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

rupert THURNER rupert.thurner at gmail.com
Wed Nov 7 04:34:10 UTC 2012

hi erik,

there is a lot of good reasoning in your mail. you talk of "engineering
functions" and "product functions" already existing. which ones are these,
what is their responsibility, and how many people work in these functions


On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 4:03 AM, Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:

> ---------- 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
> whack.
> - 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
> autonomously.
> 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
> negatives.
> 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
> follows:
> * 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
> --
> 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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