The employer benefits industry hasn't historically been known for its technological innovations. Benefits brokers and insurance carriers use legacy systems that are complex and siloed. Most are still manually completing their work through spreadsheets and email. These aging processes lead to a productivity gap that affects the ability of the entire industry to grow.

As leaders of ThreeFlow's engineering, product, and design (EPD) team, we're working to change that. We focus on creating enterprise software that enables meaningful collaboration between benefits brokers and insurance carriers and that helps to transform our industry.

As an early-stage startup, every team at ThreeFlow has its own goals and objectives to help grow the business. Our client experience team focuses on empowering users, while our people operations team ensures we're recruiting and retaining the best in the industry. As for the EPD team, we want to create a product that our users love while maintaining the fun working environment and sustainable work-life balance for which ThreeFlow is known.

But we didn't start as the well-oiled machine we are now. This post shares the story of how we built the team that builds the software at ThreeFlow.

Our beginnings were humble

Initially, we were structured as one large development team composed of engineers and designers. When our executive team would have ideas for features, we would assign tasks to the appropriate group and build them out. Of course, everyone needed to ensure they finished simultaneously so they weren't blocking each other. Behind the scenes, our project management team kept everything organized on a giant Gantt chart. 

There was nothing precisely wrong with the way we were working⁠—we built a Benefits Placement System that had remarkable growth and that our users loved. But we did realize that as a fast-growing team, we needed to change our structure to scale effectively. Scheduling had become complex, teams were sometimes idle, and too much time was spent on seemingly simple features. Knowing we needed to scale our development process, we decided to change things up a bit.

Creating teams to scale

To start, we took a page out of Marty Cagan's book Empowered to create an empowered product team rather than a feature team. That meant we needed to allow teams to solve problems rather than give features to build and redefine their relationship with the rest of the company. As a basis, we came up with three principles:

Principle #1

Structure teams so they have everything they need to build a feature without external dependencies.

Principle #2

Organize around a business problem rather than a set of features to build.

Principle #3

Adopt agile to ensure we work on the highest value features and receive quick feedback from our customers and product owners.

Applying these principles resulted in a few significant shifts. First, we reorganized into three separate full-stack product teams focused on the three core experiences for our customers: carriers, broker placement, and broker lifecycle. This way, each team could entirely focus and immerse themselves in understanding that user's daily workflow, challenges, and goals.

Then, we gave each team the autonomy to solve user problems and iterate on the product. The broker placement team would focus solely on creating the best possible placement experience for our brokers; the carrier team would focus on making our carrier experience as valuable as possible, and the broker lifecycle would invest in creating value for brokers outside the placement process. 

Allowing our teams to focus on the business outcomes we want to achieve rather than a list of features to build created more ownership, creative ideas, and increased motivation to meet our company's goals.

The future is bright

We've seen great results six months into our new organization and setup. Our teams are understanding and solving user problems rather than just building features. We've seen teams self-organize to create better processes, like improving our release process and changing our architecture to reduce dependencies. They're also working more efficiently to develop creative solutions to customer problems. 

One of our core values at ThreeFlow is to constantly push boundaries—the EPD team is excited to continue to improve our process, remove blockers, and see where our improved performance will take us in the next year.

‍Are you passionate about the power of collaboration and creating processes to make busy people more productive? Join our fully remote team.