The task at hand: brief your executives and the board on the progress you’ve made this quarter. Leaders and board members want to see what it is your team is doing, or whether and why you are or are not doing whatever is in their head. This can be tough when it comes to engineering. You may know how your team is doing, and you know what they’re doing, but it can be a challenge to present this to the business and board members. In this series, I’ll take you through five slides topics that should answer questions even before they’re asked. For this post we’ll cover slide topic #3, Investment Split.
Slide Topic #3: Investment Split
Questions to address (that your board may be thinking, even if they haven’t asked): What is this expensive large team doing over there? Are they working on things that are most important to the company? What are they doing such that they can’t ship feature X? Why can’t we go faster? How much are we investing in specific projects?
The goal of this slide is to offer transparency into what the team is doing and drive shared understanding with the board and your business leaders around where the efforts are going. The engineering team is one of, if not the biggest investment your company is making, so the board should be making sure the return on that investment is strong. This is the place to talk about goals and how your team is or is not supporting the company’s strategic decisions; for example to invest in a particular market, channel, or sales motion.
At the end of the day, the management team and board need to understand that engineering is a zero-sum game – given the same number of engineers and dollars, the organization cannot build everything, so choosing to work on one project will necessarily come at the cost of another. How you choose to communicate that will help drive the conversation, and we suggest breaking the work being done into logical categories or allocations (where are resources being allocated?) that contribute to your understanding and from which implicit conclusions can be drawn.
It’s easiest to think of this as a two step conversation. Step one: drive transparency so that the board understands what is being done, and under which categories that work falls. Step two: If you have a change or ask of the board or if they do, ensure the allocations or break downs you chose to show them reflect your intuition and support your ask. For example, if your ask is, “we need to fund more feature engineering,” then show how much work is being done in various engineering categories (like bug fixes, roadmap work, infrastructure, etc.). That way you can point to these categories to prove, “see how much maintenance costs us? We need more funds if we want to develop new features because this maintenance is a baseline we cannot avoid.”
And there are plenty of ways to split these allocations. Split by product line, you might be showing the board and management team, “see how much it costs to support this old product?” Split by customer base, your reveal could be, “see how much it costs to support this kind of customer?” If you think you are spread like peanut butter and need to focus, show the 4 product lines you are spread across simultaneously and the amount of work they each demand. If it’s material to your board or management team, share multiple different allocations.
Some example allocations you could think about:
- Investment Category; for example: how many resources are we investing in new feature development vs. infrastructure work vs. customer support requests?
- Themes; for example: how many resources have we been allocating to building integrations vs. UX work vs. security or paying down tech debt?
- Releases; for example: how is our team split across current and historical releases of our product?
- Business Objective; for example: how much engineering effort can we attribute to attracting new customers vs. reducing the risk of churn in existing ones?
- Market Segment; for example: how is our team allocated with regards to enterprise customers vs. SMB, or Government clients vs. OEM opportunities?
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Being data-driven about the way you present to the leadership team and board will help you align the work your engineering teams do with the goals of the business, and foster trust and support for you.
As your group scales, it can become difficult to aggregate all the metrics necessary to properly build a presentation like the one above. It’s important to keep a steady state of communication with your engineering managers or directors to keep a pulse on things. But there are also tools to help you automate this process. Engineering Management Platforms (EMP) like Jellyfish aggregate engineering signals with business context to give better visibility into deliverable progress, product quality, investments, and productivity of the entire org. To learn more about EMPs or Jellyfish check out our site.