Previously published on Forbes Technology Council, July 22, 2020
The magic moment for which you have been working for so long has finally arrived: Usage of the product is accelerating — the company is taking off!
As a CTO, this is wonderful news and the validation of years of dedication. Having gone through this critical stage a few times, and having advised companies going through this transition many times, it has become clear that many companies forget that reaching success requires more than just “feeding the beast” with more and more new features.
Growth is a long game, which requires its own dedicated share of mind. Having worked so hard to pull ahead of the competition, making the proper investments now will ensure your market dominance. Focusing on team organization, alignment of success metrics, software architecture, quality, user experience and automation in parallel with new feature development may initially seem a distraction, but it soon pays off in increased efficiency and averted disasters.
1. Celebrate And Prepare The Team
Because the pace of work will soon increase for everyone in the team, it is important to directly acknowledge your success in order to prepare the company mentally and organizationally for the future.
In particular, it is important for everyone in the company to acknowledge that growth is a feature. This means that in addition to “doing one’s job,” everyone must invest additional time to support the growth. For example, more time will be spent interviewing candidates. In addition, developing new features will take longer than in the past because of higher demands in quality and reliability, among others. In this instance, be sure to allocate time for growth in your schedule and task estimates. Get help early — because consultants can bring in expertise on short notice.MORE FOR YOUTony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months Of The Zappos Visionary
2. Update Business Operational Metrics
Most often, a high growth rate is not only generated by a growing number of users, but also by attracting new types of users. When “early majority” users join “early adopters,” they bring new ways of using the product, they navigate the product differently, have new favorite features, etc.
This new cohort of users is probably less emotionally invested in the product and, thus, needs a simpler onboarding process. They have lower tolerance for bugs and higher expectations for uptime, security and response time. For the development team, everything needs to go faster: page load, new features, new releases and new hires. While the cost of failure is higher, any outage impacts 10 times more users than last year.
You must make sure to review and update key success factors (KSF) with the whole business team to match the new needs of the business. For example, does quality now become as important as the rate of releasing new features? The conversation around KSFs — and the process of getting teams all across the business aligned — is more important than the actual numbers assigned to KSF. This is an ideal time to pay down technical debt in usage and conversion tracking tools, as well as analytics.
3. Improve Quality Tenfold
As a developer, there is nothing worse than being interrupted in the middle of developing a new feature to fix a critical bug from the previous release. As usage grows, bugs that were previously “acceptable” now gather enough customer ire to be classified as “must fix.” In addition, as the product reaches a broader market, new users may be less educated about, and less patient with, the product.
Rather than wait for the avalanche of bug requests to drown the development team, it is best to anticipate and raise the breadth and depth of testing in the development phase, pre-release. A 10-times increase in volume requires a 10-times improvement in quality to keep the same number of trouble tickets and, thus, keep the size of the support team from growing 10 times.
As the number of users increases, the definition of quality must be expanded to include ease of use, in addition to “absence of bugs.” Know — and instrument — your app. Instrument the code so that performance can be easily measured. Similarly, instrument the app in production to accurately track usage, as well as conversion, since new users may have different patterns.
4. Refactor To Match Dominant Use Case(s)
A typical growth strategy involves moving to new segments of the market. Frequently, a startup will target a beachhead of a broader market when launching the first version of the product. Over time, as the products capabilities expand, the market expands as well. As a corollary, the predominant use case at launch may no longer be the most favored once a company reaches the growth stage. In order to keep the product easy to use as new dominant use cases emerge, the user experience needs to be redesigned and the code needs to be refactored (and sometimes re-architected) to support these new use cases at scale.
Increasing modularization (i.e., breaking services into smaller independent services) and refactoring APIs is usually a good strategy to support new use cases. Other factors may motivate refactoring, including performance, scaling, ease of operations and even being able to scale the development team. Increased componentization will also make testing more efficient. Finally, calibrate the degree of modularization of the architecture to the traffic on the app. There are a limited number of companies that have the traffic that justifies going all out on microservices.
As the development team delivers more features faster, tasks that were done once a week must now be done several times a day. With this increased pace, manual tasks become more error-prone and affect the team’s velocity. Consequently, all processes must be considered for automation: testing, CI/CD, DevOps, SysOps and even security and business continuity.
For maximum efficiency, you can coordinate efforts around actions three through five in the same project, as they are mutually reinforcing.
With these tips, you should be well on your way toward embracing a mindset that not only continues to spur growth, but also embraces it.