Grant Ammons

I blog about engineering leadership, software design, and side projects.

The importance of celebrating success with your team

“Ok, so we launched our new feature last night. However we have 30 customer emails from last night about bugs, and we need to hit those right away. Also the error rate is a little spikey, which probably means there’s more issues, and our response time is up a few ticks. Have a nice day!”

What a bummer.

This is unfortunately how things go during a standup meeting after just after shipping a successful feature. The above narrative might as well be the following instead:

“Ok, we launched our new feature last night. We made a list of all the ways you fucked up. We put that list in our bug tracker, a.k.a. the giant database of all the ways you fucked up. Oh and FYI, we haven’t even found all the fuckups yet, but we know there’s more! Also, your shitty code is causing the site to be slow. Have a nice day!”

I’m not saying that there needs to be sugar coating, or that the post-launch issues should be ignored. It’s just that engineers are typically the last people to hear if a launch is successful. Or why it’s successful. Or what that success will do for the company. All they hear about — day in, day out, all the time, is the negative. If things are going well, they hear nothing.

This is doubly true for a remote team. Remote engineers don’t have the benefit of water cooler talk or other face time to get an idea of a feature’s success.

While prioritizing defects is important, it can get your team’s Chi all out of whack if it’s all about the problems. Instead, you need to balance out talking about the benefits of all their effort, as well as celebrating the wins.

Ideally you talk about the benefits twice as much as the bugs. This gives everyone the perspective that their work, by and large, is successful. Sure, there’s a couple warts here and there, but the work we did is not for nothing! They like it!

Celebrate the metrics. If your product or feature is truly a hit, it’s awesome to see charts of the success. It’s like sending out a killer tweet, and watching the likes + retweets stack up. It makes you feel good. The same is true for feature launches. Put those charts on a wall TV. Point out the adoption graph that is going up and to the right. Highlight the customers who send positive feedback about the feature.

This is what a successful feature launch looks like. Adoption (in pink) and converted accounts who have used the feature (in green).

Remember to keep perspective when talking about post-launch issues. Let’s say you launched a feature to 20,000 customers, and the adoption and success metrics are through the roof. The 30 customers struggling are indeed an issue, but they represent 0.0015% of the customer base. But the feature is a smashing success! Keep these numbers in mind when talking about the issues.

Ways to celebrate a successful feature launch

Call out individuals in your chat program, or email. It happens all the time — engineers staying up late to fix an issue, or round out the work they spent all day on. But nobody will notice those efforts if you don’t call them out.

This serves 2 purposes. Calling out the win, and lifting the veil a bit on what what engineering does daily.

Send them an Amazon gift card. It might take a lot of effort to get someone a bonus or a big raise, and usually that’s tied to the bureaucracy of performance reviews, bosses, anniversary dates, etc. A simpler tactic is to just buy them a $200 Amazon gift card. It’s instant gratification, and your team will really, really appreciate it.

One of my team leads did this recently after a major feature launch — amidst all of the post-launch bugs and scrambling and dust clearing. He completely underestimated the impact that this small token of appreciation would have on the team’s morale.

Have an early dismissal. Sometimes the best way of acknowledging hard work and success is to just kick everyone out. Surprise your team with telling them to back away from the keyboard after lunch. Or, better yet, have them all blow off steam together by telling the whole team to stay home on a Friday.

Celebrating wins is very important for the morale of your team. Do it every day. Do it today!