IndeedEng Culture: Make Better Mistakes

In the previous post, I described the importance of keeping teams independent. In this post, I talk about how Indeed encourages teams to turn mistakes into learning.

In most organizations, mistakes are never part of the plan. Plans are always designed to succeed. Plans never contain a chapter for “what if we are totally wrong about this or that.” Most of the time, by sheer force of habit; and sometimes, out of someone’s ego.

This idea is so brilliant that it cannot fail. Let’s rally everybody around it and celebrate how awesome it is. If it fails, let’s blame the project owner; it is certainly their fault. Let’s blame the engineers; they were not smart enough to understand the requirements or solve their technical problems. Let’s blame marketing or sales; these people had the product that the competition wanted and they just blew it.

Look back at how many mistakes NASA made before sending someone on the moon. Look at how many rockets SpaceX lost before its first successful return. These organizations succeed not because they don’t make mistakes, but because they have defined a process on how to make them and learn from them.

At Indeed, we turn making mistakes into a process, so that they become learnings.

  1. Identify the assumptions. Instead of residing in an echo chamber, discuss your idea with those who think it’s doomed to failure. Do not try to convince each other; it rarely happens. Instead, try to agree on the smallest experiment possible, which will scientifically demonstrate where the truth lies.
  2. Use a test framework. Comparing before and after is usually what people do, but it has its flaws: what about external factors? How can we run several experiments at the same time? We use A/B testing for everything we ship (except high priority bugs).
  3. Take single steps as much as possible. Change one thing at a time. Avoid having multiple assumptions or variables in the same experiment.
  4. Do not blame. The only true mistake is to not have learned anything. When something does not work, draw the conclusions and move on to the next experiment. If you fail fast enough, the mistakes are not personal setbacks for careers.

What’s next?

In the next post, I describe how to manage consolidation debt, a type of technical debt that expresses itself as redundancies and inconsistencies across your products.  

Cross-posted on Medium.

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