Growing a product organization

OT’s product team for Halloween

At top: OpenTable’s product team celebrates their victory in the company’s annual halloween costume competition.

I started at OpenTable nine years ago. It was me, 7 engineers, a contract designer and a straightforward purview – the consumer website. Aside from perhaps having our designer around more full-time, it was a pretty good setup.

A lot has changed since then.

That engineering team grew from 7 to over 100. Design and research teams were born and integrated into the organization. The product teams that used to think about our consumer and restaurant products separately joined to think about one cohesive experience. We went from a waterfall organization that released once a year on the restaurant side and once a month on the consumer side, to an agile organization which has moved closer to continuous deployment across the board.

Most importantly, the company who set out to deliver online reservations has grown into a company that aspires to power great dining experiences.

The challenge during this recent change has been – how do we bottle the magic of that original team in to this growing organization?

With thoughtful partnerships amongst design, engineering, product and marketing, we’ve created a future structure that embodies how we want to work.

The key? Small teams.

Each product area supporting our business has been carved in to an independently run team, with a product manager, design, engineering, and product marketing. Inspiration comes from customers and data and teams are let loose to experiment. Success is measured by the metric that is most relevant to that area. We’ve brought in delivery managers to help with the impediments that are often introduced with what could be multiple team complexity, and we try to ensure our overall vision and unified strategy is known through the teams.

While this structure is still relatively new (and not fully operating 100%) we’re excited about the potential. Many who have been in product or design or technology know the magic of this small team, the one you can have lunch with and talk about the challenges of the day, one who you can celebrate your wins with, and have healthy debates about what’s next.

I often get asked as we are interviewing new candidates, “what keeps you here after nine years?”. Given the above, I feel like we are just getting started.

A special shout out to Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product Group for his continued support and inspiration on building great products and teams.