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Engineering Workshop - April 2022

Stephen Sitton
By Stephen Sitton — May 17, 2022 -

Sometimes, we need a good excuse to get out of the office. We’ve been particularly busy recently with our May product release coming up, so it was the perfect time to have a break, get together and have some fun!

So, in April, the Engineering team met together for a workshop. It was the first time we’d all been together for a while, and we’ve had some new joiners (including me!), so it was a great opportunity for us to build on existing relationships and form new ones.

What were the objectives?

As much as we enjoy getting together, we also wanted some objectives for the workshop.

There've been several changes recently as we've grown as a company, and we’ve evolved our product teams as a result.  We have a new product strategy for the teams to understand, and the company’s adopted a new 4DX process (moving away from OKRs). Plus, new people have joined our teams! 

The first objective was to discuss and share the good, the bad and even the ugly about how those changes have affected us. 

The second objective was to have productive discussions about certain topics. Having everyone together is the perfect chance to discuss the world of tech! Our platform is always evolving, so covering our technology roadmap is important. We also wanted to discuss how we can be better at giving recognition — our teams are doing amazing work, so we wanted to learn how we can do more to appreciate them. 

The final objective was to share my vision for the future. Mention Me is growing fast, especially within Engineering, which means the way our teams are structured will evolve. Being transparent about our thinking helps everyone feel like part of the journey. Also, we have some great company values, so I wanted to share how they can apply to our day-to-day work in the Engineering team.


What did we learn?

Having everyone together was the perfect opportunity for people to ‘let it all out’. While we want to know what people enjoy about working at Mention Me, we also need to know what’s tricky or frustrating.

We learned that the Engineers really enjoy the teams and our culture. Some points mentioned include:

  • They enjoy the challenging work and the opportunity to learn new things in their teams, but they also get to laugh a lot! 
  • The no-blame culture was praised, as well as how supportive people are and how much we celebrate together
  • Many commented on how flexible the work/life balance is
  • A popular perk across the company is the unique socials that happen every quarter (and company-wide drinks every month)

In reality, not everything can be fun all the time. There are always challenges and frustrations, and this is why creating opportunities for people to share these safely is important. Some painful areas the team brought up are:

  • It’s hard to find the time to improve legacy code and tech debt
  • Many changes are happening regularly, especially as the company is growing so quickly
  • There’s not a clear career structure for growth
  • There aren’t yet enough people to meet our ambition

We shared that the career framework is a priority for us to introduce, and we’re planning to have a structure in place by the summer. In other areas, like the frequency of things changing, it’s important to actively listen to feedback and continuously work out how we can be better. 


Tech Challenges

As a group, we wanted to dig deeper into some of the tech challenges we face. The platform has developed considerably over the last few years and will continue to evolve as Mention Me grows. Tech debt and legacy code were issues raised earlier in our discussion, so finding a way to tackle this is important. 

Through our conversations, it became more apparent where some of the challenges lie: “understanding the ‘why’”, “lack of direction”, “unsure of priorities”, “it's a complex/big platform”, “taking shortcuts with solutions”. These are all valid points, and it’s clear we can do better in many of these areas. Sharing better stories for the ‘why’ and being more transparent with our priorities and direction are simple improvements we can make. Other points, like taking shortcuts and the complexity of the platform, will need more discussion.

We realised we need to create more opportunities for tech discussions across the teams. We already have various cross-team Guilds (who focus on particular areas of interest that work well) but we want to be having more general, broader discussions.

Our ‘Friday Sessions’ are also enjoyed by the team. These allow anyone in the product teams to share what they’ve been working on, either from their team work or a Perspective Day project. This also allows for further discussion that can cover some of our tech challenges. There’s usually time at the end to chat, as we wind down and get ready for the weekend.

For even more discussion opportunities, we’ve now reinstated our Lunch & Learn sessions! Here, people can share anything tech-related to hear thoughts and opinions from the team. With tech challenges, we’ve been looking for Engineers to bring their ideas to the team for further brainstorming on possible solutions.


Looking Forward

One thing we knew from the workshop was that we wanted to improve our recognition of individuals and teams. Straight after the workshop, we started a weekly ‘Appreciation Time’ Slack thread, where people can shout out anyone they want to recognise that week.  

This has made an immediate positive impact, with people across our teams giving shoutouts for the great work that’s happening. Teams have also started making recognition a regular part of their retros. We still have more to work on, but it’s been great seeing this positivity across the teams.

A clearer career framework is also needed to provide structure and expectations at different levels, and to guide people’s growth throughout their time at Mention Me. This is in progress, and we hope to have the first version ready by the summer. One thing we’d like to incorporate more into the Engineering teams is our company values (Go Boldly, Earn Trust, Support Each Other, Keep Balance, Strive). Having a common set of values as part of our day-to-day life helps manage our expectations of ourselves and each other.

Mention Me is scaling rapidly, which means there’ll be a lot of change to the Engineering teams as we look to meet the demands of a growing company (and as we learn better ways to work together). This is both exciting and challenging, but it’s only through working together and being open that we can maintain a healthy Engineering culture.

Overall, the day was a great success. We were able to work together on some of our challenges, while also having some fun!

Fun in the workshop:eng workshop - Apr 22

Finished with a social

Mention Me is a sociable company, so we couldn’t end the afternoon together without doing a team activity. This time, we went axe throwing! 

axe throwing - Apr 22

(I’m not entirely sure why Ed has a drill in his hand…)

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