of conversations that happen, whether it's over Slack or whether you have a zoom conversation and a really important part of translating that for visibility is that when something like that happens and it's applicable for more than the two people who had it. You have to be really deliberate about popping into a public channel and saying, "Hey, we just had this conversation. Here's a quick summary of what we talked about. Here's the actions that we're going to take next" Or whatever...

but you really have to constantly be thinking about communication in this whole process.

Most people have the structures in place for this already in their company, even if you're normally in an office together. So lean into the structures really heavily right now and make sure you're writing a lot of stuff down and spreading it as widely as possible would be my advice.

Emma Tang: Yeah, that makes so much sense. At Stripe we've always had a very strong remote culture and we'd like to say default to transparency. So if you're having a conversation with me making decision, if you are, just got out of a meeting with other stakeholders, like always put it in a place where there's maximum transparency. So public channels over private channels, emails over slacks. so anything that you can default to transparency is really important for us.

The other thing that we'll, you said mentioned, ring a bell as we have this thing called decision logs, where even for small decisions on the engineering side, we log w. What we considered, why we made that decision and whether it makes us reconsider at a different time. so in that case, when, even when there's like new teammates joining, they can have a sense of continuity to see what's going on.

Doug Gaff: Yeah. That sounds exactly like our DACI's it sounds like you're doing exactly the same thing.

Emma Tang: Yep. the other thing I felt was really useful, and this is not directly related to communication, but like, when you're in the office, you just hear like random conversations going on and you pick up on clues, and choose what's important to you. And what's not, you have to be much more conscious of that when you're working remote. You have to pick what's important to you and send notifications to ping you on certain things. So we have a lot more, Git like alerts on different things going on just to be more like contextually aware.

Doug Gaff: Yeah, for sure. one of the things, pieces of advice I give to people when they start at Zapier is part of the art of working here is figuring out what you can ignore. and figure out what you need to pay attention to because there's, so we also have the default, the transparency value, and quite literally, everything is public. Like the only private channels in Slack are, hiring channels and manager channels. Everything else is public, including the company financials.

So pretty much anything you could possibly want to learn about. you can learn, with your, accounts at Zapier. And you can't consume everything. There's too many Slack channels. There's too much information. So you gott think about that

yeah, I do think transparency is awesome, but it also means you've got to filter really well.

Emma Tang: That's right. How to make engineers feel connected to the mission and company in this new world of everybody being fully remote, how do we ensure that, engineers still feel connected to what the company is about and feel like just connected to each other as well as to the company as well? And the mission?

Doug Gaff: Yeah, this is probably the hardest part of remote work, Feeling connected. We have a variety of things that we try to simulate this. the retreats, the in person retreats is certainly an anchor for us, like getting together and seeing people in person and discovering how tall or short people are like the funniest thing.

For many people, it's the first time they've ever seen their team in person. so it's a little, there's a lot of socializing that happens there.

So in the spaces, in between those things, we have a variety of things that we do for connectivity. So making sure that you're doing okay, falls first to your manager. Like we put a premium on one time we have training on it, like how to do good one-on-ones. And you're expected to do them weekly with all of your direct reports.

And it's your manager's job to make sure that, you're feeling connected that you understand your responsibilities, that any concerns you have, that are being addressed. Like the people management side is there's more requirement like when you're in a fully remote environment.

but we have a lot of other stuff too. So we have, a lot of channels as our water cooler simulation is in the fun channels in Slack. So we have a variety of affinity channels.

we have employee resource groups. So for affinity groups like LGBTQ and women, and at Zapier and stuff like that, we have affinity groups specifically for groups that want to organize around particular affinity.

we have, donut chats, which are the automated, pairings of chats that you get together with people that in the company that you maybe haven't met

We have mental health channels. so people that are struggling with mental health stuff, like anxiety or something like that, they will come into these channels again. And just talk about if they're having a bad day or they're really struggling with something, they talk through it and other people give them support.

it's a very empathetic environment, that we try to create. again, empathy is one of our core five values too. So we really try to weave that into the culture and the behavior of everyone.

The other thing that we do is we try to set clear advice on work-life boundaries remote world. So it's in all of our onboarding presentations and we call each other out on it. if I'm working late and I'm on a Slack channel, or my, one of my directors would be like, why are you working? go away.

So that kind of stuff, that's really good behavior because again, it's a 24 seven company and you can always find somebody working here and. You gotta be able to turn it off.

so these are some of the things that we do to both take care of people and maintain connectivity. and then of course, there's people still do like beer Fridays, virtually, and they have, gaming sessions and stuff like that. there's a lot of spot things that happen in the organization.

