That itch that gets you going when the going gets tough. That burst of motivation when they say you aren’t good enough.
Time and time again, I’ve seen how amazing things happen when you tap into that feeling of scrappiness. But how do you keep that scrappy spirit as your team gets bigger?
A few months ago, I joined the Dropbox Paper team. By that time, the team had already grown to a pretty big size. I still remember my first team meeting and thinking we could probably fill a whole movie theater. (I was already daydreaming about offsites, I guess.)
Now I’m a few months into it, and I’ve noticed something: Even as our team gets bigger, we’ve somehow kept the scrappy spirit of a small team. I don’t know if this happened by chance or by design, but here are my theories about how we stay scrappy.
Progress over process
The other day, I was chatting with our Group Product Manager, Kavitha Radhakrishnan, and she said something that knocked the wind out of me:
“Specs become outdated as soon as you’ve written them.”
If you read my story about design docs, you know how I love me some good documentation. But as I thought more about my recent projects, I realized she was on to something.
Specs are great for getting aligned on a project’s goals and scope. But once you start putting your concepts into code, things rarely go as planned. At that point, progress becomes the priority. Documentation becomes an afterthought.
I’d say 25% of the real design work happens after a designer hands off their designs. That’s when engineers start pressure testing your designs, and they’ll find new constraints and edge cases you never expected. At that point, you gotta get scrappy and do whatever it takes to move forward.
On the Paper team, we’ve learned to roll with the punches and embrace the fact that plans will change — no matter how good your specs are.
No ivory towers
As a company gets bigger, the people making the product tend to grow further and further away from their users. Know a designer or product manager who works at a large company? Try asking them how often they talk with their everyday user. I bet you’ll be surprised by what you hear.
On the Paper team, we try our best to not build those ivory towers that distance ourselves from users. Instead, we do scrappy things to get to know the people who use Paper.
One thing we do is called Real World Wednesdays, which was started by one of our researchers, Mira Rao. Every other Wednesday, we invite people to come by our office to get their thoughts on stuff we’re working on. It’s set up like a speed dating session, so a participant chats with several people from our team, one at a time. And the nifty part is that designers, engineers, and product managers are often the ones interacting with these people, not a researcher. These sessions get us in the habit of talking with real users on a regular basis.
We also schedule casual chats with teams who use Paper. We like to see how people use Paper out in the wild, and we’ll visit their office if we can. Anyone on our team can tag along on these visits — designers, writers, engineers, whoever. Every chat is a chance to inspire us and learn something new about our users.