February 25, 2024

Etsy, a web-based market for distinctive, handmade, and classic gadgets, has
seen excessive progress during the last 5 years. Then the pandemic dramatically
modified consumers’ habits, resulting in extra customers buying on-line. As a
consequence, the Etsy market grew from 45.7 million patrons on the finish of
2019 to 90.1 million patrons (97%) on the finish of 2021 and from 2.5 to five.3
million (112%) sellers in the identical interval.

The expansion massively elevated demand on the technical platform, scaling
site visitors virtually 3X in a single day. And Etsy had signifcantly extra prospects for
whom it wanted to proceed delivering nice experiences. To maintain up with
that demand, they needed to scale up infrastructure, product supply, and
expertise drastically. Whereas the expansion challenged groups, the enterprise was by no means
bottlenecked. Etsy’s groups have been capable of ship new and improved
performance, and {the marketplace} continued to supply a glorious buyer
expertise. This text and the following type the story of Etsy’s scaling technique.

Etsy’s foundational scaling work had began lengthy earlier than the pandemic. In
2017, Mike Fisher joined as CTO. Josh Silverman had lately joined as Etsy’s
CEO, and was establishing institutional self-discipline to usher in a interval of
progress. Mike has a background in scaling high-growth firms, and alongside
with Martin Abbott wrote a number of books on the subject, together with The Art of Scalability
and Scalability Rules.

Etsy relied on bodily {hardware} in two knowledge facilities, presenting a number of
scaling challenges. With their anticipated progress, it was obvious that the
prices would ramp up shortly. It affected product groups’ agility as that they had
to plan far upfront for capability. As well as, the info facilities have been
primarily based in a single state, which represented an availability danger. It was clear
they wanted to maneuver onto the cloud shortly. After an evaluation, Mike and
his crew selected the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) because the cloud companion and
began to plan a program to maneuver their
many programs onto the cloud.

Whereas the cloud migration was occurring, Etsy was rising its enterprise and
its crew. Mike recognized the product supply course of as being one other
potential scaling bottleneck. The autonomy afforded to product groups had
induced a difficulty: every crew was delivering in numerous methods. Becoming a member of a crew
meant studying a brand new set of practices, which was problematic as Etsy was
hiring many new folks. As well as, that they had observed a number of product
initiatives that didn’t repay as anticipated. These indicators led management
to re-evaluate the effectiveness of their product planning and supply

Deciding on a companion

Etsy had by no means labored with a software program improvement consultancy. To give you the chance
to scale product supply and usher in some outdoors experience, they began
in search of a vendor. After an in depth search, they chose Thoughtworks,
primarily as a result of they perceived a detailed cultural match and deep alignment
concerning fashionable software program improvement.

Thoughtworks has an identical strategy to Agile as Etsy – being Agile
relatively than doing Agile. Etsy’s crew was not seeking to undertake a
methodology that blindly follows strict rituals and practices, and wished
a companion that bases its strategy on agile ideas and tradition.
Thoughtworks is thought for technical excellence and management in DevOps,
Steady Integration, and Steady Supply, all of which Etsy depends
on closely. As well as, the 2 firms shared related ideas
concerning worker care, variety, open-source, and know-how

The Thoughtworks crew began by embedding into product groups, working with
each purchaser and vendor groups, on varied crucial initiatives resembling cost
mannequin adjustments, Search Engine Optimization (web optimization), and a notification platform.
This enabled Thoughtworks to know how Etsy labored, created a right away
affect on supply, and improved improvement practices resembling automated

For Thoughtworks, Etsy was fairly completely different from the standard consumer.
They’re a totally digital firm, and their technical course of and product
practises are very mature. In contrast to most purchasers who interact Thoughtworks,
Etsy had no giant transformation to undertake, and no ingrained habits
that wanted a significant shift. What they have been looking for was outdoors perspective
and supplementive expertise, to assist them incrementally enhance and deal with
their urgent initiatives. The tradition and ideas have been already very
aligned with Thoughtworks’ personal, so the partnership turned extra of an
change of concepts drawn from completely different experiences.