Emma Tang: That's super interesting. So we're still kind of learning the ropes of going fully remote here. so I think the first instinct that many companies actually go to it's like we need schedule more synchronous hangout things. So that people can simulate what the office feels like.

so we have a lot of teams right now. I started do these synchronous hangout, zoom sessions, where people come in and out. some teams are, trying out the, I think the health thing where they play music in the background and people just work on their laptops the whole time and people can talk if they want to.

so for us, you know, it's kind of paradoxical, but like, after we got into the pandemic, because our, just human interaction is so limited outside of work, the main source of human interaction actually is coming from work and we're also doing less work stuff and more of just hang outs with and like game time and all that.

So it makes sense. Yeah. And it says, it feels like we're, it's a good chance to Feel even more connected or build that connection even stronger, for folks within each other and also with the company. So that's been really good. We're still trying to figure out we've tried icebreaker video. we've also tried like code names. These are all pretty good options.

Doug Gaff: done that too. We've tried the like hang out in a room together and just chat where you want to chat. Definitely during the retreat that happened, quite a bit as well. Yeah. And different people have different working styles. I'm definitely one of those people who likes to be around people. So remote work is somewhat of a challenge for me.

non pandemic, like I would just go and sit in a coffee shop, even if, if I didn't have a lot of, meetings, whatever that day, just as physically be around people. had also tried to experiment with that, but again, different people need different needs there I think so.

Emma Tang: Yeah. Yeah. I'm curious about that. As an extrovert, when you first went folder remote, what is the most important things that you had to change or mindset that you have to set?

Doug Gaff: Really have to be deliberate about people time for me, like I have to schedule it. so I would schedule things after work.

I live just outside of Boston and I'm right on the subway line. So I would go, yeah, I'm going to go meet somebody in Boston for the evening or something like that, or schedule something locally here at my town outside of Boston. had to be really deliberate about that and force myself, even if I was tired at the end of the day saying, this is important. Like this will give you a second wind.

so that's definitely, for me, one thing, like I said, go into coffee shops and sitting around people, is also really helpful for me, just so it feels a little bit like I'm in an office that way, even if I'm not actually talking. and I certainly thrive on the retreats and those are a lot of fun as well.

Emma Tang: That makes sense. That makes sense. Yeah. As a professed introvert, honestly, this hass been really great for me. I've become more productive in a lot of ways, but I still do miss hang around people and be in the office.

Measuring productivity with "Innovation Accounting" and "Waterlining"one thing that I felt, was really interesting when I was reading up on Zapier's approach to measuring productivity is there's these concepts at Zapier that, It's useful to understand like how the team is doing it, like to keep a pulse on things.

I was wondering as the VP of engineer, like, are there specific metrics or tools or processes you use to gauge whether people are being productive or not, especially in the remote setting?

Doug Gaff: Yeah. So this is an evolving thing. We're still learning how to do this. This is new to my arrival here. I've been trying to. More better quantify, productivity and outcomes and stuff like that. so we've always had something called change logs, which are, they're like release notes, but it's more formalized in our, in that blogging tool. I was talking about earlier where people announce stuff that they're doing, whether it's customer facing work or internal facing changes that they're releasing. And those come weekly, like there's a topic in our blogging platform where you can read about change logs. So that's what we've had up to this point.

What I was really interested in is more what I would call innovation, accounting. So I want to know. How much time we're spending on fixing one, one set of bugs or technical debt versus how much we're investing in initiatives versus how much we're dealing with some new architectural thing. Like I'm trying to get a better sense of the spend across the organization.

we're just doing, Jira labels right now, but we're ingesting into our business intelligence system to try to better, map out how we're spending our energy.

we're also doing some portfolio management experiments right now So I talked about measuring on the back end. This is more planning on the front end... to just do a little bit better, mathematical planning upfront for how much time we want to spend on things. So then we can look at how much we've actually spent on the backend.

this is working so/so like to be totally honest with you, it's not fully baked yet. We have pretty good labeling so far, we have reports and certainly my leadership team is looking at them, I don't think they're at a point where the entire they're explainable to the entire company, because there's still, the granularity is not right. Sometimes it's too granular and person who's not inside of that particular product area is not going to know what they're talking about. And sometimes it's not granular enough. So we're trying to work through that.

part of what we're trying to do though, is, we're going to try to take that information and then use it for capacity planning. So when we launched something called a waterline analysis, last year, which was basically, here's all the stuff that we're working and here's all the stuff we want to work on and we only have capacity for stuff above the water line.

the charts and Looker had this exact view, here's the stuff above the waterline. Here's the stuff below the water line. And, the idea when this is working well is we can look at the portfolio that we planned. We can look at how we're actually spending, and we can have priority conversations. this is above the water line. This is below. Is that the right priority? And can we flip them?

