Mobile eSports Company Gambles on Agile—and Wins

Implementing agile company-wide helps Skillz maintain fast growth.

Even in the mobile gaming industry, famous for its eye-popping growth rates, Skillz's numbers are remarkable. This year, Inc. named it the fastest growing company in America.

Keeping up with growth takes a special kind of focus. Founded in 2012, the mobile eSports company hosts cash competitions in mobile games of skill for more than 12 million users. Even though Skillz doesn’t produce games itself, the company must regularly improve and tweak the platform that supports its wildly-popular eSports competitions, as well as consistently offering innovative new features to enable communication, cross-promotion and other social capabilities.

It’s the sort of fast-paced ecosystem that agile development thrives in. But while most agile teams work in environments plagued by management-imposed deadlines, top-down approaches and the regular overturning of teams’ decisions, Skillz takes the opposite tack—and, so far, it’s working.

Developers Set the Deadlines

Perhaps the biggest key to Skillz’ success is that project deadlines don't come from management. They come from the people who do the work.

“Most companies, historically, have used a waterfall [approach]—we want to deliver ‘X’ by ‘Y’ date," says CEO Andrew Paradise. “At Skillz, every estimate is bottom-up. Individual people who do the workflow also do the planning and estimate when they can get work done. Then we follow up and hold people accountable.”

Empowering workers to set their own deadlines, he says, gives them a stake in the final product. They’re able to do their best work, rather than cutting corners to meet arbitrary deadlines. If the estimated deadline ever seems excessive, however, Skillz’ management is open to discussing the cutting of certain features in that particular sprint.

“It allows [employees] to say, ‘That's not reasonable. This is what is possible,’” says Paradise. “We can either go with their timeline, or we can say, ‘Let’s cut the scope.’”

In doing so, the company has been able to stay realistic about production timelines in the midst of fast, aggressive growth. The company’s revenue growth over the past three years has topped 50,000%.

Agile Across the Organization

Skillz applies agile strategies not only to tech development, but also across the organization, including the business side. All divisions participate in iterative one-week sprints, with weekly reporting and real-time dashboards.

That means that whether the developer relations team is working to close a deal with a game publisher or the development team is adding new functionality to the tournament backend, they all report on the states of their projects in daily standup meetings. Those daily updates keep everyone in the loop regarding each team’s progress and the company-wide impact. The result? Coordinated deadlines and tighter working relationships, which ultimately mean better margins.

And the intensified coordination is crucial to the company's success. Skillz hosts more than 500,000 eSports tournaments on its platform every day, as well as servicing a robust and growing social network with loyalty programs, leaderboards, chat functionality and player matching. It takes a team of 106 people to oversee all of these moving parts—half of them dedicated to the tournament backend and the other half focused on social interactions, each running a series of one-week sprints to hit specific milestones. Without these regular catch-up sessions, smooth day-to-day operations wouldn’t be possible.

Thanks to those smooth operations, employee-lead goal setting and an overall agile-as-gospel mindset, Skillz continues to see impressive growth levels. In 2016, Skillz hit $54 million in revenue. At the close of 2017, Paradise expects that number to triple—and he’s excited to see what 2018 has in store.

Chris Morris
By Chris Morris | January 10, 2018

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