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How Wealthsimple minimized developer toil and cut release times by 60% with Runway.

company
Wealthsimple is a financial technology company empowering over three million Canadians to manage and grow their money.
headquarters
Toronto, Canada
industry
Fintech
Mobile Team Size
120+
Platforms
iOS and Android (React Native)
Release Frequency
Weekly
Integrations
GitHub, Jira, GitHub Actions, Bitrise, Slack, Sentry

Wealthsimple is a financial technology company empowering over three million Canadians to manage and grow their money. 

Founded in 2014, Wealthsimple started as a digital investing platform. Since then, they’ve grown into a full-service, financial technology company, offering products that allow Canadians to invest, trade stocks and ETFs, access cryptocurrency, file their taxes, and save and spend their money. The company’s mission is to help every Canadian achieve financial freedom and they do this by building smart, simple, and delightful financial products. In 2021, the company raised $750 million – at the time, the largest private tech investment in Canadian history – officially marking their unicorn status. Today, Wealthsimple serves over three million clients and was recently named the most trusted financial institution among young Canadians by the Globe and Mail

Throughout this journey, the Wealthsimple team’s secret to success has been their listening to customers and acting on feedback. For example, when the team learned that customers craved mobile-first experiences, they responded by building mobile apps for each of the company’s products. After subsequently learning that customers wanted to grow and manage their money from one place, they built a unified app that made this possible. 

The Wealthsimple team prides itself on its maker-owner culture. When a team member identifies something that needs improvement, they don’t pass the job off to a teammate. Instead, they roll up their sleeves and do what they can to solve the problem themself. At the start of Wealthsimple’s evolution towards mobile-first experiences, most engineers were JavaScript or full-stack developers. When it came time for the team to build a unified mobile app, these engineers were asked to work with React Native—a language that was new to many. True to Wealthsimple’s culture, the team was eager to dive right in. 

Challenge

A fragmented toolchain and manual checklists made managing mobile releases difficult and time-consuming  

Asking a large group of web developers to build a mobile app presented unique challenges. Apart from a new framework to wrap their heads around, few team members had prior experience with industry standard tools like App Store Connect, Google Play Console, Microsoft App Center, and Bitrise. Because new release captains had to get up to speed on so many new tools, each with their own user interface and functional requirements, adding developers to the release rotation was a slow and tedious process. That didn’t sit well with Senior Engineering Manager Sean Pollock, who envisioned running a well-oiled rotation with release duties shared across the team.

For the developers on the team, coordinating a mobile release meant setting aside their core responsibilities for a couple of days – the kind of extended context-switch the engineering world especially dislikes. In lieu of their regular duties, release captains were tasked with completing rote, repetitive admin tasks and busywork. Equipped with their internal engineering handbook and a checklist, the release pilot on duty would agonize over every detail of the release, frequently pulling in more knowledgeable team members to answer questions and help overcome obstacles.

“Captains were finding it difficult to get through the full release checklist. I knew there had to be a better way to minimize risk and support the team long-term.”

Sean Pollock
Senior Engineering Manager

In an attempt to limit the “blast radius” of release management, a smaller group of core engineers who were most confident with the process soon took over. While this did help limit the effects of release workload on the wider team, it also wasn’t sustainable for a small group to have to own the releases domain long-term. Sean came to the conclusion that Wealthsimple needed a better solution going forward. 

Solution

An easy-to-use platform for coordinating, automating, and overseeing mobile releases with helpful guardrails that encourage consistency

In researching solutions to their growing mobile release challenges, Sean discovered Runway on Product Hunt. Realizing its potential value, he immediately signed up for a demo. 

After witnessing the tool in action, he was confident that it would help solve some of the biggest pain points his team was experiencing. Not only would it help ensure completeness in running through their mobile release checklist, but it would also keep a record of ‘who did what, when’ that would save him the hassle of manually investigating issues. Perhaps most importantly, Runway would transform mental maps housed in the minds of the select few experienced folks on the team into living documentation that everyone could interact with.

“We saw an opportunity to move to a system that could help people step efficiently but thoroughly through the release process, while making everything visible along the way.”

