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Silicon Straits Organization-as-a-product

Since the day we started at Silicon Straits, we have worked on projects of all shapes, from minimum viable products to enterprise-grade website and mobile apps, and with partners of all sizes, from individuals and startups to public companies. We consider ourselves to be one of the rare product development companies in Southeast Asia. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. As we scaled our team of 3 to over 70 people in our Ho Chi Minh office over the past three years, we have had to change how we did things.

This is the story of our journey in transforming our project and engineering management.

Silicon Straits is not like any traditional company. We did not have a set path for it from the start. It always has been an exciting venture with risks and opportunities. As engineers, we want to build Silicon Straits like a system that could constantly scale and evolve over time. We identify problems and keep pivoting for better solutions so that it would become better and better, day by day. Even though, we believe there is no system that has no flaw.

We have also attached the engineering mindset into every aspect of our system, from the structure, communication, to the relationship between people. So when things go wrong, we know where to trace for the root of the problems and resolve it.

This system or you could imagine it like a modern tech product, has two main essential parts that make it work: the back end and the front end. People outside the company cannot see our back end. It is the back office which does all the operation stuff while the front end working with clients. For every project we have delivered, our front end gets the results and feedbacks, and sends them back to the back end to improve the system. After three years of operation, lots of things has happened, and our system has changed a lot comparing to the very first version.

The story of our system

I and a few ancient pirates, who has been sticking with us for a long time, were sitting in a small office with the belief that our work one day would bear fruit. Because of the working experience we had shared at the previous company, we were close and knew each other well. For the lack of resources, some of us were even working both on the back end and the front end of the system. There were times we went to work without anything to do. There was no need to build a model and structure for a team that small. That was the first version of our system three years ago.

Silicon Straits Service Tribe
Our 2nd iteration of Squad allocation

Six months later, we reached 30 pirates and started to lose a little bit of control. In order to make everything remain in our orbit, we changed our structure into a dynamic flat model where everyone was like a mercenary. And we tackled many projects without forming a real team.

Everything was fine with a little tweak here and there until one year ago. We kept growing larger every day. More (and ambitious) projects came in, more talented people joined our company. We grew to 50 people. Our back end was facing a challenge seeing that we could not keep track of everything. We could not look after and grow all the pirates like we did before. We knew if we did not do anything, our system would break. We all had the same thought in mind—The old system had to be destroyed to build a new one.

That’s when we restructured our model to squad model (the so-called version 3.0). We designed it with different connections: people-to-people, squad-to-squad, and squad-to-client.

Each squad is a special force and full stack with all the roles that they can become a mini-startup themselves. They will figure out what works best for them and share the best practices with others. Most of all, our squads have their own autonomy; hence it boosts their creativity and output. With this new model, we were able to tackle those big and crazy projects and continue to scale up the team.

Stay curious, keep tinkering

Because we are engineers, we are curious about new things (shiny or not). In the progress of building our system, we have always been looking for interesting tools to make them into features of our system.

From the very beginning, we used Slack and Trello for daily communication and work. We tried and found out that we could make our own and turn it into a gamification system to help bond our people and also recognizing their talents, inputs, and achievement — in a very engineering way.

Slack Integrations
Our Slack integrations to various tools and services

We came across many tools, some worked and became our system’s features, some didn’t and was left behind. As our venture keeps sailing, we still keep searching for new tools to suit us best.

Not only looking for tools we also build our own tools or framework for specific jobs. To keep track of the growth of our pirates, we develop Growth Framework. It helps us grow these talented pirates faster because it keeps track of the pirates’ development.

Let imagine it like a Character Profile in any RPGs (Role-Playing Games) that help to see at current level which areas you are strong or weak at (melee, range, magic, sneaking, etc.) Then every quarter, our Squad Lead will review the progress of his/her members based on the definitions of the Growth Framework, which providing constructive feedbacks much easier. This Pirate Profile and Growth Framework is uniquely designed for us, but we believe other startups could find it useful. Therefore, we are working on a version that could be “open-source” in future.

Silicon Straits Stickers
Our fancy stickers for pirate to brag about their skills, even Facebook-ing skill.

In addition, we also formulate a mechanism for our pirates to calculate their salary based on the Growth Framework, and it’s called Open Salary Formula. This formula helps each individual knows how to link between their growth with their compensation. Making it transparent also creates an open culture where everyone could focus on growing themselves knowing that the compensation is the reflection and indicator of their value contributing to the company.

Building v4.0 and beyond

With our Silicon Straits Universe introduced early this year, this would also require another update to the system. Unlike the previous versions, we were being forced to upgrade (or die), this time we will be more proactive and prepare in planning for the upgrade.

The joy of an engineer observing his product at work, and to us, seeing Silicon Straits growing day by day — not just headcount but the impact we are doing, it’s the ultimate joy. There will be more stories about this special product we are building (good and bad one), so stay tuned!

Silicon Straits Pirate Tools
Our tools for Pirates at work

P.S: If you want to be part of this upgrading and our incredible journey, you can check out our Career Page.