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InfoQ Homepage Articles The Four P's of Pragmatically Scaling Your Engineering Organization

The Four P's of Pragmatically Scaling Your Engineering Organization

Key Takeaways

  • There are four key areas of focus when pragmatically scaling an organization through hyper-growth: people, process, product, and platform.
  • When you're growing rapidly it's important to first consider your company goals while remaining practical about how you’re scaling.
  • In the hyper-growth stage, all problems look important; you have to prioritize what has short- and long-term benefits to your company and to your users.
  • A focus on product will allow you to create a natural product-market fit “flywheel" that is always catered to your customers' needs.
  • A diversity of viewpoints throughout the company will allow you to be pragmatic in determining which problems to immediately address, saving time, money, and energy.
  • In today's tech environment, it's much easier to integrate with proven solutions in your areas of need rather than starting from scratch.
  • Focus on iterative and pragmatic platform development, not big bangs.
  • Scaling your organization during a period of hyper-growth is a challenge every founder wants to face. Yet, for engineering leaders in a world of tech debt, shadow IT, app sprawl, and reliability, the concept of "scale" can quickly spiral out of control. To find success, it is important to avoid the pitfalls that lead to speculative decision making, complete re-writes of your code, and delays in delivering customer value. But how?

Preparing to scale an organization through hyper-growth

Scaling challenges look different for every company, and facing them means that you’ve found a market fit with a product that’s ready to take the next step into a much larger pool of potential customers. But, while the importance of planning for growth and focusing on your customers is apparent for any organization, the methodology behind how and when to scale your engineering org is less clear. 

I'm in the midst of my own scaling journey with a hyper-growth startup. In less than five years, our company has grown to millions of users and more than 800,000 different teams spread out around the world. In the past two years alone, we've increased ARR by $66 million, and we've expanded our engineering and product teams by more than 100 people in the past six months. Needless to say, we've been busy! While I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all rule on how to scale an organization in hyper-growth, I can what has worked for us.

Introducing the 4 P's of pragmatically scaling your engineering organization: people, process, product, and platform.

People: Are you building the right organization?

Your people aren’t just the heart and soul of the company, they’re the building blocks for its future.

When you're growing rapidly it can be tempting to add developers to your team as quickly as possible, but it's important to first consider your company goals while remaining practical about how you’re scaling. This is the key foundation for building the right organization.

There are two key types of hires when scaling a hyper-growth company: strategic hires and tactical ones. In order to identify the types of additions your team needs, it's imperative to be realistic about the current phase of your company. Where do you fall in the company life cycle of new product, growth, maturity, or decline? Every phase of the company life cycle has different strategic needs.

We’ve long been told the importance of building a team with diverse skills, but a pragmatic approach requires leadership to dig a bit deeper at this stage. After all, these employees will be building your company for years to come. For us, we sought the help of investors and agencies to identify top talent in the industry and then we spoke to references – a lot of references. No matter the experience, we needed to know that we were making hiring choices that complimented and enhanced our existing team’s core values as much as the product’s value proposition. 

Striking a balance between strategic and tactical hires is crucial. Tactical hires – roles that are temporary based on the architecture or maturity of the product journey – are an opportunity to get creative with your hiring process by finding areas where you can rely on contractors and external vendors to build and operate your services.

To us, that meant leaning on a build/operate/transfer model to bring our product to market faster, save costs, and minimize risks during rapid scaling. We also utilized a staffing augmentation model to fill short-term or project-specific roles with temporary workers.

It’s often easy to confuse "important" roles with strategic hires, but the reality is that all hires are important on your growth journey. Many founders commit the fallacy of believing that every hire is permanent, but holding yourself to such a limiting perspective can be dangerous in the long term for organizations scaling through hyper-growth.

When making any hire, ensure that you do so with the product’s core value proposition in mind.

Processes: Balancing short and long term wins

Scaling your processes comes down to practical prioritization. It is crucial to clearly establish processes that balance both short- and long-term wins for the company, beginning with the systems that need to be fixed immediately.

Start by instituting a planning process looking at things from both an annual perspective and quarterly, or even monthly– and try not to get bogged down deliberating over a planning methodology in the first stage. Take a step outside of your organization and look at other big companies who have already taken this step and invested their own resources in testing an approach, then adopt the methodology that feels natural to you and your team. In the planning phase, you will also want to identify your key drivers, drive alignment across functions, and pin down your OKRs before moving forward. 