Scaling Product Supply and Discovery

Thoughtworks and Etsy fashioned a cross-functional Product Supply
Tradition (PDC) crew to research the present product supply and discovery
course of. They analyzed the whole software program improvement worth stream,
wanting carefully on the complaints of managers and crew members. Chosen
occasions have been replayed to achieve a deep understanding of “how” it occurred
rather than who?. The Thoughtworks
crew, as a result of they hadn’t lived by means of the issues, have been capable of carry
an goal outsider perspective.

There have been a variety of issues Etsy was doing rather well:

  • Cross-functional groups: They structured their groups round “4 desk legs”:
    Product, Design, Engineering, and Analytics. All planning and supply practices
    occur with collaboration among the many teams.
  • Incremental supply of worth to customers: Steady supply is the core
    observe of their strategy. A code change sitting in a repository and never
    deployed to customers isn’t invaluable, and successfully prices the corporate cash. Etsy
    deploys a whole bunch of instances a day, with a 30-minute decide to manufacturing lead
  • Options are prioritized utilizing knowledge: Product managers and knowledge analysts
    collaborate to find out an anticipated worth, measured by KPI adjustments. If the
    function doesn’t ship sufficient worth versus its value, as evidenced by an A/B
    check, it’s not rolled out, and the code is eliminated.

The crew additionally uncovered alternatives for enchancment:

  • Every crew was doing supply in numerous methods, having disparate processes
    and rituals, making onboarding new staff and altering groups tough. Some
    groups have been utilizing a course of like Scrum, whereas others didn’t use any formal
    course of.
  • There have been a variety of initiatives that had not created worth as
    they anticipated. For instance, Etsy tried a present wrap function that had
    decrease than anticipated adoption charges by sellers and patrons.
  • Previous to 2018, Etsy had been by means of a transitional interval, with
    pivots in product technique and management adjustments main some product
    managers to expres a need for higher possession over their product

Time to studying

The crew created an enchancment program, primarily based on lean pondering and the
concepts of Marty Cagan, who had lately introduced at Etsy. The management crew was
studying his guide Impressed.

I promise you that no less than half the concepts
in your roadmap usually are not going to ship what you hope. (By the best way, the
actually good groups assume that no less than three quarters of the concepts received’t
carry out like they hope.)

Marty Cagan, Inspired (p19)

After some preliminary analysis the crew got here up with a metric they known as Time
to Studying – the time it took for a product crew to validate an concept with a
buyer and achieve a greater understanding of its worth. They’d a baseline of
50 days that they wished to cut back.

They have been additionally taking a look at different metrics.

  • Enhancing the time to market
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of merchandise (e.g. income, buyer
  • Worker happiness

To affect the KPIs, they got here up with a variety of answer hypotheses:

Lightweight prototypes that incorporate extra direct consumer analysis

Etsy has robust experimentation infrastructure and analytics capabilities.
They run many concurrent A/B checks on {the marketplace}. The issue the PDC
crew noticed is that the suggestions cycle could be fairly gradual. For an concept to be
prepared for an A/B check it needed to be close to production-level high quality. It additionally had
to have sufficient knowledge to indicate statistical relevance. A/B checks would run for
months in lesser-used components of {the marketplace}.

To set your expectations, robust groups usually
check many product concepts every week—on the order of 10 to twenty or extra per week. I
wish to emphasize that these are experiments, usually run utilizing prototypes.
A prototype isn’t one thing that’s prepared for prime time and positively not
one thing your organization would attempt to promote and stand behind. However they’re
immensely helpful, as they’re all about studying quick and low-cost.

Marty Cagan, Inspired (p27)

To cut back the Time to Studying metric, the PDC crew utilized a lean UX
strategy. First, they began by shortly creating lo-fi prototypes and
instantly displaying them to customers. Second, the crew elevated consumer suggestions
classes to each two weeks and diminished the extent of ceremony. Third, they
created a dual-track system, with a design and analysis crew frequently
working forward of a supply crew. The concept was to effectively achieve confidence
in an concept earlier than it qualifies for an A/B check. By lowering the price of
experimentation, they may enhance the variability and amount of experiments,
discovering concepts that confirmed extra worth.

