Engineering culture @ Awell


Storytelling is deeply ingrained in our nature as human beings. It’s how we pass our culture to one another. Therefore, storytelling is necessary in order for us to keep Awell’s culture alive. Storytelling can come in a number of formats:

Operating principles

  • Fail fast (stay lean)

  • Innovation > predictability

  • Opinion-driven decisions are okay, but not without a plan for data

  • Keep a lean board by working “from right to left”

  • Communicate early and often

  • Succeed and fail as a team

Value Streams

We believe in empowering our individuals by organizing them into small, usually cross-functional teams (we call them “value streams”) of 3-8 people and giving them ownership over a particular slice of the business. Here are some guiding principles to our value streams (“VS”):

  • VS should be both highly aligned AND highly autonomous

  • VS should be open-sourced to the rest of the company

  • VS should expect to be self-service

  • VS are created with a mission in mind, and are individually responsible for defining their culture and their methods of execution

Highly aligned, highly autonomous

(plz forgive the ageist, sexist Dilbert-style boss)

We expect high autonomy within our value stream, but also high alignment with the long-term strategy of the organization and high alignment toward the VS mission.


While VS might be responsible for a particular section of the product, other VS may depend on that piece of the product for a specific circumstance. In those cases, if the responsible VS is unable to help, then the dependent VS working on the feature is more than welcome to make changes to the code and submit to the owning VS for review.

VS should never be “waiting” on another VS for work to be done. They are encourage to take the work into their own hands and rely on the owning VS for review. Velocity other fiefdoms.


VS should be completely self-service, meaning they should not rely on other VS in order to get work done. Related to “Open-sourced” above, VS are encouraged to do everything they need to do in order to meet their goals.

Mission, culture and execution

While a VS given mission is defined in the creation of the VS itself (and driven by the company and product strategy), the VS culture and the way the VS chooses to get things done are the responsibility of the VS members.

Each VS should have a page that contains the following information:

  • Mission (defined with the support of product leadership)

  • Culture (what kinds of people reside in the VS?)

  • Execution (how does the VS like to work?)

Incidentally, the culture and execution can together form an “API definition” for those outside the VS who are looking to collaborate with people inside of the VS.


Much of these thoughts are not my own. They are graciously stolen from other companies that have failed their way toward a successful culture. So, we stand on their shoulders and make A(wel)lien mistakes of our own!