When A Product Roadmap & Career Ladder Helps A Company Scale

Product Team
Scaling Team
Building a Team
Career Path

4 March, 2020

Rushil Goel

Rushil Goel

VP Product at Samsara

Rushil Goel, VP of Product at Samsara, wanted to build a product team to help scale their company. In this process, they realized they would be able to create a career ladder and fully establish teams and ICs that would be able to help them reach their aggressive growth goals.

Problem

A couple of years ago, our product team consisted of one other person and I. As we were growing, this started to become a problem because it required more of our time. Since our product surface area was increasing, it made sense for us to grow the product team.

Initially, the focus on building a product team would help us get a strong high season.

We did not have a profile dialed in as it related to growing the team before because we had a few folks who had come in more organically. We did not have much of a product manager recruiting process, and we had to figure out how to optimize their experience.

To solve this problem, we had to ask ourselves, “How do we grow our product team by bringing in new talent and combine them with our current team while aligning with our goals for the season and future growth of the company?”

Actions Taken

Initially, we looked at our current teams within engineering and other departments to help us understand the different profiles. We also reached out and talked with many people in the industry to understand the different types of profiles out there. This information helped us start to form a perspective on what our initial profiles would be. Various iterations developed over six months to twelve months. As is continued to evolve, it allowed us to define our recruiting process better.

As we began to develop an understanding of good hiring practices and what we needed to build our career ladder, we dove into our aggressive goals surrounding building a product team.

We focused on bringing the right people in very quickly. A significant amount of that initial focus for the first six to nine months was to get the core folks in place. These core folks would ideally start filling the roles of managers, lead groups, or product areas.

As we built and developed our team leaders and managers, we started focusing on hiring secondary folks as well. This process was a combination of identifying and developing the career ladder. Since it did not quite exist yet, building the team this way would allow us to understand the different levels and assess the skill sets that are involved.

With this, we built a matrix of eight to ten skill sets that we think identified as necessary for a product manager to be successful at our company, or even within the industry. This matrix development really helped us develop benchmarks for what the different levels were.

This one tool helped us identify the existing folks who could grow into managers and start managing new team members. By having our teams know the expectations as we brought new people in, we would make sure we were leveling them up properly.

Once we built this foundation, we were able to make some adjustments and add some flavor to the recruiting process. We could have some of our managers take ownership of the recruitment process since we developed the targets to hit during recruitment. This empowerment did not require as much oversight from us, and it enabled our team to make critical decisions.

Necessarily, having the right people in place and building a team that fits into the career ladder matrix we had built led to our team is highly capable of working towards and executing our aggressive product roadmap goals.

Furthermore, since we expanded the surface area for our products very quickly, these teams would now be focusing on the product roadmap. We would be executing in terms of building those products and features. We needed to integrate the right teams so that engineering would accurately deliver the products, specs, and features to our sales team and so forth.

Lessons Learned

Overall, once we identified the need to have product managers and develop a product roadmap that worked, we needed to hire according to that. By employing the folks that were best suited to our situation, we could develop a career ladder matrix that integrated nicely with our new teams. Ideally, this would help us target the broad area that needed more granular attention that would help us continue to grow.

As we were hiring many ICs, I learned that a fast feedback loop was critical. We had to be quick and calculating in determining that we were targeting the right profiles to join our team.

Quick feedback was essential to help us avoid discrepancies in the interviews. If we were not quite seeing the right quality of people, we needed to find a way to develop a formalized interview guide to create some consistency. Of course, it would keep evolving, but having that document would be an ideal way to combat any inconsistencies.

An evolving formal interview guide helped us target the right profiles while attempting to avoid most bias and ensuring that every candidate was getting a fair opportunity. It helped us determine the right interview questions, the right panel, and we were able to adjust quickly to account for any issues. We learned the value of fast feedback and improved accordingly, which made our hiring process better and led to more consistency.

As we got better at this, we were better suited to figure out the right profile for the different stages of the company. We had a vision of the type of people we wanted to hire at that time, and this natural evolution helped us develop our career ladder while focusing on our aggressive goals.


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