Wikimedia Engineering/June 2017 changes

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Message from Toby Negrin and Victoria Coleman[edit]

This message, "Changes to Product and Technology departments at the Foundation", was sent by Toby Negrin and Victoria Coleman on 7 June 2017.

Hi everybody,

We have made some changes to our Product and Technology departments which we are excited to tell you about. When Wes Moran, former Vice President of Product, left the Wikimedia Foundation in March, we took the opportunity to review the organization and operating principles that were guiding Product and Technology. Our objectives were to improve our engagement with the community during product development, develop a more audience-based approach to building products, and create as efficient a pipeline as possible between an idea and its deployment. We also wanted an approach that would better prepare our engineering teams to plan around the upcoming movement strategic direction. We have finished this process and have some results to share with you.

Product is now known as Audiences, and other changes in that department

In order to more intentionally commit to a focus on the needs of users, we are making changes to the names of teams and department (and will be using these names throughout the rest of this update):

  • The Product department will be renamed the Audiences department;
  • The Editing team will now be called the Contributors team;
  • The Reading team will be renamed the Readers team.

You might be asking: what does “audience” mean in this context? We define it as a specific group of people who will use the products we build. For example, “readers” is one audience. “Contributors” is another. Designing products around who will be utilizing them most, rather than what we would like those products to do, is a best practice in product development. We want our organizational structure to support that approach.

We are making five notable changes to the Audiences department structure.

The first is that we are migrating folks working on search and discovery from the stand-alone Discovery team into the Readers team and Technology department, respectively. Specifically, the team working on our search backend infrastructure will move to Technology, where they will report to Victoria. The team working on maps, the search experience, and the project entry portals (such as will join the Readers team. This realignment will allow us to build more integrated experiences and knowledge-sharing for the end user.

The second is that the Fundraising Tech team will also move to the Technology department. This move recognizes that their core work is primarily platform development and integration, and brings them into closer cooperation with their peers in critical functions including MediaWiki Platform, Security, Analytics, and Operations.

The Team Practices group (TPG) will also be undergoing some changes. Currently, TPG supports both specific teams in Product, as well as supporting broader organizational development. Going forward, those TPG members directly supporting feature teams will be embedded in their respective teams in the Audiences or Technology departments. The TPG members who were primarily focused on organizational health and development will move to the Talent & Culture department, where they will report to Anna Stillwell.

These three changes lead to the fourth, which is the move from four “audience” verticals in the department (Reading, Editing, Discovery, and Fundraising Tech, plus Team Practices) to three: Readers, Contributors, and Community Tech. This structure is meant to streamline our focus on the people we serve with our feature and product development, increase team accountability and ownership over their work, allow Community Tech to maintain its unique, effective, and multi-audiences workflow, and better integrate support directly where teams need it most.

One final change: in the past we have had a design director. We recognize that design is critical to creating exceptional experiences as a contributor or a reader, so we’re bringing that role back. The director for design will report to the interim Vice President of Product. The Design Research function, currently under the Research team in the Technology department, will report to the new director once the role is filled.

Technology is increasingly “programmatic”

The Technology department is also making a series of improvements in the way we operate so that we can better serve the movement.

The biggest change is that all of our work in fiscal year 2017-2018 will be structured and reported in programs instead of teams (you can see how this works in our proposed 2017-2018 Annual Plan). This will help us focus on the collective impact we want to make, rather than limiting ourselves to the way our organization is structured. These programs will be enabled by the platforms (MediaWiki, Fundraising Tech, Search, Wikimedia Cloud Services, APIs, ORES, and Analytics) that the Technology department builds and maintains, and they will be delivered by teams that provide critical services (Operations, Performance, Security, Release Engineering, and Research). Distinguishing the work of the Technology department into platforms and services will also allow us to treat platforms as products, with accountable product managers and defined roadmaps.

In addition to moving the Search subteam into Technology, we are creating a separate ORES team. These changes mark the start of something big - investing in building machine learning, machine translation, natural language processing and related  competencies. This is the first step towards supporting intelligent, humanized, user interfaces for our communities - something we’re thinking of as “human tech”.  Not because we think that machines will replace our humans, but because these tools cans help our humans be much more productive.

Why these changes, why now?

When the Product and Technology departments were reorganized in 2015, the stated goal was establishing verticals to focus on specific groups of users and to speed execution by reducing dependencies among teams. These smaller changes are meant to “tune-up” that structure, by addressing some of its weaknesses and making additional improvements to the structure of our engineering work.

The process that brought us to these changes began informally shortly after Victoria arrived, and took on a more formal tone once Wes announced his departure in February. Katherine asked Anna Stillwell, the Foundation's newly-appointed Chargée d’Affaires in the Talent & Culture department, to facilitate a consultation with both departments to identify their pain points, and better understand their cultural and structural needs. After collecting feedback from 93 people across the two departments, as well as stakeholders around the organization, she offered a draft proposal for open comment within the Foundation. After making some changes to reflect staff feedback, the Foundation’s leadership team decided to proceed with the changes described above.

The leaders of some of the teams involved will be following up in the next few days with the specifics of these organizational moves and what they mean to our communities. If you still have questions, please ask on the talk page of this announcement.

Best regards,
Toby Negrin, Interim Vice President of Product
Victoria Coleman, Chief Technology Officer

See also[edit]

Team updates[edit]