Sean Pollock
Senior Engineering Manager

With these benefits in mind, Sean’s team soon adopted Runway for what was at the time a standalone product, the Wealthsimple Cash app. To his delight, the onboarding process was so straightforward that a single engineer was able to own and quickly complete it. The coordination and collaboration features he was specifically looking out for worked as or better than imagined. And out-of-the-box automations were an added bonus that saved his team from continuing to slog through everything manually. 

Because Runway was easy to use and applied sensible guardrails, Sean felt confident enlisting his entire team to manage mobile releases again. He soon created a rotation of release pilots that spread the work out more evenly. This not only reduced release workload on any given member of the team, but it also helped develop empathy for the release captain role and expanded the team’s skill sets around it. The new setup also benefited the company more widely because it freed up time and space needed to stimulate a domino effect of other process improvements.

“We got everyone involved in releases because it was so easy. Anyone could do it.”

Sean Pollock
Senior Engineering Manager

By that point, Engineering Manager Inga Jonsdottir was leading the Front-End Platform team. With the architecture of the Wealthsimple product and apps changing, and with more developers contributing, the company had needed a team focused exclusively on designing a cohesive toolchain and workflows that would enable developers to move forward, fast, without unnecessary friction. Their mandate was clear, but it was their mission that motivated them day in and day out: reduce developer toil. And that’s what led them to zoom in on what Sean and his team were up to with Runway.

Seeing Sean’s team find success with Runway helped persuade the wider product engineering organization to adopt the platform. To make the best-informed decision possible, they followed a linear process that saw them carefully define what the team needed, debate potential solutions (including building in-house), and complete a cost-benefit analysis. Inga’s team, including Staff Software Engineer Michelle Fernandez, ultimately concluded that adopting Runway widely was the easiest and fastest way to achieve their goals.

“Runway just seemed so much simpler than what we were doing.”

Michelle Fernandez
Staff Software Engineer, Front-end Platform

Soon the entire Wealthsimple mobile org was working from a single platform with living documentation, and release captains could now run through and sign off on to-do items with ease. One lingering area of friction had to do with making nonstandard but key business decisions along the way, like whether to delay the release train or issue a hotfix. Because nuanced risk management considerations were often involved, these situations required that senior leadership be looped in to collaborate on a path forward. 

That gave the team an idea: What if the people accountable for the outcomes of key business decisions were also empowered to manage the release process? He believed that, given Runway’s ease of use and the visibility it provided leaders, cross-functional leaders could learn to oversee the release process. Inspired, the Wealthsimple team took things even further, shifting away from a team-wide rotation and towards a new model of stakeholder-led release management, all made possible by Runway.

Results

Faster execution and more bandwidth for engineers, with improved visibility and greater confidence for managers 

Wealthsimple’s investment in Runway has paid dividends, both for mobile engineers and their managers. Not only has the platform saved the team several hours per week, speeding up releases and freeing up more time for product work, but it has also removed considerable friction from releases, making life easier for everyone involved.

“Since integrating with Runway last year, release time has decreased by 60%.”

Inga Jonsdottir
Engineering Manager, Front-end Platform

By eliminating static documentation as well as time spent provisioning account access across so many tools, engineering managers are better able to scale the team. Managers also benefit from full visibility into where each product team is at as release deadlines approach. That empowers them to reach out and offer help to teams that are falling behind, while rallying the rest of the org around releasing on schedule. Finally, they now have a clear audit trail, which allows them to quickly diagnose and resolve issues.

“Runway is saving release captains three hours of work per week. Just as importantly, they no longer need to context-switch all the time.”

Sean Pollock
Senior Engineering Manager

For those on the ground, Runway means less context-switching, fewer worries about the mechanics behind releases, and more time leveraging their core competencies to execute on high-value projects. In other words, Wealthsimple developers toil less and get more awesome features into the hands of their users.

Release better with Runway.

Runway integrates with all the tools you’re already using to level-up your release coordination and automation, from kickoff to release to rollout. No more cat-herding, spreadsheets, or steady drip of manual busywork.