Building and Managing High Performing Teams and Products

Hitesh Gupta | Sr. Technical Product Manager in Gurgaon

We at Expedia Group want to be a place where Exceptional People who share our passion for technology and travel want to do their Best Work

I have played multiple roles in my last 3 years of experience with Expedia Group ranging from Program Manager to Engineering Manager to a Product Manager based on the situation, need and personal interest. Sharing a few experiences on how we were successful in building and managing a high performing team and product while incorporating all the feedback and getting better each day.

1. Innovating Fridays

One piece of feedback we got from the team is that they would like to have more dedicated time for innovation while working on sprint stories in parallel. We (I and my peer Manager) discussed with Management and came up with the concept of “InnovatingFridays” where every Friday (second half), the team innovates. It can be anything from learning new technology (Machine Learning/AI) to writing blogs as this is non-project time and they are free to work on any feature which they feel is good for end customers. It came out really well where the team ended up burning few features which were taking a back seat in the backlog. Few team members got their hands dirty on Machine Learning and did a few POC’s. Though one can’t time-bound innovation, this concept really helped me boosting team morale and the team is ready to spend extra/personal time in learning technology and go the extra mile. Once a month, we do the demo to see how it’s going and celebrate it.

2. Setting Up a Complete “Engineering” Team

Few QA members wanted to move to the core development role and this led to setting up a complete Engineering team where everyone is responsible for the development and testing of the features. We came up with a plan where every QA member is paired with a core developer who helps them in day to day questions and ramp-up. Within 3–6 months, we started seeing the impact where newly added developers (QA) started burning complex stories (moving from 1 and 2 story points to a 3+ pointer story). Also, during this duration, they shared the regression and testing duties with the existing developers and let them own it while shadowing them. This is one of the great experiences to share as to how we managed to set up a complete Engineering team.

3. Organizing Tech Talks and Collaborating Across Teams

We tried to set up a culture of continuous learning and sharing where I connected with all other Managers/Directors who are working on other mobile apps. Then, I set up the weekly tech-talk series and asked everyone to vote on what topic they will like to discuss each week. With this, we got a prioritized list of topics and assigned speakers from the team (based on their preference). This enabled us to share our learnings and knowledge across teams in Expedia Group and helped us set a collaboration platform building trust and relationships. Also, it helped everyone in the team to speak in front of a large audience and build on their presentation skills.

4. Change of Guard

We decided to rotate regression and other recurring responsibilities within the team instead of one team member owning it every time. How we did this — Created a monthly roster where every team member takes a lead on the above mentioned responsibilities every week and passes the ball to the next one. This solved the dual purpose of not having a single point of failure and everyone gets a chance to manage complete process and own it.

5. Taking Care of Platform and Tech-Debt Together

Everyone wants to work on the best feature, but you can’t have the whole team working on the same feature. At the same time, you have to take care of tech-debt and platform work since you have to take care of Engineering KPI’s (Quality and robust Architecture) too. We decided to reserve some % of bandwidth in each sprint for burning tech-debt and platform items. Also, this goes back to the rotation cycle where we have one developer contribute to this work each sprint, thus enabling them to take platform and feature work hand in hand and get some time out from routine feature work. With each feature being delivered, we introspect and see what/how/where we can improvise and try to provide the best experience to travelers.

6. Setting Up a Culture of Open Feedback

We set up a concept of open feedback where we meet as a team (twice a month) and provide open feedback to each other. This can be anything related to work including appreciations and constructive feedback. This is more of a Vegas-style meeting where we set the ground rules as not to discuss anything out of the room and whatever being discussed stays in the room only. We saw a huge drop in conflicts post this approach and the team started to collaborate more and more, thus making my life as a Manager easier 🙂

7. Core Working Hours

All planned meetings (planning/grooming/retro/demo/tech-talks) were moved to a morning slot (before lunch) and no meetings were planned after lunch. This ensured there is agreement on core working hours (like 1:30–5:30 pm) where the team can concentrate on actual work and there is no more context switching with so many meetings running around the day.

