In this talk I gave at ProductTank London I share some of my personal learnings of scaling mobile teams at XING to a distributed setup with currently 8 teams who contribute in parallel to fortnightly releases of our iOS and Android apps. While some of the topics I address are specific to web-era companies most of them apply to any company that needs to move beyond a single mobile product team.
Our Goal: Full Stack Product Thinking
Today’s users expect to use services on whichever platform they chose to use in a given moment. To address this perspective we have to abandon the silos of mobile/non-mobile that still exist inside many companies. Instead we need to move towards a state of Full Stack Product Thinking in which a Product Manager who’s responsible for a particular product such as the user profile is responsible for ALL representations of this product – because she will be the most knowledgeable person to understand the users, the market and the specifics of her product.
Four Areas of Change
In my talk I categorize the changes necessary to enable Mobile Scaling in 4 areas and give an example each:
- Staffing & Setup: We needed to establish new roles and competencies within Platform and Full Stack Domain Teams
- Patterns & Ways of Working: We rolled out a modular design systems and processes for collaboration
- Infrastructures: We introduced a set of new internal products and learned to manage them just like user-facing products
- Common Plan: We established a bi-weekly Release Train as the backbone of a collaborative release schedule
From the many learnings we made over the course of the past 2+ years I highlighted the following three:
Scaling Mobile does not mean more of the same
It means a substantial change in roles & responsibilities: The newly formed platform teams need to accept to leverage themselves through others and focus on internal products and communication instead of features. The full stack domain teams need to learn how to handle several platforms at once.
Active alignment is crucial
Because scaling mobile is such a substantial change process you need to make active alignment a priority! This starts with bringing everybody on the same page about new overarching initiatives (at XING we use a framework for collaborative alignment called Auftragsklärung). As a platform team it is also crucial to understand when to provide additional guidance or introduce or change processes.
Standards vs. Innovation
Possibly the biggest challenge when scaling mobile is the continuous balancing act between an efficient level of standardization and an environment that fosters innovation in a highly competitive market. We have decided to be consciously strict in areas where we would otherwise just re-invent the wheel – and by doing so save up time & energy for real innovation from all teams involved.
Overall we have learned that Scaling Mobile is a middle-distance race: It takes endurance, is intense and does not offer quick wins – but it’s worth it because it offer opportunities to learn for all involved – and it is the only way to provide a relevant service to our users.