Squads, chapters, and tour of duty | Marshall Shen

Squads, chapters, and tour of duty

Squads, chapters, and tour of duty

People and organization structure must scale closely together. When we scale from one engineering team to multiple teams, it’s more than just splitting one group into many groups. New communication patterns emerge, and new concepts arises to accommodate such change.

One process for intentional scaling consists of “squads, chapters, and tour of duty.” The idea of “squads and chapters” is borrowed from the book Accelerate, and the idea of “tour of duty” is inspired by the book the Alliance. The combination of these three ideas serves as a good foundation for a learning engineering culture.

To explain how to scale engineering teams using these concepts, we start with the goals for scaling teams, define those three ideas, and then describe how to put these concepts into action.


Build sustainable practice to promote growth, collaboration, and learning. When structuring engineering teams, we face a fundamental challenge: project scopes are finite, and personal development is infinite. A group of people works on a project and will reach a stopping point (e.g., deploying to production), but individuals’ growth needs will continue and evolve.

Therefore, we need to build a bridge between finite projects and infinite people needs.


Squads. A squad is a cross-functional team consisting of different roles such as engineers, product managers, and designers. A squad collaborates as a single team to deliver one product to customers. Chapters. A chapter comprises members of the same discipline (e.g., the mobile app chapter), who are matrixed across squads and bring specialized knowledge to promote learning and advancement among squad members. Tour of duty. A six-month tour to work on a specific project with a team to deliver specific outcomes.

Put into practice

squad lead (i.e., tech lead)

Each squad has engineers and a tech lead. The squad lead is responsible for

  • lead daily standup for the squad
  • priority the squad’s engineering work The squad lead will rotate every tour of duty (i.e., six months)

chapter lead

The chapter lead is responsible for

  • establish best practice across squads for that chapter (e.g., web best practices)
  • help prioritize engineering work of that chapter across squads A chapter has a lead if it has more than two engineers The chapter lead will rotate every tour of duty (i.e., six months)

tour of duty

Two tours of duty every year: Jan - June, July - Dec Have a performance review after each tour of duty:

  • mid-year review: end of June
  • year-end review (adjust compensation): end of Dec Goals of performance review
  • Review team feedback for the last tour of duty
  • Establish new career goals
  • Establish a new tour of duty

To create a new tour of duty, an engineer can:

  • switch between squads to work on a different project
  • stay on the current squad to continue on the same project
  • switch roles within a squad (e.g., become a squad lead for the new tour, or switch from being a squad lead to a squad member)
  • switch roles within a chapter (e.g., become a chapter lead for the new tour, or switch from being a chapter lead to a chapter member)

The cadence of each tour may vary based on a company’s business cycle. To uphold this process requires people managers to shepherd squads and chapters.