8. Own the Product as Your Own Baby

We tried to set up the culture where we encourage each and every team member to ask questions as to why this feature is really important, why not prioritizing this over there, what benefits we expect here and what are the metrics we are targeting here. This really led to useful grooming meetings where everyone (including product) enjoyed the discussion and is actively contributing there. Inducing the feeling of product ownership made the team think innovatively and ending up getting a couple of feature ideas from the team itself 🙂 Also, we encouraged them to share any suggestions/bugs which they find in other Products/Line of Business and communicate it using Dogfood process.

9. 1 on 1’s

Though I had recurring 1×1’s set up with each team member, I never stopped anyone asking for a quick ad-hoc discussion and not waiting for 1×1 to discuss that. Also, I used to maintain a separate record for each 1×1 so that I can recollect as where we left and how the individual is working on action items to be discussed in the next meeting.

10. Joint Code Review Sessions

In order to bring everyone on the same page in understanding code and helping QA moving to a developer role, we had set up joint code review sessions where teams meet every day for half an hr and opens up existing PR (Code Review request) and jointly reviews it to cover the why and how part of coding. This helped everyone (specially the new developers) to think from a common coding ground perspective.

11. Celebrating Success Together

I believe that a small appreciation note goes a long way. We made it a habit to celebrate each and every success (not having a grand party every time but taking the team out for tea/snacks) and then having lunch together, once a week.

Well as a Manager, your primary responsibility is the people and if you make them feel like coming to work every day, half of your job is done. It took us some time to set up above mentioned processes but it went a long way for us as a team and I can see a great sense of ownership, collaboration and passion to do a better job each day.

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In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

Bhala Dalvi | VP of Technology, Expedia Group in Bellevue, Washington

As I was reflecting on my affinity to chaos, I was reminded of this quote.  It’s been around a while – Sun Tzu wrote it in his military treatise, The Art of War, between 771 and 476 BC.

While I’m not into the whole war thing, I do agree with Sun Tzu on this point.

We all experience chaos at least occasionally in our day-to-day lives. Many of us experience it daily. Most people don’t love it and often struggle with chaos when it shows up.

Let’s face it, we live in a chaotic world.  I realized this early on when, as a teenager, I worked on my family’s farm.  It was a microcosm of life on earth, chaos and all. There was always something going on with the farm and as I got older, I saw opportunities everywhere for automation.  I instinctively knew that automation would help reduce the chaos.  I loved finding ways to automate because it compensated for the heavy work and allowed me to focus on nurturing the plants for our customers.

Because of this upbringing, I grew up unafraid of chaos.  Being comfortable with, even preferring chaos, is at the core of who I am.

Fast forward a few years.  I’ve been a steelmaker, a software developer and, now, I am a technology leader.  Chaos has followed me along the way which has enabled me to learn how to work with it, how to eke out its gifts.

It would be nice if leading a family, a team or a company was predictable, slow-paced and packed with easy decisions, but it’s not.  Many people struggle when things are in disarray – so to be a good leader, I’ve learned that I must lead through chaos.  I hope to share with you some ideas that can help you better cope with or lead when things are in turmoil.

In times of uncertainty, we may be tempted to create structure and order, because it feels safe and predictable.  It will help our teams be less stressed, calmer and more productive, right?  Well, it’s also at these times that companies need to spur innovation.  Innovation is all about disruption, change, the new.  Innovation needs some chaos.  Operationalizing it isn’t going to help us innovate and, I’d argue, isn’t what our people really need.

Embrace it.

I think back to my time on the farm.  If we didn’t work every day, the farm would instantly start deteriorating. The land wanted to go back to its natural state, rather than maintain the structures we put in place.  Our planet is always innovating.

Just like the Earth, every growing organization experiences chaos. Anytime we’re doing or experiencing something new – rolling out a new vision, inventing something, transitioning leaders – there will be chaotic moments.  We outgrow systems, processes, and even people, which can cause chaotic moments.  It’s natural. Embrace it.

Chill out.

This may sound counter-intuitive but just because a situation is chaotic doesn’t mean you need to be chaotic.  In fact, leaders must demonstrate through our own behaviors that chaos is not the enemy.  Don’t panic when chaos rears its scary head.  Focus on the root of the chaos, not the fruit.

It’s easy to overreact when faced with what seems like utter confusion. And we can spend a lot of time and energy trying to address the “fruit.” Or we can let the “fruit” reveal the root cause of the chaos so that we can address it and lead our organizations into a new season of growth and prosperity.

