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Engineering Investment and Business Alignment

How to Manage Product and Engineering Teams When Resources Are Scarce

As engineering, technology, and product leaders, we face continuous change on multiple fronts – our teams change, the roadmap changes, market needs change. But one constant in our roles is that we are always faced with a limited set of resources with which to work. We always would like to do more than we can. For many leaders, and many companies, this is true now more than ever before, and we have to ask ourselves, in times of strain, where do we allocate those scarce resources?

We always need to be smart about making responsible product decisions, but when the business faces pressure, the decisions we make in product and engineering have an outsized influence on its success. I’ve already proposed that now is the time to make tough engineering decisions, and those technical leaders should avoid spreading resources like peanut butter across their teams. We need to focus on the things that matter. But what are those things?

Focus on Your Existing Users and Customers

First and foremost, your current customers are your company’s business. They are the base off of which you can build when resource constraints ease. The worst thing you can do is lose them. Prevent churn as much as you can. Make sure at minimum your customers don’t run into problems, but more than that, make them as happy as possible. This means making sure you fix all of those pesky bugs and spend more of your bandwidth filing off those rough edges. Second, go even further. Find incremental improvements that would delight those customers. Build on their existing needs and the use cases that they’re already using your products for. For example, improve that tedious user flow that takes too many clicks to get through; add the control that allows users to stay in your tool instead of exporting it to something else. These are (generally) inexpensive and low-lift ways that will add value to your customer base and improve their satisfaction and retention.

Expand Your Customer Base Instead of Finding New Ones

When taking on new projects and features during this time, build for win-ability. That means don’t chase new things that are far adrift of your product’s (and business’) current focus. Going after new markets is going to be really difficult, especially now, when you’re going to have a harder time getting marketing support. Chances are new products will have a much harder if not more expensive path for success. And remember that if you feel R&D budgets are squeezed, sales and marketing teams are feeling the same if not worse. Getting a new product to market will be an extreme challenge under those conditions. Consider too, that your prospects and customers are also under a lot of pressure, so to take on something entirely new will be a challenge for them.

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Instead, you might look for additional features or integrations that could open your existing products to further customers. Or consider expanding into the adjacent needs or problem spaces to your existing solutions and putting effort into features that will be incremental for your team to implement – maybe a couple of additional flows that you don’t currently serve today. This can expand who might find value in your product. And it will be much cheaper and a higher chance of success than building an entirely new application or platform for new markets.

Stop Carrying Unproductive Old Products

Inevitably this is likely going to be controversial, but a limited set of resources force hard choices, and this gives you more of a business reason to focus your investments and deprecate old product lines or feature sets. You know more than most in the company the expenses these incur to maintain and support, the attention it sucks from otherwise highly productive engineering teams. Quantify those things and weigh them against the potential business benefit and risk. If your executive team is ever receptive to that, it will be now.

When we look back at this time a year from now, I predict that companies will be differentiated in their successes or failures by their R&D focus. In times of scarcity, engineering leaders are well-positioned to steer the ship and chart a path to success for the business. Engineering Management Platforms like Jellyfish take a data-driven approach to address the challenge of making the best possible decisions for your roadmap. However you choose to do it, now is the time.

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