Innovation, Ownership, and Excellence in Engineering

Jared Yarn

Reading time: about 7 min

Topics:

  • Behind The Scenes

Great ideas can come from anywhere—at Lucid we truly believe that. While it's not directly listed in our core values, all four of our values create space for us to find and deliver the best ideas at Lucid.

  1. Teamwork over Ego -- It's not about where an idea comes from, it's about getting to the best idea. We work together as a team to solve problems, brainstorm, and build the best ideas together.
  2. Individual Empowerment, Initiative, and Ownership -- Everyone is empowered to improve and drive solutions. We don’t have any “code monkeys'' here. Everyone is encouraged and expected to take ownership of their work. It's not enough to say the specification said this, so I built it, but I didn’t think it was right. Our team members are expected to speak up and work to get to the best solution.
  3. Innovation in everything we do -- We don’t just want to copy other ideas, we want new ideas. We want to build on those ideas and we believe everyone has unique diverse experiences that distinctively allow them to bring innovation to the table.
  4. Passion and Excellence in every area -- We want people thinking about how we can “add excellence” to everything we do. We want it to be something everyone is passionate about. This leads to everyone contemplating about and bringing forward their great ideas.

Now it's one thing to say these are our core values and that everyone should do it. Creating a culture where it can happen is a whole different ball game. 

With deadlines to meet, customer issues that need fixing, technical challenges to solve, and features to build, it becomes really easy to let innovation, ownership, and excellence slip. We want everyone at Lucid to truly be able to take ownership, innovate, and create features that delight our users. In order to give space for everyone to think about how they can improve our products and codebase,  we've implemented 3 major initiatives: Hackathon, Ownership Sprints, and 50% Fridays. 

Lucid Hackathon

Our first foray into creating space for all of our product development teams to really let go and innovate was implemented seven years ago with our first annual Hackathon. What is the Lucid Hackathon? Teams of up to six are given free reign for four days to build whatever they want. The only rules are: 

1) Don’t commit anything to the main branch 

2) You can’t start early 

At the end of the 4 days, there is a company-wide event where everyone gets to try out all the cool new features and vote on their favorite projects. 

Some of our best ideas come from our hackathon every year. Sometimes they are monumental efforts, such as migrating our entire frontend to Typescript or implementing data-linking with Google Sheets, which completely pivoted our company strategy. Other times they are wonderful polishes that add excellence to the product, such as “death by 1000 paper cuts'' where engineers asked the entire company for their biggest pet peeves in Lucidchart and then fixed almost 100 of them. Another example was enhancing our swimlanes to add new color and line style options. Regardless of what people decide to do, the hackathon is an opportunity for everyone to take ownership and innovate.

In July 2021, we had 40 teams compete. Of those 40 teams, eight have already had parts of their project merged to the main branch and added to the product. Another 20 are being vetted or are already on the roadmap to get in later this year. We truly believe our best ideas can come from anywhere and the hackathon is just one way we create space to come up with and experiment on those ideas.

You can see an in-depth summary of our hackathon in this blog post from 2018 by our SVP of Engineering, Brian Pugh.

Ownership Sprints

While the Hackathon is for moonshots and really getting crazy with the innovation, we also offer two sprints during the year that are deemed “Ownership Sprints”. What is an ownership sprint? It's a two-week sprint where engineers are encouraged to follow their passion and build more excellence into the product. They are empowered to define their own stories, fix their biggest pet peeves, work on technical debt, or simply do what they think is best to improve the product and the codebase. Unlike the hackathon, we encourage all of these ownership projects to be “production ready” and to strive to get them implemented during the course of the sprint.

These ownership sprints provide some breathing room for everyone in product development to innovate. With 250 people brainstorming and acting on their ideas for 2 full weeks, we get some amazing things done in every ownership sprint.

We’ve had some amazing feats come out of ownership sprints in the last year. One of my favorites was a full overhaul of the integration marketplace. As an engineer, I loved that it updated a ton of old code that hadn’t been touched in years to match our new patterns. From a business perspective, it provided immediate value, drove an increase in integration sign-ups, and made the page look better. Working together, the team was able to push forward a passion project that had a big impact on the business and the codebase.

50% Fridays

We recently introduced a new initiative that happens on a more regular basis to allow for everyone to innovate, take ownership, and add excellence to the product. 50% Fridays allow everyone in product development to take either half a day every Friday or every other Friday to provide space to innovate. We ask everyone to share their ideas in a public Slack channel, work together to make them happen, and then share their work in either a lunch session or their sprint reviews. 

While this initiative is relatively new, we are already seeing some really fun results. Perhaps the most notable is our new “failure forecast” feature for builds that allows you to get feedback on whether your build is likely to pass or fail 25% earlier than before. We have also seen a large number of bugs resolved, technical debt cleaned up, new selection states and line styles added, and just general polish added to our products. 

50% Fridays make space for everyone in product development to be thinking every sprint about  innovation and improvement, keeping this passion alive in our teams at all times. 

Conclusion

At Lucid, we are committed to giving everyone space to truly be able to take ownership, think and innovate, and delight users. We believe the best ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. We know in order to get the best ideas, we need to create space for people to think, innovate, and take ownership. We incorporate that time in a variety of ways, including every sprint, to keep it at the forefront of everyone's mind. As a result, we really do get the best ideas implemented from the whole product organization.

If you have great ideas, love to innovate, and want to work at a company where your ideas are heard, come join us at Lucid. Apply today at lucid.co/careers

About the Author

Jared is a Sr. Director of Engineering at Lucid. He has helped launch two major products during his time here and is passionate about helping everyone have their ideas heard. In his free time, he loves being outdoors, playing disc golf with his 4 kids, and playing board games with friends.

About Lucid

Lucid Software is a pioneer and leader in visual collaboration dedicated to helping teams build the future. With its products—Lucidchart, Lucidspark, and Lucidscale—teams are supported from ideation to execution and are empowered to align around a shared vision, clarify complexity, and collaborate visually, no matter where they are. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucid.co.

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