September 14, 2020

Managing Change In The Face Of Rapid Growth, Part 1 with Jacob Kaplan-Moss

By Wes Winham

This week on Scaling Software Teams, we’re sharing part one of our interview with Jacob Kaplan-Moss. Jacob is a veteran software leader and the co-creator of Django, the python web framework that powers Pinterest, Eventbrite, and Instagram.

(Note From Wes: I built my last startup on Django, so speaking with Jacob was a huge pleasure.)

In addition to authoring the book, The Definitive Guide to Django, Jacob has also led teams at 18F and Heroku, and is an expert on hiring for software teams at companies in the “adolescent” phase between start-up and scale-up.

In this episode, we discuss ways that we can reduce bias in our hiring process, and Jacob explains how the Satir Change Model can help us navigate the challenges of a rapidly growing company without losing our minds.

Listen to the full episode here.

Relevant Links

Here are a few of the Key lessons we picked up from Jacob Kaplan-Moss:

Deliberate Process Building Needs To Extend To Management

Engineers are great at documentation, and sharing best practices with one another. When new developers join an organization, team leaders are often very explicit in their expectations for how contributors get code from source control and deploy their products.

But unfortunately, too many companies don’t apply that same level of documentation to their managerial processes.

“Most organizations aren’t super explicit about what it means to be a manager,” Jacob told us. “If you would have asked me a decade ago ‘what does an engineering manager do?’ I would have said ‘write code, but then also tell other people to write code,’ which would be totally different than my answer today.”

If you want to solve for this problem in your organization, you need to clearly document expectations for your management team.

What is a 1:1 meeting supposed to look like? How do you give feedback? When does HR need to be involved with a dispute? Answering these questions can help you onboard new team members faster, and can help set them up for success on the job.

Reducing Bias Requires Process Change

Hiring bias has existed as long as hiring itself, and while we give a lot of lip service to increasing diversity in the workplace, progress has been slow. A Harvard study published in 2017 presented evidence that the progress we’ve made on racial discrimination over the past 25 years has actually been negligible.

Furthermore, advancing technology is not going to be our savior. In fact, algorithms and machine learning are just as likely to increase biases in hiring. In one infamous example, a resume-screening tool learned a preference for men named Jared who played lacrosse.

As an industry, the solution isn’t about a quick fix – and instead requires making foundational changes to your hiring process by de-emphasizing highly flawed, traditional heuristics, such as resumes, “past experience” and credentials.

Consider The Satir Change Model When Navigating Rapid Growth

As an industry, the solution requires making foundational changes to your hiring process and de-emphasizing traditional, but highly-flawed, heuristics, such as resumes and credentials, but as you probably are well aware, change isn’t easy!

In fact, even change done well can disrupt your team and decrease productivity in the short-term. That’s why Jacob emphasizes the Satir Change Model as a vehicle for overcoming the chaos associated with rapid growth without shying away from hard decisions.

With roots in behavioral psychology, the Satir Change Model , says that as we cope with unexpected or significant change, we predictably move through four stages: Late Status Quo, Chaos, Practice and Integration, and New Status Quo.

The management implications of this framework are simple. As a leaders, we must create an appropriate work environment for each stage of this process, providing psychological safety to our teams in the face of transformation.

By implementing this model into your managerial approach, you can set more reasonable expectations, and weather change effectively.

See more: Treating Engineering Teams Like Adults, Part 2, with Jacob Kaplan-Moss


This show is brought to you by Woven. At Woven, we help software teams screen engineering candidates so they can spend less time on bad interviews, uncover hidden gems, and back their hiring decisions with evidence. If you want to learn more about how Woven could help you scale your software team, you can check us out here.

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