But again, this is very much a work in progress. Like it's not a, we're still baking it and getting the disciplines built around this. so it's not perfect yet.

maybe one more thing I'll say. We also, we launched, SLO's this year as well for all of our services to make sure that we have a sense of, Security performance, reliability, that kind of thing. So that we have an, mathematical measurement for what we think is supposed to look like. So that ultimately we can keep, an automated way an automated measurement on. if someone, if we do a big change to the code, like to the Zapier editor and suddenly the SLO on performance drops or the measurement on performance drops dramatically, we'll know that we violated the SLO and we need to go back and see what happens.

So that's another thing that we were just putting in this place now. we have most of the measurements ready to go, but we haven't got the adaptive behavior yet to say, Oh... something broke. we need to fix it.

But that's generally how I'm trying to keep a pulse on things. it's mathematical because the companies 350 people, right? The engineering teams, 125, like it's getting to the point where it's harder to look as spot area and get a good sense. You really have to look at it mathematically.

Emma Tang: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I'm trying to reflect on, how Stripe does this? I think Stripe is for better, for worse. We're still very much evolving our processes on how we're tracking this. and some of the things that's been really helpful for us is, We have, execution tracking on all of the different pillars. and we have like weekly or biweekly think ups on the statuses of the P zero project. so we basically have some level of accountability and system to make sure that those are executed upon.

We also have a really strong concept of SLO's or reliability. We have, an actual separate pillar outside of infrastructure and product that's just reliability. And they're accountable for making sure everything across the board is still stable. And, Secure.

So that's really interesting how every company does it differently.

It's time to trust your people and fix your cultural anti-patterns

I want to ask you like a catchall kind of question. what would you say for companies that are very new to remote? Like they might not even have remote culture set up. In the beginning, but now are thrown in this world where, everybody's fully remote.

What are some things that they should think about or, just optimize and make sure things are better for their employees?

Doug Gaff: my usual response to this question is first and foremost, you have to trust your people. Like the horror stories you hear from companies that are.

Probably hopefully no one on this call, but some companies, they like, you must show up at this particular time and log in and say, you're here and stuff like that. and like stuff that tries to where your productivity is measured by your presence, that doesn't work in a fully remote environment.

if that's a cultural thing at a company that you have, you have to shed that. They have to say, we hired these people. We trust them. We expect them to be productive and get their job done. And we're not going to monitor like how much time you're in Slack or how much, whether you're online or not online.

That's just, that's not something we even talk about. at Zapier we just, we trust our people, we expect you to do your job.

So if you have any weird, like cultural anti-patterns, those need to be shaken out. Like I used to say, we know when to spend them excited. I said, don't try to fix yourcultural problems right now. Like just manage through the remote transition.

It looks like we're going to be in this for awhile. Like the, the pandemic keeps having hotspots and people. Aren't totally sure how to reopen yet. So I think I'm changing my advice now.

And if you have these weird cultural patterns, that aren't adapting themselves to remote you need to start tackling them head on and say, okay, we're remote now. And we're going to be partially remote for a long time at a minimum. Let's figure out how to do this and let's fix these weird things that aren't compatible with the remote. So trust is a key thing that I would say, that you have to tackle.

The communication stuff we talked about earlier, where you default, the written communication and default to transparency, you have to really, really deliberate about that right now. Because you have to still make people feel included and what might've been resolved very easily through a hallway conversation now is going to take more deliberate work to resolve. So you have to really be focused on that, if you're finding yourself remote for the first time.

So those are a couple of things that jumped in the jump to mind for me, but I would excellent,

Emma Tang: totally makes sense. I whole heartedly agree that, especially about editing your culture, default to transparency.

At Stripe, one of the other things we do, which is exactly in line with that is like setting things right in the beginning.

So our onboarding process is also super rigorous and. We're very careful about the message we're giving to every single new hire that joins in that we are writing oriented. We are remote friendly. We care about, building the strengths and not having this culture where everybody needs to be online the whole time.

So as managers as well, you have to repeat the message often to make sure that it really sinks in. And once it does everybody does, live that culture.

