Dory Weiss is the VP of Engineering at nCino. She knows that the key to building industry-leading software teams is to devote as much energy to your people as you do to your tech. Dory joined nCino in 2013 and has helped the engineering team grow from six people to 80+. As a former educator, she is passionate about training and enabling others, having served as an Assistant Professor of English at Earlham College and Education Coordinator for the University of Texas Software Analyst Training Program.
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Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS by Craig Larman and Bas Vodde
Chapter two of More with LeSS
Transcript, edited for clarity:
Ryan Carson: Welcome to Change Wave, an exclusive look at the real, first-hand stories of how cutting edge leaders rose to the top, smashed through barriers and created real change. I’m your host Ryan Carson, the founder of Treehouse, the company that’s taught 850,000 people to code. We also help companies like Adobe, Nike, MailChimp, Airbnb and more hit their hiring plans and create diverse teams. If you’d like to know more, head to teams.teamtreehouse.com/talentpath.
Today, I’m joined by Dory Weiss from nCino. Great to have you on the show.
Dory Weiss: Thank you, Ryan. Great to be here.
Ryan Carson: All right. So, let’s dig in first to you. Tell the audience a little about yourself. What’s your title and where do you work?
Dory Weiss: Absolutely. I am the VP of Engineering at nCino, as you mentioned. We are a company based out of Wilmington, NC, and we are the worldwide leader in cloud banking. What we do is produce a bank operating system that basically helps financial institutions originate all of the different types of financial products that they sell, provide to their customers. Mortgages, retail loans, business loans, deposit accounts, all that good sort of stuff. Credit cards-
Ryan Carson: Got it.
Dory Weiss: Historically, the problem has been that banks have a whole bunch of different systems for all of that, so as a customer, you’ve probably had the experience of, you go into the bank where you already have a checking account and then you go to open a car loan and they’re like, “Hey, let me see your driver’s license.” You’re like, “You should already know who I am. You’ve got my money.”
Ryan Carson: Right. What’s happening here?
Dory Weiss: Exactly. This is a little sketchy, I’m scared now. So, what nCino does is allow banks to have a single system where they have a complete view of all of their business, and then with all of that information, they can have better interactions with their customers, but then also make smarter decisions about what’s the right product to provide to their various customers based on that big picture.
Ryan Carson: Okay, great. Those of you who are listening can’t see this, but Dory has an alligator behind her. What’s the deal with that?
Dory Weiss: I do. This is Good Vibes Larry. Good Vibes Larry. I’m sorry that you can’t see him. He is actually a birthday card. He’s a giant, seven foot inflatable raft. For my birthday last year folks gave that to me, so on the other side, people have signed all of their happy birthday greetings.
Ryan Carson: I do not get cards like that, so I’m a little jealous.
Dory Weiss: It’s pretty awesome. We also have a remote controlled flying shark that is somewhere in the office.
Ryan Carson: Okay, so we should all take notes. We are clearly not having enough fun at work.
Dory Weiss: You need more inflatables.
Ryan Carson: Okay, good. Good to know. All right, so, we understand your title and what nCino does, but what are your primary responsibilities, day to day?
Dory Weiss: I oversee the engineering department, which for us means that I’m responsible for our software developers, our QA engineers, our QA automation engineers, DevOps and release management. All of those different functions, basically making sure that the product that we release is the highest quality software that we can produce, that our software development processes are efficient and that they’re humane, and that our teams are always trying to continuously improve.
Ryan Carson: Got it. Roughly, how big is your organization?
Dory Weiss: The engineering department has about 80 people in it at this point, and our entire department — product development and engineering — so us plus product managers and the product designers, there are about 110 of us.
Ryan Carson: Got it. Great. All right. Let’s dig into your experience and your ideas. What’s a project that you’re most proud of?
Dory Weiss: Well, I think two very different kinds of projects. One is a very small thing that had a huge impact on the organization, maybe a year and a half ago as we were in this moment where we were growing from being a department of about 30 people, and knew that we were about to become much larger. We sort of took a moment to stop and define who we believe we are and why we think that’s important. We went ahead and created what we call our PDE manifesto. And really, it’s a document of the four values that really are the key to everything we do, and those values are courage, craftsmanship, community and fun. We’ve got the explanations, these manifesto statements for what that means, what each of those means, and then we’ve created posters that are all over the department. We have little stickers, that correspond to each of the values, that we give out during every sprint retro.
Ryan Carson: Got it.
