April 21, 2020
During a time of crisis, like the COVID-19 crisis we’re facing today, it's not easy to see the forest from the trees, and every SaaS business is impacted in a unique way. Whether it’s your customer team experiencing churn, or your engineering team rapidly adjusting product roadmaps to match the current climate - your team is feeling the effects of the crisis.
At a time like this, it can be easy for engineering teams to get overwhelmed. To forget the basics and revert to operating in a reactionary state.
Don’t fall into this trap.
As a leader of a SaaS business, it’s important to guide your team towards a proactive response, focusing on short-term needs like business continuity, production support, and operating costs. While at the same time, addressing longer-term initiatives like digital transformation, security, and productivity improvements that are often overlooked.
Now is not the time to slow down or scale back. Think strategically about how you can use this time to shore up and innovate your technology organization. If your engineering teams do this, not only will you be prepared to take on the task in front of you, but you will be prepared to emerge from this crisis stronger and ahead of your competitors.
Let’s start with the short term.
If you’re like us, your business has seen several impacts in the past few weeks. We have been doubling down on our existing customer base, rapidly evolving product roadmaps, shoring up weak spots in our business continuity strategy, and even at times, cutting costs, all to protect the long term viability of our business during this crisis.
It’s easy to fall into reactive decision making during the short term crisis management. To avoid that, here are three key areas to focus on during the short term.
Focus on driving down software costs in this critical time. One of the biggest levers to move when it comes to Operating Expenses is Cloud Hosting costs.
Most organizations have a 35% savings opportunity available to them. You just need to know what levers to pull and how to pull them.
Doing things like right-sizing, RI's/Savings plans, and autoscaling can help you to realize those savings. Consider enabling essential tools to explore this.
There are free tools that can drive immediate cost savings without adding cost burden, like:
Additionally there are paid tools that are great alternatives as well:
If you are feeling the pain, it's likely your customers are too. Ensure you have a clear escalation tree, apparent severity levels for tickets, and that your customer service and engineers know who your VIP clients are.
Focusing on your existing customers is critical in a time of crisis. Using automated workflows and triggers via Zendesk/JIRA integrations can ensure a seamless transition from ticket escalation, to story creation, to bugfix/branch deployment. Streamlining and automating workflows for priority fixes can quickly cut down the time to resolution.
You're no good to anyone if your service goes down in a time of need. Now is the time to ensure you have business continuity plans in place.
Ensuring that you have standard operating procedures for disaster recovery, including asset prioritization, runbooks/restart documents, recovery time objectives (RTO), and recovery point objectives (RPO). This will prevent your team from scrambling when/if your application ever goes down. If you don't have a solution in place today, consider tools like CloudEndure to simplify your DR process.
After the initial triage phase of a crisis, you might find yourself with some unexpected white space.
When revenue lags and sales and marketing stagnate, it's good to focus your engineering teams on long term sustaining initiatives.
In lean periods, when customer onboarding is slow, and your engineering team has excess capacity, you should refocus that capacity on technical debt.
Specifically, refactoring your application to have a separation of concerns and a leaner hosting footprint. Modern applications are leveraging microservice architecture, containerization, and autoscaling, dramatically reducing their cost of operating.
If you shift your architecture to scale on-demand, have better visibility into utilization, and keep a lean footprint, you will ultimately increase your margins by lowering your unit economics.
Now is the time to dust off those old Information security policies and incident response plans. In a time of crisis, it's easy to forget you have a playbook for things like this. Keeping that playbook updated and clarifying roles and responsibilities in a shifting landscape will ensure your team is oriented and allow your team to hit the ground running next time, there is a crisis.
Additionally, now is the time to ensure you have the basics covered when it comes to remote work. Make a concerted effort to improve endpoint security. Enable 2FA on your primary email/domain logins, use LastPass or OneLogin to secure passwords for all tools the team uses. Then educate your workforce on Social Engineering and Phishing practices bad actors will deploy, using tools like KnowBe4.
It can be hard to focus on long term improvements, but now is the time to improve the whole ecosystem. Use this time to refocus the efforts on your team and their processes of incremental improvement. Review your agile methods, development cadence, and release processes. Find ways to automate parts of the process and streamline outcomes. Make an open ideas list around these opportunities and reward and recognize anyone who can find an opportunity for improvement (OFI).
While we are in the midst of a crisis (and we certainly don’t want to downplay that), this is a chance to turn a negative into an opportunity to innovate. It all depends on your team's willingness to engage, your aptitude for learning, and your current environment. Through a combination of short term and long term initiatives and strong leadership of your team, you can weather the storm. And when business returns, as we know it will, you will come out ahead with a product that’s set up to tackle the market.
Remember all the times you said you wish you had time to do ___? Well, you’ve found it.
Stay safe out there!