Originally published by Neil Blumenthal on LinkedIn: How We Definitively Solved the One Problem That Every Business Grapples With*
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.