Why We Traded Scrum for “Science Fair” to Build HubSpot

We broke up with scrum about six years ago.

Agile development served us well in startup mode, but as we added more seats, opened new space, and launched new tools, it actually started to stunt our product culture’s growth. Take autonomy, for starters. We think engineers should have complete autonomy over their code and part of the product. And even though scrum is designed to protect developers from the demands and distractions of your CEO, marketing team, sales team, etc., it can actually tie their hands. There’s no trust being built between product and the rest of the company; sprints end up more like transactions than conversations.

The other piece is that it became unrealistic to have a one-size-fits-all dev process across the org. Every small development team “owns” a different part of HubSpot; there’s an email team, a blog team, a social media tools team, a CRM team, etc. So there’s really no monolithic way of planning that would work for every team. They all have different challenges.

So we said, scrum, it’s not you, it’s us, and moved to an “ad-hoc” development process.

A big reason we’ve been able to make that work for the past six years, though, is because we took pieces we liked from agile. We liked the live demos and the contract, so-to-speak, they created between product and the rest of the company. Today we have a different tool for empowering autonomy within product teams and relating their progress back to the larger org.

That tool’s called HubSpot Science Fair. ScienceFairGraphic.pngReplace baking soda volcanoes with live software demos and you have a HubSpot Product Science Fair (sort of). Science Fair is a monthly, company-wide demo showcase from product teams to share what they’ve been building over the past month. We only present real working software and product managers have to identify whether it’s in beta, alpha, gated-to-X, or live to the public. They can present a new product or feature, improvements in UX, reliability, or stability.

The first Science Fair was almost ten years ago, and some elements look a little different today. For example, in the early days, we would only present new features. Now, we don’t just celebrate new tools but improvements to reliability and incremental developments that make a big different in a customer’s experience.

Another more recent change is that we’re moving from team-based demos to theme-based demos. So instead of having every product manager demo their part of the app, this last Science Fair was focused solely on reporting. That way, we can all rally behind one big mission and really dig into how it influences other parts of the app. (We think this new themed approach was a success; one data point was an excited cat .gif our co-founder and CTO shared with the caption ‘Today was the HubSpot Science Fair. It's hands-down one of my favorite days of the month. But this time, it was even favoriter.’)

The only ‘guideline’ that hasn’t changed over the years is that whatever is presented at Science Fair has to show real customer impact.

That could look like anything from a customer quote to a measurable decline in customer support tickets; it doesn’t matter how it’s backed up but there needs to be some tangible insight into how it’s making our customers’ lives better. 

Lastly, while customer experience is paramount, Science Fair experience gets a nod, too. Every Science Fair has a “host” runs point on the agenda, scheduling, A/V, and ordering something more exciting than pizza. For example, one of our senior engineers, Greg, made hundreds of his famous Dump Truck dumplings for Science Fair once so the bar has been set pretty high. The same is true for costumes. Hosts aren’t required to dress up, but product manager Lars raised the stakes at April’s Science Fair. 

How Science Fair Helps Us Build Software (and Trust)

Science Fair is helping us become more of a product-driven company every month. It’s one of the tools driving speed and ambition behind product teams, it’s the platform for celebrating developer impact on customer happiness, and it really shows you how much power product people have. Think about it: Every month, the exec team comes to Science Fair (our CEO typically is front and center, no pressure), and spends an hour listening to these front line product folks about how their teams are going to impact the bottom line.

That’s powerful. 

Giving product teams that level of autonomy has created a really strong foundation of trust between product and the rest of the company. I think a lot of what slows development down as companies grow comes from a lack of trust at a leadership level. Instead of focusing on a shared mission, leaders can let politics trump progress. That’s why we default to transparency, and Science Fair is on the front lines of that.

Product teams don’t try to hide their failures or overly celebrate the successes. By walking the company through a problem, the solution, and how it will make our customers’ lives better, Science Fair gives every team at HubSpot a raw glimpse into how product is moving the needle on our overall mission.

In that way, Science Fair is kind of like a company-wide trust fall. 

Really. I’m our VP of Product, and a good percentage of work demoed at Science Fair is stuff I’m actually seeing for the first time. And it works; that trust between product and our leadership team helps product people move fast and work independently of red tape.

Just like it was when we were in grade school, Science Fair is an education; both for the organization and for our product team. We get to teach other departments what’s coming down the pike and how we’re driving customer success, and we’re constantly teaching each other how to be storytellers and show impact.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t see HubSpot breaking up with Science Fair any time soon.

Christopher O'Donnell

Written by Christopher O'Donnell

VP Product (Sales Products)

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