Doug Gaff: Yeah. another thing, I'd like to believe most people are good at this, but start off your one-on-ones asking how people are doing personally.

Like just check in with people's lives. Like everyone else, like some people have it worse than others working from home. some people have daycares are closed. schools are doing remote learning, like that a places,extra burden on parents. some people are like by themselves completely all the time and loneliness is ratcheting up.

Like you gotta really check in on people's mental health too, should be doing that anyway. But it's especially tricky right now. So I would add, don't forget the human component to this and we're not just workers for, just for the sake of work. Yeah.

Emma Tang: plus one on that!

Patrick Gallagher: Thank you, Emma. Thank you Doug, for a rapid fire, deep dive into the things that help optimize remote teams. We have a ton of questions that have come through the Q and A.

So with that Henrique, come on up and dive into your challenge.

How to prevent developer burnout

Henrique: Thanks, Doug and Emma, this has been very helpful, very actionable items I learned from this discussion. My question is about preventing burnouts. You briefly touched on some of the tactics you have to prevent developer burnout, but can you elaborate a little bit more?

How do you spot it? How do you handle it? How you would have that conversation with the developer?

Doug Gaff: So we've sometimes spotted it and sometimes we haven't that's what I'll say to you first. like we had one person who, resigned a couple of months ago who was burning out and we didn't see it happening. it's tricky for sure. there's obviously like, technical things you can do.

So if you see a pull requests and stuff like that happening at odd hours, And also happening at during that person's normal working hours, they're probably doing, putting in extra time. And if that's happening regularly, that's a good sort of mathematical indicator.

Do you see them on Slack a lot? At strange hours too? like I mentioned earlier, like having one of my directors saying, why are you working? I said, in fairness, I was sitting in my living room having a glass of wine. So I wasn't totally working, but he still said you should stop working and go do something else. So holding each other accountable for that is the second thing I would look for.

And then the third thing is it's really critical for the manager to like legit check in on how the person's doing. ask them about, how's work life balance, especially right now. How's it going for you personally? And Zapier is pretty good at this like we're. We're a very empathetic culture and we work really hard to have a more holistic management style. So we're pretty good at this, but sometimes we miss right. And so checking in on that is good.

And another thing that's really helpful that we do on the executive team. I dol with my staff and I presume they do it with their teams and their teams of teams is we do a red, yellow, green check in on the meetings. This was really helpful during the height of the pandemic. When, we were super nervous about, how's this going to impact the business? How our people are adapting to it. And basically the format is you go around the room and you just say, red, yellow, green, how are you doing?

And you can elaborate on what you're doing. Personal stuff is totally in bounds and people just listen. And they, they don't try to solve a problem for you. And so I'm, I might be like, I'm red today. I didn't get any sleep. I'm stressed about this thing. I'm not sure I'm going to get it done or this thing's happening personally. I'm I'm worried about a friend who's not well.

and it requires a certain level of vulnerability and you've got to have a trust, comfort level, but, that's another thing like as leaders, the best thing you can do is is demonstrate this kind of behavior so that other people know it's okay to do it.

So that's what I would say.

Emma Tang: Yeah. I super echo the part about you really checking in with folks to see on a human level, like, how are they doing? Are they burning out? One thing that I've seen a lot is they're folks who feel authentic responsibility for the team, right? So things come up and they're like, if nobody else is stepping up, I need to step up. I will continue to step up. And they accumulate a lot of things on their plate and they're working all the time.

So that's when a manager needs to step up and be like, I really understand where you're coming from. you need to slow down, ask other folks, help them take over some piece of the work that they're doing. To really low jet them a little bit.

the other thing is as I've said, like setting up a culture where, working over time is like, is not a good thing. You know, we all signed off our laptops. I encourage all the senior engineers to do so to model it for junior engineers. and, just having that culture on your team, on your org, where everybody just signs off and does not open the laptop when they're not at work, is really important.

Patrick Gallagher: Thanks guys. Thank you, Henrique.

How to influence leadership teams remotely

Next step, we're going to be inviting up Clayton.

Clayton: Morning, everyone, from Australia. so my question is about influencing teams, especially, leadership teams. so I really liked the way that Zapier sounds quite structured and almost methodical and regimented and meetings are scoped and documented. but where does influencing, like where do you fit that into your method of work? And do you have any tips on doing that in a remote, leadership team?

Doug Gaff: what type of influence you're talking about? Can you give a specific example?