Slow down.

Chaos is uncomfortable for many people and when something is uncomfortable, we tend to want to avoid it or get through it as fast as possible.  If leaders aren’t careful they can make hasty decisions that jeopardize the long-term health of the organization.

One of the things that makes this hard is the pace of change in business.  Change frequently causes chaos and, as they say, change is the only constant.  So how do we slow down in this environment?

The way I do it is by giving myself time to deal with issues as they come up.  Think of a doctor’s office and how they reserve time each day for patients who need same-day attention.  If I don’t need the time I’ve reserved to embrace some chaos, I can repurpose it for strategic or other work.

The point is: we need to give ourselves enough time to make sure we don’t make knee-jerk reactions that could ultimately harm the business.

So, if you want to find the opportunity in chaos:

  • Embrace it. Remember there’s opportunity in it.
  • Chill out. Don’t let organizational chaos push you into chaos yourself.
  • Slow down. Take your time to avoid knee-jerk decisions.

If we do these three things, chaos will become less of a challenge and more of an opportunity.

Why I love working for Expedia Group

Antoinette Moliterno | Market Associate in Sydney, Australia

Picture of Antoinette Moliterno and co-workerWhen I stepped through Expedia Group Sydney’s doors as a University Intern in November 2017, I only knew that I wanted to work in Tourism, but had little idea of where or how I could fit into this enormous and booming industry. It didn’t take long to realize that Expedia Group was the only place I wanted to be to launch my career, and I haven’t looked back since.

Fast-forward a year – I’ve transitioned from Intern to Market Associate, settled into a new team, and spent the last six months dedicated to the Acquisition of Accommodation Supply and new Partnerships for our global marketplace. In that time, I’ve assisted in nearly one thousand properties going live – from luxury to boutique themed hotels, eco-lodges, retreats, glamping, and a wide variety of vacation rentals!

Each day, while not without its challenges, is rewarding and personally fulfilling both in the nature of what Expedia Group achieves as the world’s travel platform, and the high energy that drives our internal operations. I go to work feeling incredibly lucky and proud to be an Expedia Group employee, and here are just some of my top reasons why…

1 ) The Expedia Group Culture – Expedia Cares

The culture at Expedia Group far surpasses any organisation I have previously been a part of.

Our leadership is committed to creating an environment that is positive, open, supportive, nurturing and also incredibly fun! From day one, I could sense a genuine family spirit and this has only continued to strengthen since. Our recently launched Guiding Principles not only perfectly captures the essence of who I felt we already were as a company but drives us onwards to always be the best versions of ourselves as individuals and a Group.

The company also demonstrates a true care for the well-being and work-life balance of its employees, both within and outside the workplace. We are given plenty of opportunities to pursue our interests and passions, whether that be in our own time (e.g. Travel!) or through our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, Sustainability Committee, or Social Committee.

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to go to work and be surrounded by so many like-minded people who thrive off each other and work together locally and globally towards one common purpose.

2 ) Change & Innovation

In my short time at the company, I’ve seen so much change – its one of the many thrills about being at the crossroads of the Travel and Technology industries. Our workplace is dynamic, stimulating and inspiring as we both ride the waves of change, and also invited to be the change.

I love knowing that there is always something new around the corner, something to learn, to innovate, to make the world of travel even greater – it never gets boring!

In our own corner of the business, I really believe in our ability to help our local lodging partners put their mark on the map and keep up with the growing online game. I’m proud to be apart of a team where innovative ideas are born at a grassroots level and allowed to develop and be shared on a much larger regional or even global level.

3 ) Learn, Grow, Succeed

With no prior industry experience, my first year at Expedia Group has been a huge learning and personal growth journey. The internship in particular was a leap outside my comfort zone, and I was challenged to develop skills from weaknesses, think critically, and ultimately path the way for a career ahead. From the outset, I’ve been empowered to take ownership of my roles and progression, given great freedom to own my projects with individual flair, and the opportunity to evaluate and redesign processes and tools for wider business purposes.

With this comes tremendous support from peers and managers who never hesitate to provide guidance, share in both successes and challenges, and assist in reaching our goals and ambitions.