Dory Weiss: We call them helmet stickers, the same way that college football teams give our helmet stickers for players that have great plays during a game, we do the same thing for our sprints. It’s intended to make sure that we’re always reinforcing the idea that being courageous, that doing high quality work, craftsmanship, community looking out for each other and not just having your blinders on and trying to get your own work done, but thinking about what we’re trying to accomplish as a team.
Ryan Carson: Wow.
Dory Weiss: And then fun, like the giant inflatable alligator.
Ryan Carson: And the shark.
Dory Weiss: And the remote controlled shark, exactly.
Ryan Carson: How do you identify who to give those helmet stickers to? Is it a behavior you see? Dig into that a little bit. That’s interesting.
Dory Weiss: Yeah, it’s one of those things that we very much leave up to the scrum teams. We try not to be too prescriptive when it comes to things like that, but at this point I think most people could recite the manifesto values in their sleep. Teams are very good about saying, “Hey, this person on my team, this past sprint I swear every day I saw so-and-so at somebody else’s desk helping them out.”
Ryan Carson: Got it.
Dory Weiss: You know, doing that sort of stuff. What they see, their experience of each other, that’s what counts. It’s not what as a manager I think I’m seeing, it’s what the teams are experiencing.
Ryan Carson: Got it. It sounds like you have an all in-person team, not remote?
Dory Weiss: We have just a couple of remote folks, and those tend to be folks who’ve been with the company for a really long time.
Ryan Carson: Got it. Okay, great. How do you find talent for your team? Really great talent?
Dory Weiss: That’s a really good question. One of the things that we’ve discovered or realized, I guess, is that because we are not a company with a name that is particularly well known outside of North Carolina, that if we go to a recruiting event and try to do the same thing that a Google or a Facebook or an AWS is doing, nobody’s going to see us. We’re not going to get any traction that way. We’ve tried to forego those more large scale generic recruiting methods, and have really focused on an in-house recruiting staff, so we use in-house recruiters entirely. We’ve been working on building out long term relationships with colleges in a three state area, in professional meet up organizations in Raleigh, and Charlotte, and the big cities nearby. Trying to make long term connections where people can get to know more about who we really are as a company, because we feel pretty confident that when people know who we are and what we do, that is enough to really drum up lots of interest.
Ryan Carson: Okay, so once you find folks, what’s your best tip for how to retain them?
Dory Weiss: Really, it is the giant inflatable alligator.
Ryan Carson: I knew it.
Dory Weiss: I say that jokingly, but I think that the alligator really is indicative of the fact that we’re a kind of place where we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we take the work that we do really seriously.
Ryan Carson: Interesting.
Dory Weiss: One of the things that my managers and I do, during the hiring process, is if we’ve gotten somebody who’s made it to the onsite stage and we’re thinking that this person really has potential to join us, one of the things that we’ll do at that point is have a really serious conversation about what the job is that we’re hiring for. Hey, here are all the technical skills that we’re looking for in someone who will be successful here, but that’s only half of the job. The other half of the job is you’re going to be working closely in a scrum team and you’re gonna need to support your teammates. You’re going to need to have hard conversations, sometime, because the tickets aren’t ready and the PM’s pushing you to start the work, but the work isn’t ready, and you’re going to have to say no. Or your teammate’s gonna have not made any progress on the same ticket for five days, and someone’s gonna have to say, “What’s going on here?” That kind of person to person work is at least half of the job. We try to be really up front about the fact that we take being human beings and being good human beings really seriously, and we consider that part of the job, and I think the people who are successful here are really excited about that. And get to experience it, and are happy in that environment.
Ryan Carson: Right. Do you do that training at the beginning and take them through those scenarios? “Hey, this is going to happen and let’s be real about it and talk about how to deal with that.” You actually do that?
Dory Weiss: We do try to do that. We do some amount of more generic scrum training during our onboarding, and some of that has to do with the scrum values and how being open and courageous are fundamental to what that means. It’s not just like, “Hey, we do two week sprints.” It’s, “Hey, we have hard conversations with each other.” And, we keep our commitments and that sort of stuff. We definitely have those conversations. We also, right now actually, one of our senior dev managers is putting together a training that we’re going to run next week, actually, for the entire department, and it’s based on the book, Crucial Conversations–
Ryan Carson: Oh, we just trained on that!
Dory Weiss: There you go. Exactly, exactly. Exactly to your point. We’re going to make sure that everybody has a foundation in how to have hard conversations.
Ryan Carson: Gosh.
Dory Weiss: And know that it’s safe.
Ryan Carson: That’s brilliant. Total side point. We just did some training on something called Speed of Trust. Have you ever come across?
