[Wikimedia-l] Fwd: [Tech/Product] Engineering/Product org structure

Erik Moeller erik at wikimedia.org
Tue Nov 6 03:03:16 UTC 2012


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org>
Date: Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 5:38 PM
Subject: [Tech/Product] Engineering/Product org structure
To: Staff All <wmfall at lists.wikimedia.org>

Hi folks,

consistent with Sue's narrowing focus mandate, I’ve been thinking &
talking the last few weeks a fair bit with a bunch of different people
about the future organizational structure of the engineering/product
department. Long story short, if we want to scale the dept, and take
seriously our identity as a tech org (as stated by Sue), it’s my view
that we need to split the current department into an engineering dept
and a product dept in about 6-8 months.

To avoid fear and anxiety, and to make sure the plan makes sense, I
want to start an open conversation now. If you think any of the below
is a terrible idea, or have suggestions on how to improve the plan,
I’d love to hear from you. I’ll make myself personally available to
anyone who wants to talk more about it. (I'm traveling a bit starting
tomorrow, but will be available via email during that time.) We can
also discuss it at coming tech lunches and such.

There’s also nothing private here, so I’m forwarding this note to
wikitech-l@ and wikimedia-l@ as well. That said, there’s no urgency in
this note, so feel free to set it aside for later.

Here’s why I’m recommending to Sue that we create distinct engineering
and product departments:

- It’ll give product development and the user experience more
visibility at the senior mgmt level, which means we’ll have more
conversations at that level about the work that most of the
organization actually does. Right now, a single dept of ~70 people is
represented by 1 person across both engineering and product functions
- me. That was fine when it was half the size. Right now it’s out of

- It’ll give us the ability to add Director-level leadership functions
as appropriate without making my head explode.

- I believe that separating the two functions is consistent with Sue’s
recommendation to narrow our focus and develop our identity as an
engineering organization. It will allow for more sustained effort in
managing product priorities and greater advocacy for core platform
issues (APIs, site performance, search, ops improvements, etc.) that
are less visible than our feature priorities.

A split dept structure wouldn’t affect the way we assemble teams --
we’d still pull from required functions (devs, product, UI/UX, etc.),
and teams would continue to pursue their objectives fairly

It’s not all roses -- we might see more conflict between the two
functions, more us vs. them thinking, and more communications
breakdowns or forum shopping. But net I think the positives would
outweigh the negatives, and there are ways to mitigate against the

The way we’d get there:

I’m prepared to resign from my engineering management responsibilities
and to focus solely on my remaining role as VP of Product, as soon as
a successor for VP of Engineering has been identified. We would start
that hiring process probably in early 2013. I’m recommending to Sue
that we seriously consider internal candidates for the VP of
Engineering role, as we have a strong engineering management team in
place today.

So realistically we'd probably identify that person towards the end of
the fiscal year.

Obviously I can’t make any promises to you that in that brave new
world, you’ll love whoever gets hired into the VP of Engineering role,
so there’s some unavoidable uncertainty there. I’ll support Sue in the
search, though, and I’m sure she’d appreciate feedback from you on the
kind of person who you think would be ideal for the job.

The VP of Product role would encompass a combination of functions.
Howie and I would work with the department to figure out what makes
sense as an internal structure. My opening view is that Analytics and
User Experience are potential areas that may benefit from dedicated
Director-level support roles. (Analytics is tricky because it includes
a strong engineering piece, but also a research/analyst piece working
closely with product.) The new structure would therefore be as

* VP of Engineering -> Directors of Engineering
* VP of Product -> Director of Product Development, plus new
Director-level functions (we've discussed UX/Design as a likely new
leadership function, and Analytics as a _potential_ area to centralize
here because it works so closely with product)

Why Product? I’m happy to help the org in whatever way I can; I
believe I’d be most useful to it in focusing there and helping build
this relatively new organizational function. Based on my past
experience, Howie & I make a great team. I know how engineering
operates, which could help mitigate against some of the aforementioned
issues. Plus, our product priorities generally already reflect lots of
thought and consideration, and we have no intent of reopening
questions like "Is Visual Editor the top product priority".

I look forward to hearing your thoughts & discussing this further in
coming weeks.

All best,

Erik Möller
VP of Engineering and Product Development, Wikimedia Foundation

Support Free Knowledge: https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Donate

Erik Möller
VP of Engineering and Product Development, Wikimedia Foundation

Support Free Knowledge: https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Donate

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