While I’m only at the very beginning of what I hope is a long career in Travel, I really believe in a future at Expedia Group. There are seemingly endless opportunities out there in completely different business divisions, in locations all over the world. Right now, I love what I do, but I’m definitely excited to discover what possibilities lie ahead.

Antoinette Moliterno and team

Expedia Group Is Not A Travel Company, We’re A Technology Company Dealing In Travel

Kate Bascombe | Software Development Engineer II in Brisbane, Australia

A great manager of mine once explained to me the difference between a ‘Travel Company’ and a ‘Technology Company that deals in Travel’.

He used a pizza metaphor to help illustrate, comparing Pizza Hut and Dominos. Pizza Hut is a fine company offering pizza to their customers. Domino’s is a technology company that uses technology to offer their product to their customer, and that product happens to be pizza. See the difference?

Dominos Pizza memeWhile Pizza Hut cooks and delivers pizza as they’ve always done, Domino’s has invested in technology such as Google Glasses for the pizza makers, drones for delivery, GPS tracking for the drivers, and I’m sure much more. Pizza Hut is a pizza company, but Domino’s is a technology company that sells pizza! That’s one key difference to why Domino’s dominates the market while Pizza Hut is falling behind.

So why am I talking about pizza? Well, it’s the same principle for Travel.

I’m here to share with you the benefits of working for Expedia Group, a company that truly does value technology and the engineers who keep us relevant in today’s tech-driven world.

Expedia Group is a company who understands the value of technology and that it’s not only good for the company but it’s good for the employees as well. As an engineer at Expedia Group, I know my contributions are listened to, valued, and are making a difference to ‘help people go places’.

Expedia Group listens when an employee has an idea they want to try. The annual 3-day Hackathons are a great avenue to propose an innovative idea and have it implemented. This year, myself and a couple of co-workers had our Hackathon project make it to the finals, and even though the idea didn’t win, the grand prize ($3,000 travel award by the way) encouraged us to develop the idea further, run it in an A/B Test, and share our learnings. And we did.

Toy Story meme about Innovation "There's a whole ne world out there. Don't be afraid to explore it."This was literally an idea 3 engineers came up with over lunch, decided to develop, test in production, and release to all our users (if it was a winner). How much more empowered to innovate can you get?

And this is not just once a year during Hackathon, we’re encouraged to bring our ideas to the table every single day. The work we do as engineers is not handed down from a Product Manager somewhere up the line. We work with Product, UX, Analytics, and Engineering throughout the lifecycle of an idea.

It’s our ideas and execution that are valued, not our job titles. I’ve contributed to content strategies, UX design, data analyzation, and product development, and my ideas have been welcomed in each discipline as an equal no matter my skillset or background.

I’ve seen co-workers send a quick message to our CEO because they had an opinion on a topic they wanted to talk about. Expedia Group treats feedback as a gift and welcomes it with open arms at all levels and across disciplines.

Those are a few of the cultural benefits of working in a company that values people in technology. But what about the tangible benefits?

Because Expedia Group values technology so highly, we try our best to attract the best talent in the technology industry. As a female in my early 30’s working in Australia, the standout benefits and perks to me are:

  • Annual Travel allowance, this year helping me attend my brother’s wedding in Hawaii
  • Health Insurance, not normally offered in Australia
  • Annual Wellness allowance, helping me build out a quality home gym
  • Free coffees, teas, fruit, breakfast foods, and snacks any time in the office
  • Friday drinks with catered food
  • Flexible work hours
  • Ability to work from home, I choose to work from home at least one day every week
  • Day Of Caring volunteer days
  • Competitive Salary
  • Stock options
  • Annual bonus, always appreciated in the after Christmas period
  • Access to training and conferences, even internationally
  • Top-of-the-range computing equipment, I love my Macbook Pro!
  • Creative and inspiring office fit-outs

Web designer wearing no pants says "So, you want to be a web designer like me. Is it because you like my work?" Other man says "No, it's because I don't want to wear pants to work."You can see a full list of the benefits we offer on https://lifeatexpedia.com/ with many more in-depth benefits aimed at everyone.

Expedia Group makes the effort to attract talented people with benefits, small and large. These are becoming the norm in the Tech Industry. Engineers should accept that we earn and deserve these benefits because of the bottom-line we generate… and Expedia Group recognizes that.