Dory Weiss: I am not familiar with that.
Ryan Carson: It was so good, and I have no financial stake in that at all. It’s called Speed of Trust. It’s related to Crucial Conversations, but it’s just around the fact that you can’t be effective in your work if you don’t trust each other, but what is trust? Wow. And, it actually breaks it down.
Dory Weiss: That’s really cool. Yeah, thank you.
Ryan Carson: I’ve done a lot of training as a CEO and instituted a lot of training, and it was one of the best. Back to you: What is one thing that has really dramatically improved the effectiveness of your team?
Dory Weiss: I think the biggest real change we’ve seen, certainly within the last year or so, is we went from just doing traditional scrum to a large scale scrum framework called LeSS which stands for Large Scale Scrum. What we had found was that, at the time we had eight or nine scrum teams, and each of those teams was capable of maintaining their own backlog and doing their own work, but what we’d find was that if one team was struggling, and we needed to be able to make decisions about how to move resources or how to reprioritize based on trouble in a single, localized place. We didn’t have any good way of globally comparing the priorities of each of those different scrum teams. So, it would require this really involved effort to figure out what the big picture looked like, and what does it mean if we moved someone from this team to this team, and what are all the domino effects of that? One of the things that LeSS offers is this idea of, resources are resources are resources. You really should know what your one overall priority list looks like, so that when push comes to shove … You know, when you’ve got nine different teams, and nine different backlogs, you’re essentially saying that the top thing in each of those backlogs is of equal priority. But, that’s probably not actually true. People, I think, don’t always realize that that’s implicitly the decision that they’ve made, by having those siloed backlogs.
Ryan Carson: Right. Gosh that’s-
Dory Weiss: So, yeah, so by making that switch, it has really allowed us to be a lot more intentional about where we’re making our investment of people and time, and making sure that it really is the thing that is highest priority for us.
Ryan Carson: Got it, so if folks are listening and they want to learn more about that, what’s the best place to learn about LeSS?
Dory Weiss: There is a really great book, which I thought I might have behind me, so that I could hold it up and look at the author’s name. Of course, it’s not behind me right now. It’s a really great book. It’s the Addison series of software management books. There’s also a good website that has chapter two of the book, which is really the big overview of all the pertinent concepts. It’s available free online.
Ryan Carson: Okay, LeSS. Okay, great. We have a minute. Actually, would really quickly love to hear your story. How did you end up being where you’re at?
Dory Weiss: It’s an interesting story. Actually, my undergrad, my graduate work is all in English literature. I actually had been working on my dissertation plan. The dream had always been to be an English professor.
Ryan Carson: Huh.
Dory Weiss: And so, I had been living that life. I was teaching college English for about five years total, between grad school and after grad school — and then at a certain point I was like, “Wait, I’m not actually happy in academia.” So, I found myself at 28 years old with no idea what I was going to do next. But, luckily for me, the University of Texas had a software developer training program. It was a six-month training program, and if you make it through, then you’re guaranteed a job on campus.
Ryan Carson: Really?
Dory Weiss: Yeah, it’s pretty sweet. You get paid to go through the training program. High quality curriculum, high quality instruction — and because it’s a state institution, once you’ve been employed for six months, you’ve got tenure. It’s a very safe job if you’re able to make it through the training program. I figured I had nothing to lose. I didn’t know what I was going to think of it, but it was worth taking a shot. I ended up falling in love with development, falling in love with coding.
Ryan Carson: That’s not at all how most people get into the industry, and it’s really refreshing.
Dory Weiss: Yeah, I love it and I think that being a developer, being an individual contributor, being on scrum teams. I did that for eight years before I moved into management. I loved that, but one of the things that’s been really great about moving into management is that the things that I loved about being a teacher and being a facilitator, and the ways that I like to think about classroom dynamics, those things translate very well to organizational dynamics and thinking about how to run an organization. It sort of feels like the best of both worlds.
Ryan Carson: Wow. That’s amazing. Well, we’re out of time. Dory, thank you so much for joining us. It’s been really fun to get to know you.
Dory Weiss: My pleasure, Ryan, thank you.
Ryan Carson: Where can people find you and nCino online?
Dory Weiss: My Twitter is @DoryWeiss. Not very creative. Pretty straightforward. And then nCino, you can find us at nCino.com. We’ve also got Twitter and Instagram and all that good stuff.
Ryan Carson: All that stuff. Great. Well, thanks again and we’ll talk to you soon.
Dory Weiss: Yeah, my pleasure. Thank you.