The monthly posts on building up a business as a software testing start-up continues with Gordon discussing a problem everyone has; how to organise your time to get the maximum benefit out of it.
In this month’s blog, I’ll be talking about organising your time to be as successful as possible as a new business owner. Time is at an absolute premium and you need to make sure you spend it wisely. These are all thoughts from my experience at my start-up company, CodeFuse. For a part-by-part breakdown of this blog series please see Part Zero.
It goes without saying that the time balancing act becomes a lot easier the more people your company has. If you are a sole founder or just two founders the balancing act becomes rather tricky.
It must be emphasised that this article is just one way to organise your time, so its value is really in getting you to think about how you might want to do it yourself. Indeed there are a number of similar team structure/what your focus areas should be articles, like this one or this one.
What was our initial time model?
Although there is some argument to say that techie/product work is a bit more at the start to build a prototype, it should never look like this. Following it was surely a path to doom. And it came about for the following reasons:
- We knew what we needed to do from a technical standpoint
- We knew how to do the technical stuff
- Completing a technical job made us feel like we’d moved forward
- We were frightened of doing some of the other stuff
- Some of the other stuff was boring
- We didn’t know what we didn’t know and that stuff didn’t get done.
What does our time model look like now?
Our time split currently looks something like this:
What’s in Product Development time?
Anything related to building the product. This is fairly straightforward for any readers with a technical background. Thinking about technical solutions, coding, development, testing.
Who might you want to get feedback from? Technical experts (internal or external)
What’s in Customer Development time?
Anything related to bringing understanding and engaging with the customer. This is fairly easy to understand if you have a marketing, sales or product background. Any activities driven at understanding the customer problem, validating solutions with them, working out who the customer (user and buyer) is, what messages resonate with them, how do you get the message out to others like them, what does the sales process look like, building the supporting materials and many more.
Who might you want to get feedback from? Er, customers.
What’s in Business Development time?
Anything related to making your business model work. This is easy to understand if you are in accountancy, finance or are interested in investment. If I was truly looking at a business from an investment point of view and I didn’t care what the business did, I just wanted to get a good return, what would I want to know, what falls under in this bucket? Anything to do with limited company law, taxes, patent law, Government schemes , creating partnerships which will raise revenue among others. But more generally the production of any collateral that will prove to me that you are, or very soon are actually going to make some money and do you understand your costs – do you understand your profit & loss.
Who might you want to get feedback from? An investor, a bank manager or maybe your spouse!
Balance and Goals
There are some instances where the business plan is constructed to get customer traction at all costs (including financial). This could work in some instances such as the big consumer tech stories in Silicon Valley, but their stories are few and far between in the grand scheme of things.
Of course there will not be a steady percentage of time that is constant. Particularly if you are a small team who are multi-tasking. But over time you need to be careful if you are focusing too much in one area. You can keep this in check with metrics.
Furthermore many activities do not cleanly fall into a bucket. Many customer solution decisions are inherently anchored by technical development limitations for example. But these grey areas should not deter you from trying to get a balance “about right” with your limited resources.
Metrics can both lead to exasperation and enthusiasm. Funnily enough the “old school” like them because of old production line concepts and the “new school” like them because of Lean Start-Up concepts. But there is a big middle section who groan at the very thought of using them.
Early on in CodeFuse’s early days I can remember having a teleconference with a guy who helped small businesses and he introduced me to the Orbit Diagram. And there are two things that I now think about that conversation:
- The metrics I chose were fine metrics but were not particularly actionable at that moment in time.
- Certain tools are created for businesses at certain stages. As a start-up business your time-line is probably 3-6 months. Not 3 years ahead.
Agile is generally considered to be better than Waterfall by software professionals because it delivers rapid value and feedback. For Product Development metrics therefore you can simply use standard SCRUM/Kanban type boards and velocity metrics.
For customer development a simple sales pipeline can be used. How many customers have you advanced from “Collected their email” to “Presented a demo”? You can move this forward day-to-day, unlike a top-level metric like “Total Sales Revenue”.
For business development you need to be careful again to not set goals that are so far in the future that they become irrelevant. Even if you know it is going to take 9 months to get a product to market, there are shorter term metrics you can use such as pre-orders or potential revenue from customers in a certain stage of the pipeline. You need to see how your short term metrics are impacting your long term ones. You need to confirm whether your predictions about revenue and costs are on the right track. If they’re not then you need to discuss what action needs to be taken, and why your predictions were out.
Once you understand how you are evaluating, take a daily or weekly look at each of the metrics. Some companies use customised ‘balanced scorecards’.
Running a business relies on many skills areas that I have grouped here to make them more manageable and traceable.
Getting the balancing act right is tough but you also need to understand on a daily basis what the ultimate priority to be working on is across the board. What can you do that moves your business forward the most in the next hour?
One of the comments I heard that made an impact on me was that “many start-ups sit there staring at the headlights of the cash flow juggernaut coming towards them”. Unless you get traction and revenue coming in, that juggernaut will be on top of you before you know it.
About The Author
Gordon is the founder of CodeFuse Technology. CodeFuse reduces software development time by making regression testing faster, better and easier. Gordon graduated with a 1st class degree in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at Sussex University and also holds an MBA from Imperial College with a specialisation in Entrepreneurship. He has worked successfully for blue-chip, SME and start-up companies. His passion is software quality and making sure that continuous improvement is used to enhance quality efforts across the entire development lifecycle.