How Does a Team With 40+ Stakeholders Ensure Its Members Have Agency?

Slickdeals’ ‘Team Platypus’ juggles the needs of many across the business, but individual contributors still make an impact.
Written by Alton Zenon III
April 14, 2021Updated: April 14, 2021

It might be difficult to imagine anyone on a team with over 40 stakeholders being given opportunities to make significant impacts on the business. 

But teammates on Slickdeals’ “Team Platypus” have little trouble imagining that scenario. They say they’re given agency in their cross-functional work at the coupons and deal-sharing platform.

“Agency is a big part of the identity of the people here,” said Senior Product Designer Hau Tran. “We take ownership seriously because it’s part of our values. If someone doesn’t inherently have that trait, we empower them to find that voice and speak up.”

Team Platypus is an eight-person, cross-departmental development pod at Slickdeals — one of many named after a cool animal — and Tran is the team’s design resource. Senior Product Manager Ariel Butters, the Platypus product pro, said the team has around 45 stakeholders because it owns large business segments like search engine optimization and search engine marketing, as well as article and deal syndication. 

We take ownership seriously because it’s part of our values.”

The team’s work helps drive some of the 12 million monthly users Slickdeals sees, so it’s vital that they stay aligned on goals and stakeholder needs without depriving contributors of their voices. 

Director of Software Engineering John Faircloth said this ambitious objective is easy for Team Platypus because empowerment and alignment are baked into the culture, creating an environment where Tran can present to stakeholders in her first month at Slickdeals and Butters can work closely with clients like Microsoft without much oversight. 

“We’re aligned on what we’re trying to achieve, and agency is built into the culture by leadership,” Faircloth said. “So it creates natural conversations where everyone is free to offer insights on a daily basis.”

The combination of alignment, agency and cross-team collaboration within Team Platypus is also a recipe for professional growth. Faircloth, Tran and Butters said they’ve all grown their skills and knowledge in meaningful ways and since joining. 

Hear more from these Slickdeals professionals as they describe what makes their team a fulfilling place to be.


Slickdeals team
Slickdeals office


The team roster

The full roster of Team Platypus includes three full-stack developers, a front-end developer, a quality assurance engineer, a product manager, a designer and a director of engineering.


Making SEO work 

Recently, Team Platypus overhauled Slickdeals’ SEO store page because it hadn’t been visually refreshed in almost a decade. Butters said the page has a number of internal stakeholders, from executives to individual content editors, so the team had to align on how to juggle needs across three different areas: the business, users and their respective departments.

Butters: There was a lot of negotiation over how much things would cost, what the elements were that would meet our needs, and how long it would take to build the minimum viable product. So there was a lot of collaboration, even with another dev pod.

Tran: We try to assess the problems and needs of both the users and the business. This project had the highest priority on the business side and there were clashing needs between SEO and usability but we did our best to compromise. 

There were clashing needs between SEO and usability but we did our best to compromise.”

Faircloth: Once Hau and Ariel get through the design process and understand what a project’s visual representation should be, I’ll work with the engineering team to identify a plan for execution.

For this project, we introduced pages as A/B tests rather than making wholesale changes. We put a portion of our traffic on the pages then compared the lift to the original version of the site. So we were confident that we could obtain the key results we were looking for without impacting the user experience. 



The agency to create impact 

Faircloth said Team Platypus’ quarterly projects are planned during a three-day alignment meeting between stakeholders, designers and engineers. The alignment generated in this meeting sets the stage for contributors to make decisions and be impactful across the platform.

Faircloth: Slickdeals has a decentralized decision-making process for teams to work through problems. A plan may shift and people can quickly act on decisions without having to run them up the chain to numerous stakeholders. And as devs are making feature changes, they can take code to production without incorporating downstream dependencies. This agency allows the team to stay focused on executing. 

Butters: I feel like I have the agency to make decisions and solve problems, all while being supported by my manager and colleagues. Even when executives that I don’t regularly talk to are exposed to my decision-making, they ask great questions to further my understanding of other product areas. There’s never a sense of, “That wasn’t a good idea.”

I feel like I have agency to make decisions and solve problems, all while being supported.”

Tran: I understood that sense of agency in my first month. One of my first projects was researching our “Deal Score,” which is a contentious topic here because of its ambiguity. It’s a 15-year-old UI element and its meaning has changed with time. I researched what it’s intended for versus what it actually means to users, then presented my findings to a large group of stakeholders. Everyone was engaged in the conversation and now we’re working on an initiative to update that score. 

Every employee has a voice. There are disagreements but we get through them by understanding what our main motivations are. There’s no negativity because we’re all aligned and we agree to work in whatever way is best for the company. 


Slickdeals office
Slickdeals office


Growth fueled by personal empowerment 

Faircloth, Tran and Butters said the combination of Slickdeals’ culture of trust and agency combined with the cross-departmental work of Team Platypus unlocked new professional and personal potential for them since they joined. 

Faircloth: This is my first fully ingrained, agile organization. So it’s reinforced what agile can do in a productive environment, which has been exciting to see. However, I’m most jazzed about learning the product realm as I work more with that team. It’s engaging to learn how decisions are made and how to define a product vision and strategy.

Tran: I never had exposure to the product-strategy aspect of design before joining Slickdeals. I’ve evolved by being able to contribute to data interpretation and A/B testing, and helping product managers by providing my own hypotheses. I get to think about product strategy and act as the diplomat between the user and the business, which has helped me grow.

I feel seen and understood for the first time in my career and that’s brought out so many new skills.”

Butters: Previously, I didn’t have many opportunities to have close working relationships with external customers. Now, I regularly have technical and product-based discussions with Microsoft and other big customers where they’re users but also teammates in a way. So I built up some mastery in that external-facing work.

For the first time, I’m in an environment where everyone I interact with is genuinely cheering me on. Everyone from the CEO to new hires seems excited to be working with me and trusts my expertise. I feel seen and understood for the first time in my career and that’s brought out so many new skills and a boldness that I’ve never been able to tap into before.

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