Scaling - a Game of Action and Context (Based on a talk by Mladen Rangelov)

Scaling is a delicate exercise and it is often done incorrectly. According to Startup Genome, 70% of startups scale prematurely. Growing a company requires good timing, excellent execution and, according to Mladen Rangelov of Shopify, scaling is, above all, a game of reinvention. Success stories like Facebook, Netflix or Twitter exemplify the transformation that takes place as a company goes from a garage to multi-million dollar headquarters. Gibson Biddle, former VP at Netflix, noted that the online video-streaming service successively employed “starters, builders, professionals then a Dream Team” to remain competitive as its business grew.

You will need to reinvent. You will need a new model for your product organization

While Product Managers might not traditionally drive the scaling process, they certainly own a part of it: keeping teams effective. In his presentation, Mladen shared insights on how a Product Manager can be an agent of reinvention in a scaling company.

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Providing Clarity

As an organization grows and changes, ensuring that teams have a direction and purpose gains importance. Beyond writing good user stories and shipping software, Product Managers need to provide answers to the question “Why are we here?” and “What defines a win for the team?”. With communication becoming less fluid, maintaining a high level of context will provide inspiration and energy to developers and designers.


Context is not only a nice-to-have to keep teams driven, it is also the foundation needed to generate good-decision making across teams. For Product Managers, distilling the company’s vision and strategy to other team members becomes essential. To provide sufficient context, you will need to be a proactive and consistent communicator.

Playing Positions

With a growing team comes the need to clearly define everyone’s role. In smaller organizations, it is not uncommon for Product Managers to be involved in design or software development but bigger companies require precise task delegation. It is then up to the Product Manager to ensure that each team member enabled to do the work they do best.

Setting the Operating Mode

Leading teams through scaling goes beyond putting new processes and habits in place. It also requires alignment on the team’s focus and mindset. According to Mladen, this begins by setting the right “operating” mode and assembling the adequate resources and skills for that phase.

Pioneering Mode

In this mode, the goal is to get an early product to success. Most startups are in “pioneering” mode. When trailblazing a new path, the team will rely on intuition and resolve to continuously derive novel approaches to solve the problem in an environment full of uncertainties.

Building Mode

When “building”, a team is tackling a known problem. There are more options and data to find solutions but new challenges arise. In this environment, the team will still depend on creative problem solving to achieve success but will also be process and pattern driven to iterate and find the best solution.

Optimizing Mode

Optimizations are obtained by incrementally testing and improving features. At this stage, companies usually have sufficient data and sets of users to make the adjustments that will lead to further growth and success. Data obsession and a will to constantly measure and improve are key to perfect features at this stage.

It is important to note that the transition through operating modes is cyclical rather than linear. To reach new heights, teams and organizations will eventually need to take leaps of faith from proven solutions and pioneer new solutions adapted to changing markets and users.

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