Determine 1: Experiment validation course of

Blueprint for product supply

The PDC, along with product crew leaders, got here up with a set of
product supply ideas and associated supply observe adjustments. The
practices included: smaller extra centered tales, redesigning story partitions to
higher match the crew course of, utilizing spikes to cut back technical uncertainty, and
higher methods of managing tech debt. They didn’t wish to take away the autonomy of
groups. Steady enchancment is a giant a part of Etsy tradition. These practices
are supposed to be handled as wise defaults that may be tailored and improved
for every crew’s particular context.

The PDC crew first examined the observe adjustments on pilot product groups to
set up their effectiveness after which iterated. As soon as the observe
demonstrated an enchancment, the crew added to a information base and supplied
mild teaching to introduce the brand new practices to all product groups throughout

Lean Portfolio administration

Some giant initiatives have been nonetheless being carried out, despite the fact that there was
not clear proof of the initiative creating worth. That is the standard sunk
value downside. To resolve this, the PDC crew
instructed taking a lean strategy to portfolio administration.

Our runway needs to be an inventory of hypotheses to check, not an inventory of
necessities to construct. After we reward our groups for his or her skill to ship
necessities, it’s simple to quickly bloat our merchandise with pointless
options—resulting in elevated complexity, larger upkeep prices, and
restricted skill to alter. Options delivered usually are not a measure of success,
enterprise outcomes are. Our runway is a sequence of questions that we have to
check to cut back uncertainty and enhance our understanding of progress

Humble et al, Lean Enterprise (p96)

As a substitute of making prolonged undertaking specs and plans, the PDC crew
coached product groups to develop final result statements for every initiative. With
final result statements, beginning with a buyer or enterprise final result permits the
crew to experiment with many alternative concepts to realize the end result by tying
them to measurable KPIs. The much less exact an final result is, together with its KPIs,
the tougher it’s to specify. When getting ready for doable initiatives, every
product crew created a two-page temporary summarizing the end result, the measurable
affect, and the preliminary funding required.

The manager crew prioritized the end result statements, and every assertion
was seen as a “wager” amongst a portfolio. Impressed by the Lean Worth Tree
idea, the chief crew would observe a daily cadence to find out if a
wager was paying off, giving them the chance to pivot early.

Determine 2: An instance initiative assertion

Stronger product & engineering collaboration

One other enchancment was to incorporate engineers early within the product ideation
course of and to have them be a part of consumer suggestions classes. The crew examined
engineers becoming a member of the speculation technology and validation classes and
working carefully with designers throughout design sprints. The outcomes of the check
confirmed an a variety of benefits. Engineers improved their understanding of the
buyer, constructing empathy for his or her wants. They might present on-the-spot
suggestions on the feasibility of an strategy and shortly create prototypes to
reveal concepts to customers. Cross-functional engagement allowed engineers to
contribute a variety of nice concepts that made it to the product.

After the preliminary PDC initiative Etsy continued to strengthen the
collaboration between teams. At each degree of the group, product and
engineering are companions, which implies they’re capable of have wholesome trade-off
discussions. The platform group expanded the usage of product managers for
infrastructure and developer tooling groups – encouraging groups to consider
technical capabilities as merchandise and end-users being Etsy engineers. The
technical product managers do analysis and prioritization actions, simply as
they might for a buyer product.

What was the affect of product supply tradition?

Testing with pilot groups indicated that the Time to Studying went from 50
days to five days. In the course of the pilot, one product supervisor stated, “What I really like about
the [direct user research sessions] pilot is that it lets us check our concepts
sooner, it was very nice to not spend as a lot time diving deep into
one thing that we didn’t even know we have been going to make use of.” An initiative on
stock high quality that was predicted to ship a seven million greenback income
enhance as a substitute delivered eleven million {dollars} in incremental worth utilizing
the PDC instructed enhancements. Following this pilot success, the crew coached
the whole product improvement group on the product supply strategy.

In response to Mike Fisher, “It is rather laborious to isolate the advantages of a
course of change on a company of a number of hundred engineers since we don’t
run A/B experiments of this sort. Nonetheless, we did take a look at excessive degree
productiveness metrics after having PDC carried out for over 2 years, and all of
our metrics have been very optimistic. We had improved our velocity by doing this
work, and we have been capable of produce finally extra advantages for the patrons and
sellers – extra options, higher search, higher processes; the entire
market turned higher for patrons and sellers and that was the aim.”