We have a supportive and collaborative environment.
Everyone has a huge impact.
We care about everyone’s personal growth.
Those are just a few of the things I say to people when they ask me about the culture we’re building at Transfix. They’re true. I do mean them, but I know what they sound like. These are platitudes. Buzzwords. And they sound like BS, really, when I read them out loud. I’m acutely aware that literally anyone can say these things. Platitudes don’t differentiate us from the next team. Buzzwords don’t make a culture. The only reason I can say these things to the people I work with and the people I want to work with is because they’re true and we make every effort to organize ourselves so those platitudes are more than just a bunch of words clubbed together to make us appear different or more modern or better than the next company a few blocks away.
I happen to believe we are different (I’m biased), but it’s more important to take off the buzzword training wheels and show how we’re working hard to build a company and a product that makes us proud. I’ll start by outlining the philosophies that influence how we organize and affect our everyday lives and then I’ll walk you, my dear reader, through the Great Matrix.
Philosophies that Drive the way we Organize
Focus to Finish
We can only achieve our goals through laser-like focus and effective prioritization. We contend that the best team structure is one that allows its members to focus on one project at a time. While it can be attractive for any team to work on more than one major stream of work at once, we believe it ultimately means we finish nothing quickly and absolutely nothing with high quality. So we manage the work we take on and we finish one thing before moving on to the next. This also means that we have to constantly ask the most important question: “Is this the right project for right now?”
Grow Every Day
As individuals, as managers, as a team, we strive to grow everyday. Our project management structure is built on the premise that our initial hypothesis is imperfect and must be improved through consistent analysis and input from all team members. Our organization structure is setup to give individuals the opportunity to lead, or follow, but mostly to learn. We consider it a part of every engineer’s job to teach each other and communicate candidly and constructively up, down, and across the organization. It is one of the major things we hold each other accountable for during performance reviews and weekly 1:1’s.
Favor Fluidity over Rigidity
We value new experiences in new areas of the business and have structured our teams in a way that dissuades political land grabs via headcount or functional ownership of one team over another. This gives individuals and managers the ability to move freely and often from one area of the business to another while maintaining continuity of career growth and management. Essentially, we want everyone, as much as is possible, to feel as if they’ve gotten a new job every 9 – 12 months at Transfix.
Empower and Entrust
We believe each team, each individual for that matter, has the power to effect great change in our company. Our engineering track structure gives each team power over their product’s future, the way they implement, when they deploy, and ownership over their features. Each track owns the growth of each product and will be held accountable for it. It is this responsibility that makes the difference. We all crave impact and we are organized to give our teams the responsibility to have the impact they crave.
Don’t Forget the Small Things (The Pym Rule)
While we place a Focus to Finish mentality at our core, focusing on one project can leave small tickets not attached to a larger initiative behind and that can adversely impact our business’s ability to execute. To avoid this kind of stagnation, we have an 80/20 rule (named after Hank Pym, fictional creator of Ant-man – Small projects, big impact). 80% of every engineer’s time (or 4 days a week) should be spent on their major project. 20% of every engineer’s time (or 1 day a week) should be spent on Pym tickets. This balances our execution, gives everyone a bit of a respite from their day to day, and ensures we don’t let our systems descend into disarray because we’re solely focused on the shiniest things.
The Great Matrix
Our org structure is inspired by Spotify’s famous culture video, but contorted a bit to reflect our collective experiences at small and large companies. In a nutshell, the Transfix tech team is a large cross-functional, and mostly flat, matrix. While our reporting structure is based on an individual’s core competency (Back-end and Infrastructure engineers report to a Back-end and Infrastructure engineer and Front-end engineers report to a Front-end engineer), our product tracks are based on a set of roles necessary to complete the work effectively. For instance, any given track will have members from each competency (Back-end, Front-end, Product Design, Project Management, etc) represented and that cross-functional team will move as one unified group through the product roadmap they’ve all agreed on.
We then assign each team member a role and responsibility. This is different than a title. You can be a software engineer and have the role of Back-end Tech Lead or Track Lead. The role in the team tells you what you should do every day. This is different than an individual’s title. An individual’s title is a mark of that person’s personal growth and abilities. This also allows us to reward talent without manufacturing positions. Essentially, the great matrix allows us to continuously create opportunities within the team and give people the chance to stretch their legs.
While a matrixed organization is not unique, ours is purposefully grown from the basic cultural tenets that drive our behavior. So when I say to a candidate that “we care about personal growth,” I get to say it with certainty, because everyone in the organization feels it and acts on it everyday. We collectively push each other to live up to our core values as an engineering organization and I can sleep at night with the knowledge that even though my words are buzzy, they are at least true.
The above image is the first documented organization chart made for the Erie Railroad in 1855. You can read more about the image here.