The Product Team: How we structure for success
By Carole Olivier, Software Engineer
Our mission at Bulb is to reduce our members’ carbon emissions while also reducing their energy bills. We do this by leveraging technology and building great tools for both our members and our Energy Specialists. This is the responsibility of the Product Team.
The Product Team is divided into pods where each pod is a cross-functional group with a specific mission. Essentially, a pod is like a mini startup, only one with the benefit of support from every other pod. Here’s how we do that.
Every pod has its own mission
There are a lot of very exciting projects to work on at Bulb, including ones for smart meters, feed-in tariff, and energy efficiency. But to help us focus and increase productivity, each pod has a well-defined mission.
There are currently six pods within the Product Team:
Focuses on Bulb rapid growth through our marketing website bulb.co.uk and join website join.bulb.co.uk, as well as on our amazing referral program that allows members to save even more on their bills (you can read more about it at bulb.co.uk/blog/refer-a-friend).
BEST (Bulb Energy Specialist Technology)
Helps our Energy Specialists by automating manual tasks and building the tools they need to assist our members. We are proud to have one of the highest members to energy specialists rates in the industry, and this pod helps keep this number up.
In charge of our infrastructure and billing systems. With more and more members joining Bulb, scalability and reliability is one of the biggest challenges for this pod.
Develops new products and services that will save our members money and reduce their carbon emissions. They work closely with our members through field research, prototyping and rapid product development.
Responsible for improving Bulb’s member experience, with the ultimate goal of making it the best in the world. Creates tools for members to easily manage their energy needs.
Our newest pod, focused on design quality, accessibility, and streamlining front-end work with our design system, Solar, available to browse at design.bulb.co.uk.
I joined Bulb as a software engineer in the Member pod. As I mentioned above, our mission is to make the Bulb member experience the best in the energy industry, and eventually the world.
No easy task. But we’re all in it together and focus our energy towards this goal.
In practice, we use OKRs (Objective Key Results) to stay on target and measure our progress. My pod begins each week with a meeting to check in, prioritise the work for the week and make sure we address any problems. We also hold a fortnightly roadmap meeting where we look further into the future, one to three months ahead. We use this meeting to make sure the entire team is still on the same page, but also to check our pod mission still aligns with the company mission. As much as we’d love to have fixed objectives for a whole quarter, in reality we often have to finely tune them and show flexibility. However, having a specific missions means our focus never shifts dramatically.
As Bulb grows, we’ll continue to expand the number of pods. This creates a lot of opportunities for everyone to learn and grow, too. I love my current role, but am excited to know I’ll have the chance to join a different pod in the future, and work on a different mission with another team.
How do we make sure each pod can move as quickly as possible? By providing all the skills it needs to achieve its goals. In practice, it means each pod is cross-functional: it has a product manager, designer, user researcher, QA tester, data scientist, copywriter and software engineers. Each pod is free to research, design, analyse and build the tools needed to achieve its mission.
It also means you get to work with people who have different perspectives than you. I really love being challenged and discussing problems with my colleagues who are in different roles. They open my eyes to new ideas which make me a better engineer.
Our design team for instance has been a great advocate for accessibility. This isn’t a subject I was very familiar with. But thanks to them I am not only learning to build websites accessible to everyone, I am also broadening and deepening my knowledge about browsers, web standards, and semantic HTML.
Bulb lets each pod find its own dynamic and develop its own culture, so each one has a distinct personality.
I really love being able to shape my pod culture; I find it very empowering. As an example, every Friday I meet with my pod to discuss our team survey results. Every week on Wednesday, everyone at Bulb is encouraged to complete a survey about their team and rate things like communication, impact, and results. We review the results as a team and take this opportunity to celebrate the good (e.g. deploying a new feature to Bulb Account), discuss pain points (e.g. inefficient communication) and share how we feel in general. These moments help us to build deeper bonds. It’s important to know you can count on your colleagues.
Disciplinary guilds to bring consistency
I have talked about how great cross-functional pods are, but how do we keep a level of consistency across the pods? This is one of the biggest challenges with this structure. We want the pods to be autonomous, but we don’t want two pods solving the same problem. It’s critical to collaborate, share what we learn and reuse the tools that we build across the entire Product Team. Cross pod collaboration is also very important if we want to give our members a unified experience across the user journey. The formal way we achieve this is by having guilds (the informal way is through lunches and socials). A guild is a team of people of the same professional discipline.
We have three main guilds at Bulb:
User research and design
Counts designers, user researcher and illustrator as its members.
For all the engineers, QA testers and data scientists.
For all product managers.
User research and design is the most active guild, holding a design critique every week. It’s a great opportunity for designers and user researchers to share what they’re working on, receive feedback and discuss any blockers they may have. It’s also great for sharing the latest tips on design or user research and for team bonding.
So far, the pod and guild structure has been working very well for us. We’re able to rapidly iterate on our products, while keeping team member satisfaction and engagement high. This is a very exciting time for everyone as there are many opportunities to learn, be challenged and progress.
If you’ve liked what you read, why not consider joining us! You can check out our job openings at bulb.co.uk/careers or reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you.