Stuff We Love: How Warby Parker Rules Productivity

November 15, 2016 Neil Blumenthal, LinkedIn Pulse

As a smaller-sized company, productivity and resource management is definitely an on-going discussion at The Tite Group. 

How do we make sure our Titans aren't being overloaded?

What's the most efficient way of sharing our resources?

Is there a better way of motivating our Titans to get behind the work our agency does?

These are just a few of the thoughts that run through our busy brains. 

We definitely believe that you have to do work that fits who you are. Otherwise we'd lack focus. If we took on every project out there, our agency wouldn't have a direction and our Titans would just be going through the process without actually feeling connected to the work they do. 

So, we take on the stuff we care about and make sure that the resources we have are put where they best add value. Period.

There's enough clutter out there, we'd rather not add to it (or be a part of it). 

While we're by no means the reigning example of work optimization, we love hearing how other Thought Catalysts out there have figured out productivity. 

Warby Parker is one of those. Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse, this is how the eyewear company empowers their employees to do the work that matters to them most.

All companies—and not just startups—face the same eternal challenge: resource allocation. Imagine for a moment that you’re the CEO of an organization. You have a certain amount of talent (aka employees) and a certain amount of capital. You don’t have as much of either as you’d like. How do you distribute your scarce resources most effectively?

As the co-CEO of Warby Parker, I spend a lot of my time grappling with this question. Warby has always been a tech-enabled company, and—again, like every other company on earth—the amount of tech work we need to complete far outpaces the number of engineers we have. In theory, this is a healthy tension—it means we have more ideas than we can execute, which is the ultimately the goal. (For two reasons: Having too many ideas is always better than not enough, and it also means that we’re forced to cull the best ideas.) But it presents a logistical dilemma: what’s the best way to make sure our tech team is prioritizing the right tasks for the business, working at a high speed, and specializing according to their individual skills and talents? 

Research shows that the people who are most intimate with an issue at hand are the people who make the best decisions about that issue. (Makes sense.) Translated into reality, this suggests that a top-down control model in the tech department might not be the best way to lead. Instead, we wondered what would happen if we empowered employees to make decisions about the areas they knew best.

About two years ago we launched an internal process called Warbles. Here’s how it works: employees nominate projects that require tech resources. Managers vote on the projects by assigning points (or “Warbles”) to the tasks that will add the most value to the business. Software engineers then select the projects that most appeal to them (or have the most points attached) and get cracking. Teams compete to rack up the most Warbles in a quarter, and the winning team gets a prize. 

Here’s why it works: engineers are motivated, like everyone else, by the increased autonomy of getting to choose their projects, and they naturally gravitate towards projects that require their area of expertise (or areas that they want to improve on, which creates learning opportunities). Being motivated makes the engineers work faster and better. Understanding the impact of their work on the entire organization—which is what the points signify—provides a clear overarching purpose, which ensures that projects never feel pointless or wasteful. And, of course, the aspect of friendly competition amongst teams to collect points is also a mega motivating factor.

Another benefit? The Warbles process offers the entire company a window onto what the tech team is working on. If someone proposes an important project that doesn’t immediately get assigned to an engineering team, it can be demotivating. But knowing why a project is taking longer than you might like dissipates much of the frustration. Visibility equals understanding.

This isn’t the only way in which the Warbles process benefits the entire company (instead of just the tech team). Because all employees can pitch ideas, Warbles offers an open arena for fresh ideas to be aired, which incentivizes employees to innovate constantly. When managers vote on projects, those votes are visible to all. And my co-CEO Dave and I vote on projects just like the other managers. The process is basically like a giant suggestion box—but a suggestion box that actually gets opened and disseminated amongst managers and produces tangible results. Following the Warbles process ensures that we prioritize work properly, increase the velocity and quality of work through employee engagement, and provide visibility across the organization about how we are deploying our resources—three things that any good manager (or CEO!) should always strive to do. 

*Just kidding. But we made progress.

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