Relationships and team structure

Engineering Crews

Over time, as the size of engineering grew, collaboration became more and more difficult. Adding more engineers to a single team lead to increased silos. Individuals were trying to keep themselves from excess cognitive load and context switching.

We developed the concept of Crews to maintain efficiency with more engineers. Crews are designed to maintain the benefits of unified engineering while scaling.

Crews developed organically from our experimentation with Shape Up's Pitch Teams. Crews allowed us to get back to efficient engineering group sizes. Group sizes where collaboration is simple and context switching is rare.

The basics of crews

Crews are still part of a single engineering team. Crew membership is fluid and shifts depending on the needs of the business.


Figure 7 Engineering Crews within Unified Engineering

  • Crews are semi-permanent groups of engineers. They re-form as needed or bi-annually. We aim for four engineers, this can grow / shrink as required but no less than two.
  • Crews take on roadmap items in order of priority.
  • Crews deliver end to end features.
  • Crews work closely with, and are supported by product and design.

To showcase our fluidity, one of our crews started a feature that involved a lot of investigation and proof of concepts. A small crew is more efficient for this type of investigative iteration.

So, two people focused on this first. In the meantime, the rest of this crew joined another crew that was finishing up a feature. They helped get through the remaining bugs and got the release out faster.

The benefits of crews

  • Faster turnaround of high quality solutions. Semi-permanence allows the crew to form as a team and get into a rhythm. With engineers in a crew working on the same features they deliver faster, and the quality of the solution benefits from all their input.
  • Rapid learning and growth. Crews are an ideal environment for learning, as engineers are always working together on the same features. Because crews are fluid, engineers are also able to work with many of their peers over time.
  • Connected but still autonomous. Crews enable engineers to be autonomous within the bounds of unified engineering. Crews can have a high level of autonomy as they are working on an entire chunk of work.

The practices of crews

To ensure that crews don't result in siloed knowledge we have practices to keep the rest of the team in the loop. This includes regular catch-ups and presentations. You'll learn more about those and our other habits in Part 3.

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