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No-nonsense perspectives on startup growth

This article was published on April 6, 2021

Want to scale fast? Make developer productivity your top priority

Team size, tools, and autonomy.

Want to scale fast? Make developer productivity your top priority
Nicholas Mills
Story by

Nicholas Mills

General Manager of EMEA, CircleCI

Nicholas is an operator of startup tech companies, early-stage investor, non-exec director, board advisor. Nicholas is an operator of startup tech companies, early-stage investor, non-exec director, board advisor.

One of the hardest processes for business leaders to control, encountered by every growing organization, is how to scale successfully. I’ve found this is even harder when scaling tech teams. Investing in the right places at the right time can be pivotal to the future of the business, as time and again these teams are the nucleus of value creation. 

I’ve heard it said — seen it attempted — that building larger teams is an easy fix, but for every order of magnitude increase, a new layer of management needs to be designed to operate the system. This becomes even more difficult if your team isn’t equipped with the right tech.

In my experience working with leading European tech companies, the most successful have flourished when their leaders do a resource balancing act. To support this, it is important that they empower their developers and engineering teams with both freedom to work in the best way for them, and well-suited tooling early in the lifecycle.

Building an effective team with a well-matched stack is the stuff of startup CEO dreams, but not all manage to achieve it. 

Productive developers make your dreams come true

The performance level of a software engineering team has become a key indicator of a company’s future success. It may sound obvious, but if you’re a startup founder or working for a startup that’s looking to scale confidently, having highly productive engineering teams goes a long way in bringing your products to market faster.

If you find you have more limited resources than you hoped for, being deliberate and efficient with funds and operations is key to drive that growth. Using your developers’ time in the most effective way possible is just as important as having the right product to begin with.

For context, the cost of a developer minute is roughly $1.65, and the cost of a compute minute for automating an otherwise manual process is only around $0.006. Your developer efficiency can have a huge impact on the profitability.

Team structure and insights can be a vehicle for increased growth 

When you take a step back and consider how to facilitate positive communication by design you help contribute to your business’ growth environment. A lightbulb goes off when you realize that team size is an important factor in your operational efficiency.

I’ve always found groups of between four and eight people are optimal, but when the number exceeds 10, it becomes challenging to communicate well enough on a weekly basis to get everything done on time.

So it’s crucial to empower your developers to make decisions and implement changes on their own, using timely platform data and insights — and that’s where the business leader makes their mark.

When operating at scale, your empowered and efficient engineering team will be the difference between hitting a plateau in growth and reaching clear market leadership.

Make sure you scale effectively with the right tech

While empowering your teams with the right mindset is one part of the puzzle, doing the same with the tools they want to use to get the job done is the other.

As a leader, a key part of building a positive environment for your engineers is enabling them to work in their own way so they are happy and productive.

As the people on the front-line of the tech teams, they are equipped with the unique combination of business and technical information for what tool will work best for the job at hand. They often know what works better than you! This empowerment not only contributes to their output but also their talent retention and in attracting more top talent.

Working with technologies that scale well, rather than always adopting the newest up and coming solutions, provides the stability you want. With this, the tools can become a competitive differentiator and create success throughout the business.

Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD), for example, is used to better understand the software development requirements and expected strain on the growing team.

When scaling at speed, priorities can change daily, so having a clear view of what is required and being able to automate as much as possible can allow teams to be flexible in their approach and adapt to shifting demands.

As you grow, keep an eye on these factors, and look ahead to when strains may become fractures, and ensure your teams and your technologies will adapt before that time comes around.

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