How we build at Textio

When’s the last time you had a chill-inducing, unforgettable idea? Ideas are fragile things, and good ones are incredibly rare. Ideas also have power – the right idea can be the catalyst to change our lives, our company, and our world.

At Textio, our teammates bring unique, fresh ideas to their work every single day. A big part of what we do on the engineering team is build out those ideas, collaborate across the company, and create something that’s as true as possible to each idea’s spirit. Here are some of the principles we believe make Textio one of the best places to build as an an engineer.

We value people over process

Processes exist to serve people. At Textio, we work diligently to ensure all our processes are both valuable and flexible. If a process is tedious, dehumanizing, or is taking more time that it’s worth (see: granular time tracking) we replace it with something lighter that gets us a similar benefit. We believe that no process can replace human conversation, and we build our processes to encourage more discussion and collaboration in-person.

We know small, empowered teams build better

At Textio we hire people who are great at something, give them hard problems to work on, and trust them to be outstanding. To facilitate this, work at Textio is done in Squads. Squads are small teams of fewer than 9 people from across the organization that are empowered to solve a hard problem. Each squad starts with a specific idea that grows and evolves as the squad builds. Squads decide on a meeting cadence and a tracking system that works for them internally, which varies quite a bit based on the size and scale of their idea. Each squad has ownership of the results of their idea across the company, and they work to create the best overall results together.

Every week on Fridays, we give Squad Updates (or “squpdates”). Each squad takes the time to write a short summary of their week, which goals they’ve completed, and what they’re planning on starting next week. This lightweight process helps the entire company understand what’s being worked on and where we are along each idea’s journey.

We get lots of perspectives early

Ideas at Textio start small. Usually they’ll look something like a thumbnail and a few bullet points. This is the perfect time to get varied perspectives: when there’s still lots of ambiguity and things are easily moldable. At this early stage we start with a meeting between a business advocate, who is the person who knows the most about the spirit of the idea, and the technical lead of the squad, who can be any developer. These two collaborators work together to discover what kinds of people they’ll need to make the idea a reality. Who can help them see more viewpoints on the idea? What does the architecture of the solution likely look like? How can they execute in a way that plays well with how the rest of our offering works? What development talents will be particularly useful in building the idea? The technical lead and the business advocate work together to answer these questions and more.

As the solution for the idea comes into focus, more people join the squad according to what its members determine it needs to grow and thrive. Textio’s managers work hard to ensure all running squads have the people they need (and to give everyone the growth opportunities they’re looking for in their career). In this way, squads grow organically and develop in as broad a frame of reference as possible.

We aren’t afraid to change our minds

Despite our best efforts, sometimes we make a decision or build something that doesn’t work out. It can be as blatant as the code we’ve written not being flexible enough to fully realize the idea. It can also be subtle – sometimes we’ll build something and it doesn’t feel right yet. There’ll be too much friction in our user’s experience or what we’ve built won’t solve people’s problems as fully as we’d hoped. In these situations it’s important to be able to take a step back, rethink, rework, and rebuild.

Making the decision to scrap work, go back and rethink is incredibly hard. It’s hard because everyone believed we were doing the right thing – everyone was bought in and excited about what we were doing, and acknowledging we were wrong isn’t something that comes easily. Ultimately it takes everyone on the squad having the ability to set aside their ego and break through the sunk cost fallacy in order to value creating something awesome for our customers. I’ve witnessed squads do this again and again at Textio, and the level of patience, grit, and dedication to quality displayed by my teammates is a constant source of inspriation to me.

We make tradeoffs together

At Textio we talk a lot about tradeoffs. What can we deliver to our customers if we simplify this feature? What would it take to add an extra flourish to an experience? Could we take on some responsible tech debt to ship this idea faster and pay it down afterward? Questions like these are asked throughout the product lifecycle here, and we answer them as a team.

We use dates as a tool to help drive tradeoffs as we build. I’ve worked at organizations that use deadlines as a means to pressure developers to get more done or work overtime. This is an incorrect and incredibly harmful use of dates not just because our teammates get burned out but because the focus of deadlines is on the date instead of the idea. We think about dates much differently here.

We’ll start with a thought experiment asking, “what would it mean to deliver this idea by this date?”. Usually the answer involves a lot of collaboration between everyone on the squad, business advocates and developers alike. Are there features our customers don’t need immediately? Are there ways of building that might be faster? What would we be able to likely deliver by the proposed date? This thought experiment around dates isn’t a strict deadline but rather a way to focus us around delivering the most value quickly. No one needs to burn themselves out, and if we discover something we didn’t take into account initially we’ll just do the exercise again. We know estimates are difficult and by their nature can’t take into account everything that’s needed to deliver a project! Our ultimate focus is on quality, and we treat dates as a way to help us deliver the high-value pieces sooner.

Summing up

I love being an engineer at Textio. Building here is infused with cross-functional collaboration, focus on realizing an idea, and treating people like human beings. I believe our principles for how we build show up directly in the quality of our product. I’m incredibly proud of what we build every day, and how we work together to bring our best ideas to life.