Why Facebook is obsessed with hacking internal productivity tools

Efficiency rules.
Efficiency rules.
Image: AP/Jeff Chiu
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Most interactions with Facebook are as simple as thumbing through the Newsfeed. Behind that is an enormous amount of technology, like the algorithms that serve up carefully curated ads and information. The company takes a similar approach to management, building tools to make simple tasks as efficient as possible, according to a Wall Street Journal interview (paywall) of CIO Timothy Campos.

“The best way to make a business process efficient is to completely automate it,” Campos said.

The company has an entire internal tools team based in Menlo Park. Anything that can be made simpler is, even if it means highly compensated engineers make it themselves.

It’s part of a broader obsession with efficiency over cost. The company also famously makes things like headphones and keyboards freely available for employees in vending machines. 

Making an engineer 5% more productive is immensely more valuable than fretting over the cost of a new laptop, or even the investment of time involved in creating a complex internal tool, Campos argues.

In an interview with Quartz last year, Facebook’s New York site director Serkan Piantino described a culture that embraces this kind of effort.

“We have an internal system for booking meetings that does a lot of the work automatically, we have internal tools for our review cycles, and they’re all really good,” Piantino said. “People like engineering things around people at Facebook and it’s something we benefit from internally a lot.”

For hiring, there’s software that automatically matches and schedules candidates and interviewers, and makes it easy to file feedback.

The company also built its own customer relationship management system. Many of these things are available from outside vendors, from giants like Salesforce for example. But Facebook rejects that approach.

“We found that tweaking off-the-shelf software would force us to adapt our process to the tools,” Campos said (paywall). “We want to do the opposite: Make our process better, more efficient, faster. Our tools are very purpose-built.”

In fact, everything from server repair, parking spaces and valet staffing, and visitor notification gets the automation treatment.

One thing that’s likely not available off the shelf is the way the company integrates this software into its whole office. There are giant touchscreens which show the floor plan of a building, as well as which conference rooms are available, and lets people schedule meetings.

The company said the software, called Wayfinders, took the company’s internal tools team about two months to build. A tour of the company’s new New York offices showed that each conference room has a screen out front showing if it’s occupied and for how long.

Not being able to find a conference room is just a momentary irritation. But the combination of all these tools has helped Facebook grow into a very efficient giant, and book more revenue per employee than just about any other tech company.