There is a lot of variety in how companies are run. Some companies have a consensus driven culture or use committees. Others use “two in a box” decision making on product and engineering teams. Others use a single decision maker or DRI.
Further, some companies are led primarily by sales, legal, product, engineering, or design.
Each of these can work, and there is no right or wrong answer. But it is important to have a clear philosophy in each company so that everyone is on the same page about how work gets done.
At Coinbase, our philosophy is to have single decision makers (or DRIs), and these are typically product managers or engineers for all customer impacting decisions.
We use DRIs because it helps us move quickly when there is a single decision maker, and to push down decision making in the org. We typically choose product managers or engineers to be the DRIs, or to run our products, because we are a . We want decisions to be driven by what will create the best customer experience. Over the long term, optimizing for customer experience is 100% aligned with what is best for shareholders, regulators, and employees. Happy customers lead to a thriving business that is good for society, with a number of positive downstream effects.
What does this mean in practice?
Let’s walk through some examples. Note that these are illustrative, and not meant to be critical of any particular function.
In situations like those above, we try to work together to co-create good outcomes for the business, with a single DRI making the final decision.
Will we miss out on other valuable perspectives if there is just one DRI?
Having a DRI does not mean that one person decides in a vacuum. Great products are the result of collaboration among many different people in the company, and good ideas can come from anywhere. However, we choose to have one person responsible for collecting input from all relevant sources and being the final decision maker. The DRI must take requirements from various groups, and prioritize them appropriately, to be effective. They are also held accountable for doing this job, which means they will often have Key Results that we track over time when they are named as the DRI.
Do we use product managers and engineers as the DRI on efforts that don’t impact customers?
No. We have DRIs on every team throughout the company. We try to use product manager and engineers as DRIs for areas of the business that impact customers and to run our products. But there are examples, such as moving to a new office, which are not intended to have a customer impact. There is a lot of grey area here, and it’s not always clear how directly a customer is impacted (for instance, if we were to make a change to our legal entity structure).
When should engineers be DRIs?
Engineers are de-facto DRIs on technical decisions, but they are sometimes made the DRI on products as well. Many company founders have engineering backgrounds, and engineers can make great product DRIs. In addition, many of our product managers have an engineering background, and it’s possible for engineers to take on product management roles and vice versa. The titles are sometimes less important than the persons’ skillset and background.
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