At the end of the day, I want to feel appreciated by the company I dedicate my time and efforts to. I’m not going to say that’s all the compensation I need but it’s a big one 😉

So let me ask you, is the company you work for a ‘pizza’ company or a Technology Company that sells ‘pizza’? Which one would you prefer to work for?

Expedia’s Makers

Expedia’s Makers | Engineering Lodging Shop

The Lodging Shopping product & engineering team are responsible for solving customer problems for lodging search, refine, and details. This includes the services that power the web/native experience and the user interface to web browsers on mobile, tablet and desktop. Surthi Samraj, Daman Kauer, Dineth Mendis, Scott Horn, and George Saliba are all apart of this team and worked together to write this blog post for you.

Working for a large multinational travel company brings a lot of opportunities. Even before your first day, you dream of making the next disruptive piece of technology that will change the way people see and experience the world. If you’ve worked at any large company before though, you’d know this is far from reality. The experience is akin to that of a small cog in a complex machine. Everyone stakes a claim to their cog and innovation becomes a challenge.

Recently, we have been actively looking to change the way we work. We recognized that in order to bring our customers to the next frontier of travel innovation, we needed to reinvigorate the love we all possessed for travel and using technology to make it more fun.

We embarked on a journey, a road trip, to change our web technology stack. Like most road trips, we expected a few surprises – delights and disappointments. But beyond just making a great one-off experience, we wanted to have a more lasting impact on the culture of our whole team and group. We also realized we could no longer think of ourselves as siloed disciplines that sit on a factory floor, doing the same thing over and over. We needed to alter our frame of mind and collectively identify ourselves as Makers.

The simple term was very elegantly described by the late Mr. Steve Jobs:

Maker = Thinker + Doer

In order to execute as a true Maker, we used our (Expedia’s) Guiding Principles and set about transforming our process. Makers of all disciplines (Engineers, User Experience, Product, Analytics, etc. ) and varying levels of experience needed to feel empowered to think about travelers’ challenges and solve them together. We also acknowledged the need to fail quickly with a minimum blast radius so we could try over and over again, learning and standing on the shoulders of giants who learn from their mistakes. All this to ensure that we’d have a culture that protects our makers in their journey.

The changes we adopted were fundamental, and key to the success of our journey. To distinguish from our previous, more traditional agile teams, we adopted the name ‘squads’ (borrowed from something similar at Spotify).

  1. All squads have a well-defined traveler challenge they are trying to solve and that is aligned with the company’s broader strategy.
  2. Each squad is autonomous and cross-disciplined based on the need to solve travelers’ challenge.
  3. Squads spend time understanding their problem and inspecting data.
  4. Members of a squad work together, like kindergarteners in the Marshmallow Experiments, to do their best to solve it in a constrained amount of time.
  5. If solutions require new expertise, squads may recruit other makers or trade with other squads.

To provide a healthy environment for makers, we knew we had to be super nimble, iterating both processes and development work to have the best outcome. By organizing around traveler challenges instead of adding features to services and products, we knew we could deliver the right outcomes – ones that truly matter to our travelers.

Our team of makers are around the globe, this includes five countries and more than six time zones. Having autonomous squads in this environment ensures our makers learn from a diverse set of cultures and approaches. It also brings us closer to understanding what is to be a local traveler – delivering familiar, memorable experiences.

Our journey has just reached its one year mark, and we really starting to see the impact. From highly engaged makers who are always thinking about travelers to our improved technical stacks with some really exciting set of technologies (ReactJS, GraphQL and the like).

But we’re not done yet! This is, in fact, just the beginning.

The organic manner of our growth keeps us going. It is as human as the people who are part of it. We constantly make mistakes, correct them, evolve to be better and more relevant. The entire team is dedicated to learning and creating, and are focused on solving problems based on our values.

What began as an effort with 20 people is now an everyday affair for roughly 200. That spark was enough to begin inspiring adoption by other parts of the group. As they join us at the helm of change and growth this is a very exhilarating time to go through a renewed sense of ownership and ultimately rediscover our love for travel and our customers.

Why don’t you join us? Come, be a maker at Expedia Group!