Clayton: Nudging the groups thinking specifically, where you're really trying to take a contentious topic to a point. to more of a consensus.

So I guess taking the groups, thinking from somewhere where they're generally disagreeing to generally getting a decision out. I guess the early stages, the influence phase before you come to the final decision, I hope that makes it clearer.

Doug Gaff: Yes. So my answer is going to feel a little unfair because Zapier's culture is different than most of the other cultures that I've been at. The culture itself is very egalitarian, so anyone can suggest anything and people do.

Admittedly, there's a different comfort level. You have to be here a certain amount of time before you really understand the culture. but. Even like I've seen new people who are a few weeks in suggesting like big things right out of the gate.

So we seem to have a culture that just encourages that level of feedback. I, if feedback is one of our values, one of our five values, of course. But people just feel like they need to speak up.

it's been incredibly prevalent with, the black lives matter protests, and there's a lot of passion in the organization, for how we can better serve, underrepresented groups in our Zapier community and more abroad. and there's just a ton of great material coming from this. we have a little bit of an embarassment of riches sometimes in the number of ideas that come from the company.

so I'll take the contentious thing. So we really do seek, feedback on things that are contentious, and the ideal sort of planning around say an initiative has got a certain level of thought down. Like the executives want to see something and we, so we're pushing for something and a certain level of bottom up, like the team wants to do something. And there's an ideal split of that when it's working well.

Sometimes it's the balance is out of whack or sometimes we'll say we really should do this. And the team will be like, Why? Like we have no context on that.

but the important thing is that generally the teams are pretty good about asking why, if they don't, if they don't believe or they don't understand something. but it's a continuum muscle you have to develop. I would say. If you don't have that culture, It's a lot harder, right? because you're managing up. I would recommend maybe, a book like crucial conversations or something like, find a framework for having contentious discussion. We have training around this the way one of our courses is around how to deliver difficult feedback. and it takes you through a process for how to have a conversation that's that stays in facts. That talks about how you experienced something that gets to resolution. so we have a mechanism that we try to teach people for how to do this. so that's another factor you can go, but sometimes it's on you.

if, especially if an organization is. Doesn't have a great culture around this? it's a muscle, you have to develop yourself. And there's a lot of material, like crucial conversations, books, that those style of books that will give you tools for having these difficult conversations.

So Alright, Emma, you wanna add anything?

Emma Tang: at Stripe we have, it's one of our values. they really drill you in during the onboarding for all every day process. And one of them is called disagree and commit. and we take that pretty seriously.

So there's going to be many cases where we just cannot reach agreement when something becomes very contentious. But as long as we get to a point where we're like, we all have good intentions, we need to make a decision. I think culturally disagreeing commit is so ingrained that oftentimes we could just break through and be like, I disagree with you, but I'm going to support you regardless. And we'll find out later on, if this was the right decision, then we'll reevaluate next time we're making this decision, but we have to move forward. so that's been really useful as a cultural value for us.

the other thing is we have something called an unblock process. and this is where, you really can't resolve it, between you and the other teams or different organizations. There's a actual, like a step by step guide on how you write it an unblock, gather evidence, talk to different people, write up these written unblock documents and then share them with whoever you're unblocked like, person is like, so for every org, it's usually like the least common ancestor of your two orders. and you actually do that.

And what most people find is in the process of writing the unblock process. they figured out how to move forward, if that makes sense. And it automatically resolves on its own because you, you have to get really rigorous on the pros and cons and everything you're talking about.

So that's also been really helpful, but I agree that's always a little bit difficult.

Patrick Gallagher: Wonderful. Thank you, Clayton for joining us all the way from Australia.

How to communicate priorities to multiple groups and teams this next question comes from George. Do you have any recommendations around communicating priorities, especially with multiple groups and teams.

Doug Gaff: Yeah, I mentioned the sort of bottom up planning process earlier in the call, for, we do a quarterly roadmap planning for solid.

So let's say, and the teams build and by team, the team and there. Engineering product engineering manager, product manager, and designer trio leadership trio. They build their roadmap, but these roadmaps, they offer, they typically work in service of the top four initiatives that the company is working on right now.

So in the executive planning process that we do in the fall, we last year we planned for four big initiatives that we want to do across the company. and each one of these, most of the teams have something that rolls up into these initiatives.

From a prioritization perspective what we do is we check on these initiatives monthly and we sanity check the priorities in them. Are we working on the right thing? Is it focused on the core of the initiative? for stuff that doesn't roll into an issue. And we also do a monthly check-in, like a business review style thing, okay, we're in this particular, like one area is our top of funnel work, for how we get new customers into Zapier.

