3 Tips to Build and Retain a World-class Engineering Team

We punch way above our weight here at Planful. We see it in the brand leadership our sales and marketing teams have built in the FP&A market. It’s evident in the success our customers have had with Planful, especially during 2020. And, it’s clearly demonstrated in the innovative products we bring to market. 

I run our engineering and development teams at Planful. I’ve been with the company for more than 5 years, and brought over 20 years of engineering and technical leadership experience with me when I arrived. I’ve seen various engineering teams—internally and from competitors and partners—do very well and deliver incredible products over those years. But I’ve also seen teams large and small, and at companies at all levels of the market, do not so well. It’s all helped me develop our engineering philosophy here at Planful, and it’s why we can, consistently, punch way above our weight. 

Common tips for building a great team usually boil down to people, process, and technology. But if you ask me, the secret to a great engineering team is in building an ecosystem across these three. These components must be anchored together by a persistent desire for excellence—an ecosystem of excellence. Here’s how we built that at Planful, and how you can elevate your engineering team to expect and deliver great results. 

A Great Team to Be From

People are the key to every team, and you always want to have a team of top performers. It’s often said that average athletes perform better when they’re playing with the elites of the game. But when you put together an entire team of elite players—a “dream team”—the performance can be exponential. That’s what we strive for at Planful. 

We actively seek out top-notch engineers and attract them to Planful with our speed of innovation. One of the most satisfying parts of being an engineer is seeing your code used by customers. We have a large and active customer base, so any new feature is put to work immediately and that’s highly desirable to top talent. It’s not something you’d get at a huge company, where even the best engineers are working on functionality that’s just a blip in the bigger picture.

Our talented engineers also get mentoring from other top engineers, and are working side-by-side with people as or more talented than themselves. That adds a subtle peer pressure that brings out the best in everyone and gives you a chance to learn from everyone around you. More importantly, we also believe the best engineers make the best engineering managers, and they bring empathy and communication skills to keep their teams focused, motivated, and happy. It’s this internal engineering ecosystem that sets us apart and that makes Planful a great place to be from, no matter where your career takes you.

Metrics that Inspire 

Processes are the foundation of every great engineering team. We’re driven by release cycles and scrums and agile methods, so we measure everything. As the leader of the Planful engineering team, I look daily at lines of code written, lines of code tested, bugs per line of code and developer, and more. But the goal here isn’t to punish or to point fingers, it’s for transparency and to show areas of weakness and strength. Ultimately, the goal is to inspire. 

We want to innovate at a faster pace, our product performance to constantly improve, and the quality of our code to consistently increase—these are all fundamental to our engineering culture. But those metrics are used as the proverbial carrots, not as sticks. More, better, faster is our goal, but not if it means bugs that impact customers or burned-out developers.

Delivering great innovations quickly also means partnering with our product teams to give customers what they need before they realize they need it. The Planful product team is incredibly strong, more so than at any company I’ve worked previously. They have a deep understanding of FP&A, and are excellent at turning customer needs into clear and precise product directions. It’s all part of the ecosystem of excellence that sets Planful apart.

Use Tomorrow’s Technologies

Every engineer wants to work on the latest technology. It keeps your skills current, but it also helps you deliver more innovative, creative, and compelling products faster and more efficiently. We keep our engineers happy by constantly upgrading our technology stack. This flows back into our architecture, which helps Planful and our customers scale while exceeding their expectations around performance, extensibility, and overall capabilities

Current technology also helps our engineers keep up the pace of innovation our customers (and competitors!) have come to expect. But it’s not just technology for technology’s sake; we want to build products that get used. This goes back to my previous two points. Engineers get a high level of satisfaction when they see their products being used, and we strive to constantly deliver great products. Better technology helps us do both. 

We have many great examples of our pace of innovation and our use of current technologies, one of which you’ll see in early 2021. This product brings the latest in business solution innovations to Planful, but for FP&A, it offers cutting-edge technology that makes our customers simultaneously more accurate, more effective, and faster. It’s not new technology for show or for glitz; it’s new technology to help our customers become tangibly better at their jobs.

A World-Class Engineering Team

Planful offers engineers the opportunity to work alongside smart people, to learn from elite mentors and managers, and to get immediate gratification from seeing their work in action. We have rigor in building and maintaining all of these aspects, which breeds higher expectations in engineering and across the company. 

This “ecosystem of excellence” perspective gives everyone a guiding light while holding themselves to a higher level of responsibility and accountability. It also encourages everyone to become self-policing, where you expect more from yourself and others. 
I am very proud to say we have stars in every department, who have worked on groundbreaking products from game-changing companies. This ecosystem is difficult to assemble, and takes a combination of people, process, and technology. But once in place, it’s a self sustaining reactor that exudes energy, and I love that. I also love that we have the best of all three… and we’re hiring!

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