How We Share Ownership and Accountability

Often people ask me how a small team like ours can have relative financial success and still have time to organize two international conferences, MirrorConf and RubyConf Portugal, several meetups through the year while keeping a sustainable work environment where people like to work. I always struggle to answer this because I don’t have the contradictory, and for us it’s challenging, but it never felt like a Herculean task to pull off. After putting some thought on the subject, I believe that the primary justification is how we share responsibilities throughout the team, keeping a flat structure, while still have a culture of accountability.

Historically we never had problems of stepping in other people shoes, helping them or assuming responsibilities that could normally belong to the other person. If a developer discovers a new design practice that they think we should start implementing, then they take the initiative to study and present it at a “Friday Talk” to the whole team, and push for the implementation. Same thing for management practices, sales, hiring or any other area of the company. We do struggle with one issue: making sure that some areas have the necessary attention along the way. It is normal that some practices fall behind because no one is responsible for making sure (or be certain) that we kept evolving and implementing what we had agreed upon as a team.

After experimenting with different techniques, we decided to test something called the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) principle. This is a technique used at Apple to assure accountability throughout the company. You can see a short description by Adam Lashinsky, author of Apple Inside here. A brief description of what are DRIs in practice would be putting a face in front of anything that needs to be addressed within your organization, from the top-level tasks to the small bug that has to be solved in the next few hours. Applying ownership and accountability to everything that you need to accomplish does wonders for your company productivity.

Here at Subvisual, we apply this concept by distributing our DRIs by Areas of Responsibility (AoR). Within the company, we defined a set of areas that we think that require our attention. These areas are dynamic; we can create new ones, remove areas that we find that we no longer need, or update them. An example of an AoR can be something like Hiring, where we have a set of responsibilities and a description of that area. After someone steps in as a DRI, they are responsible for anything that happens regarding Hiring in the company. Part of this responsibility is to delegate tasks to others. For example, if someone applies for a design vacancy, the Hiring DRI is responsible for allocating a designer as to accompany that person's hiring process.

We have been using this process for almost two years, with many iterations from day one, but I can’t stress enough how this technique helped make sure that we accomplish our goals as a team.

Going back to the initial question of this post, I don’t think that the DRIs principle is the sole responsible for our success in the last years as a company, but I do believe that it is the main reason why we were able to do it keeping our sanity.

If you liked this topic and had something to add, please comment below or shoot me an email. I’m always available to discuss new techniques or talk about the ones that we use at Subvisual.

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About Roberto Machado

Breathes technology and deeply believes, hence the creation of Subvisual, that it is the medium for a better future. Always has 5 min to listen to you.
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