Drawing from your yearly planning, move into a monthly execution cycle with monthly planning and review sessions to analyze business metrics, market analysis, cross-functional initiatives, and monthly team deliverables. Regularly aligning our top goals for the month enables our teams to keep moving forward and helps us maintain a regular cadence between quarterly reviews.

Establishing a process that keeps our growing team aligned has been especially crucial at ClickUp, where we ship updates every week. We are often asked if weekly Sprints actually work with such a short time frame, and the short answer is yes. If you’re deliberately prioritizing projects on a weekly basis, this process can be extremely effective.

During hyper-growth, it's important to identify and nurture systems that provide leverage to the company and its growth. This is where the prioritization lies in scaling your organization, ultimately allowing you to "leapfrog" the business. For us, this meant focusing on areas such as license and revenue recognition systems, developer tooling, continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, and application performance monitoring.

Be very deliberate in what your team is focusing on and where you're spending energy. In the hyper-growth stage, all problems look important; you have to prioritize what has short- and long-term benefits to your company and to your users. Always be ready to pivot without worrying about sunk costs.

Product: stay focused on the customer

If your company is entrenched in hyper-growth, it's no secret that your customers – and their problems – should be at the center of everything you do. But it bears repeating: your customers are critical for the success of your business and are the driving force behind your products!

Customers use and advocate for your product, and in return, it is imperative that you listen to and understand their pain points to solve problems or anticipate them before they arise. Clearly, many companies approaching hyper-growth already do this very well! 

In our early days, we began by pinpointing the tools we needed to build for our users to be more efficient. We considered what our users wanted, then chose a solution that would get us at least 70% of the way there, adopting a mindset that we're always progressing towards perfection. This is the time to compare the opportunity costs of development time with the largest payoffs and align similar features to be developed in parallel. By doing all of the above, you create a natural product-market fit “flywheel" that is always catered to your customers' needs.

Platform: Leverage best-in-class services, iterate only when needed

Scaling the platform is often the biggest challenge organizations face in the hyper-growth phase. But it’s important to remember that building toward a north star doesn’t mean that you’re building the north star. Now is the time to focus on intentional, iterative improvement of the platform rather than implementing sweeping changes to your product.

At this point, you’ve found a product-market fit, but the platform's architecture has not scaled with your growing customer base. You may experience operation and performance issues, defects in the code, or tech debt. These are all extremely common – welcome to hyper-growth!

A decade ago, these routine problems would've been met with a complete rebuild of the platform's code. Fortunately, cloud services have made way for several new aspects of architectural scaling that just weren’t possible a short time ago. As a result, you need to be more pragmatic and practical about the choices you make during hyper-growth. Today, it’s counterintuitive and wasteful to spend time, your most vital resource, to rebuild your system as you scale. Instead, leverage best-in-class services and iterate as needed.

Scaling is not just an engineering challenge; it is a product challenge, and therefore it is a business challenge. Involve other stakeholders early for smarter solutions. A diversity of viewpoints will allow you to be pragmatic about determining which problems should be immediately addressed, saving you time, money, and energy.

Stay Smart, Fight the Right Battles, and Save Costs

At ClickUp, we saw the cost of replacing architecture and specific services drop significantly as we started to pick and choose which problems to solve and which to leave untouched.  We began by using AWS Native Infrastructure and turned to proven best practices to scale up our architecture, providing a major upside in costs and price leverage. There is often a tendency to monetize from the start by building your own platform, rather than relying on AWS or a similar provider, but this approach can lead to complexities that are simply not needed. Consider what the bulk of your customers need from your product – and use services like AWS to fulfill that vision. 

In today's tech environment, it's much easier to integrate with proven solutions in your areas of need rather than starting from scratch. Internal solutions will always mean more time and less product iteration. Unless the problem you're tackling is core to your business, step back and determine if there’s an external service you can rely on versus building your own. Be smart about leveraging providers; mastering this is pivotal to scaling.

You don't have to address every shortcoming in your tech – at least not immediately. Picking which problems you want to solve and setting boundaries around those you don't want to pursue are equally important. Different organizations are going to pick different battles to fight, and ClickUp is no different. Our product isn’t perfect – it's likely that yours isn't either – but the important thing is that you continue to iterate and update, improving your customers' experience at every step of the journey.

Put simply: focus on iterative and pragmatic platform development, not big bangs.


Every company's growth story is different, but the scaling problems that leaders and their engineering teams face often rhyme. By focusing on the people, processes, product, and platform at the center of your hyper-growth journey, you can pragmatically scale your teams, keep customers happy, and focus on product improvements that matter most. 

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