How we build with velocity at Ramp
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At Ramp, we think deeply about making every hour and every dollar count for businesses. In addition to helping our customers work faster and smarter, we constantly push ourselves to also do the same. How do we plan with velocity so we deliver value at a faster clip? How do we collaborate in the open so teams can get feedback more quickly?
One person who’s been a major influence in shaping the way we work is our VP of Product Geoff Charles. Geoff joined Ramp in early 2020 and has helped to guide the company's growth from sub-20 people to 500+. He recently sat down with Lenny Rachitsky to share how we approach the concept of "building" at Ramp, whether it's product, teams, or people. Check out key excerpts from their conversation below and subscribe to Lenny’s newsletter to see the full interview.
On business planning
Efficient execution starts with efficient planning: "Our entire planning process is optimized toward product velocity. In essence, we believe that doing is better than planning. Any second you spend planning is a second you don’t spend doing. The moment you are aligned in a direction, you don’t need a high level of accuracy. It’s impossible and costly to try to predict what you can do—and part of our competitive advantage has been that we can respond very quickly to the change in environment, strategy, or customer feedback. We learn something new every day that helps us adjust our plan. While the balance between planning and execution has evolved over Ramp’s growth, we’re still very much in execution mode even today."
One area where people tend to prioritize planning over execution is OKRs. Here is Geoff's view on common OKR pitfalls: "Oftentimes people start and get very bogged down with OKRs when where they should really start is strategy. The process of OKRs to me feels forced—you know what you want to do, and you have to reverse engineer an objective and a metric to fit into this framework. You sweat the wording and the specific metric. Teams feel like they are being judged on the metric. There is so much iteration. And at the end of all this, not much has changed from the original plan.
To win in the market, you need to be product strategy-driven, not sales or marketing-driven. You need to believe that the product strategy will deliver value to the customer and that in turn drives value to the business. That belief is earned and needs to start early in the company’s lifecycle."
In his post, Geoff explains how we develop our product strategy, anchor it to the financial model, align it to the marketing calendar, and mobilize cross-functional teams accordingly.
On building product
We've also put a lot of thought into product/design processes in order to accelerate context sharing, decisions, and alignment. What meetings are really critical? What matters most about project management tools?
"At Ramp, we build in the open and empower teams as much as possible to make the decisions in order to move quickly. What this means in practice is that every spec, design, decision, progress and status is published in project-specific Slack channels, and anyone is invited to read and opine. Essentially, teams farm for dissent, not approval. Eliminating gatekeepers ensures that things keep moving forward."
Geoff shares how our product and design processes have evolved over time and how we run our weekly product jam sessions now.
On team structure and staffing
Your organizational setup has a huge influence on speed of execution: "Design your org the way you want your product to perform. Ultimately, you ship your org structure. Think about what are the core competencies you want to amplify to accomplish your product strategy. If Data is not an equal, you are not elevating data-driven decision-making, data-science-driven products, and objective accountability. This matters as you get larger."
"Make staffing flexible, regardless of reporting lines. To maintain velocity, we have a very flexible model where folks can jump to different teams based on the business needs, and work with engineers who might report to different people. Management is about hiring, staffing, coaching, and development. We leverage Tech Leads in scrum teams who don’t manage but drive strategy and execution. By keeping reporting structures the same and re-organizing pods, we can respond quickly to new opportunities without needing to constantly destroy relationships between managers and their teams."
Above all else, your ability to build fast comes down to people: "The story of Ramp is the story of getting hiring right. First, we had to understand from first principles, the attributes needed for high velocity: High slope, not intercept; high agency; high humility. Next, we needed to find the non-obvious ways of recruiting that talent:
- Find early talent before anyone else.
- Allow only the best to interview.
- Don’t hire managers, hire stellar individual contributors.
- Always place new PMs on a team with top performers."
Check out the full interview
Geoff goes into each of these topics in much greater detail in Lenny's newsletter. To get the full scoop, complete with templates and org charts, check out the full interview.