There's a business review around that monthly where we also have a sanity check on, priorities because every other company, we have a million things and not enough people to do them. So you have to have this debate about what is most important.

This is a kind of a new, like a new muscle. We've been really practicing this, very deliberately in 2020, even before the pandemic and we're getting better at it. There's still, I was talking to the CEO today about it. I'm like, I feel like I play whack-a-mole with this problem. we, we get things really focused in one area and then something pops up where too many things are happening in parallel in another. And you have to go deal with that.

But it is a, he said, this is tending a garden. Like we're trying to get, keep this focus and not have ourselves spread so thin. that's a philosophy here. Like we don't want people burning themselves out, which means we can't do everything. So we've got to pick the right stuff.

So again, Clear initiatives or the company what's important to the company is the key here. And then a clear connections between those initiatives and what individual teams are working on is the second thing. And then the third thing is having those regular priority discussions for the instances where there are conflicts of, who's working on what and what, we're, what we have capacity to do.

That's what I would say.

Patrick Gallagher: Thank you so much, George, for your, question.

Health metrics to track your teams - happiness surveys, pull requests, and "innovation accounting"

Doug I'm jumping right into another rapid fire question. you were talking about innovation accounting earlier. And a lot of people have been talking about they're struggling with measuring and tracking.

Are there any health metrics that you track for your teams, for instance, like developer productivity or developer happiness. Are there anything that you're looking at right now that helps you get a sense of what's going well?

Doug Gaff: Yeah. let's talk about happiness first. So we do, two surveys per year, through culture amp that, that tap into how people are doing holistically. and we also have pulse surveys that happen fairly regularly, and those are really good for getting a pulse on how the organization is doing, not just about productivity, but just general happiness.

we did something special for COVID, especially because we wanted to understand people's personal life situations so that we knew we were creating programs that were respectful of that. Cause we didn't want people trying to do everything like take care of the family and then do a full 40 hour week job is all so surveys are like one, one mechanism.

Productivity. I've been looking at, statistics on pull requests, just to track them over time to just, I see That's a whole other conversation, but there, but that's been an interesting, that was my remote retreat project was to pull a bunch of pull requests and look at data since Zapier was founded, essentially, and look at flood for trends.

the innovation accounting thing is looking at, inflow rate and outflow rate of tickets in JIRA to see if you're like increasing to infinite tech debt, right? so that, and in some teams we are like some teams that the tickets coming in versus the tickets going out are getting worse, especially teams that are service oriented, like SRE and data and stuff like that.

So that's another thing we're looking at right now. I say this is a work in progress cause we haven't figured it out totally how to manage it just yet. We're still looking at the data, trying to figure out what the ideal is, but we haven't totally figured out how to manage it. Those are three things that we do.

Patrick Gallagher: That was great. Thank you. you so for people where this is new and the rules of remote work have changed, do you have any final words of wisdom for what you would encourage people to focus on to help them continue to optimize their productivity?

Doug Gaff: So we have a, an ebook on zap your site that you can check out that gives the talks about some of the stuff that I've talked about. It's not really engineering specific as just generally how to build a remote company, but I would take a look at that next.

there's a ton of great material in there. We just revised it about a month ago, I think maybe six weeks ago and just publish a new version of it. keep reading up on this, we like to advertise this. We like to push remote work on other folks because we believe in it very strongly.

So I would do more research and then propose things to your company. Like you find something in that book or from this talk or whatever that talks to your attending on remote and go to your manager, go to your director, go to your VP and say, I think we should try X. let's just experiment. It doesn't have to be a full up change. Let's just try this for a little while and see if it works.

that's the only way you're going to really like. Get positive change and get people being more comfortable with remote. especially if you want it to be permanent. if you want to have a mixture of remote forever, you're going to have to really socialize that now. And there's a ton of great material to lean it on.

I would do that. That's why I leave you with. Great.

Patrick Gallagher: Thank you. Really great. Really great advice there, Emma, thank you so much for guiding a rapid fire conversation covering so much ground for great insights from Doug and Doug. Thank you for sharing your time, your wisdom and your expertise with everybody here.

I know I can walk away from this conversation with a little more confidence that we can get out of this trough of disillusionment and into the land of sustained productivity within the world of remote work.

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*Bonus* Optimizing Productivity for Remote Engineering Teams
Aug 30th, 2020 Views 53