Joined a small business who’ve built a SaaS platform for a niche and complex business domain. It’s basically “Business Guy” / CEO, “Tech Guy” and “Sales Guy”. The product is clearly valuable with about 20 B2B customers, but the business has stalled as bringing new ones on, combined with customer support, takes up all their time.
After watching and learning for a couple weeks, I think the problem is organizational; just throwing more servers or coders at the problem won’t help.
- The product (and business problem) is very domain complex and high-touch; each new customer is unique and needs new features, customization, bespoke data formats, etc. This can take months of piecemeal work. Only Tech Guy seems to realize how much this involves.
- Tech Guy built the platform himself over some years. He’s clearly very talented, but the platform exists as much in his head as it does in code. They’ve hired some contractors, but the complexity means only Tech Guy has the knowledge to do much of the work, including technical support and new features. Only he has access to the live site / database, etc., which he describes like a half-finished building with exposed wires, unsecured flooring, that only he can enter safely. Even after six months the contractors cannot act autonomously; Tech Guy must spec everything out in detail, review PRs, etc. They can be idle for days as Tech Guy is too busy with everything else.
- Poor task management: each morning Business Guy writes a list of the “top 10 urgent things” and posts it in Slack for everyone to do. Yes, only the top one or two happen; the rest are re-listed, or forgotten. Many simple things have been "lost" this way, causing customer problems.
- Poor customer management: Business Guy lets customers think they are a larger business, implying each customer gets their own dedicated support. Really, it’s Sales Guy and Tech Guy juggling hot irons in the background. New customers have a weekly status call. In these calls they promise things “by the end of today / tomorrow / the week”, which they often fail to do as a) these calls happen in multiple each day, across all customers and b) tasks are often that only Tech Guy can do them. The calls seem partly done to make sure Tech Guy gets some face time with each customer, or he'd forget them. Some customers have worked out it’s just these two guys and they’re way overloaded; some get angry with Business Guy. And a couple have added Tech Guy to their own Slack and JIRA, pulling him in to their day-to-day like a rent-a-coder.
So! I’ve been hired to generally help out, but they’ve made it clear what they really want is someone to help fix this fun mess and unblock business growth. It has technical aspects, but the cause seems organizational / operational. And unlike this question it's less lack of management as handling of the work itself.
I’m (call me “Organize Guy”?) suggesting a basic approach of visualizing work, and introducing them to concepts like work-in-progress (WIP) limits an theory of constraints:
- A standard task management system, e.g. Trello, to see and track both customer support and internal work and see what's important / stalling. Given the low maturity, I don’t really mind what, as long as they start with SOMETHING.
- Be serious about growing their tech team; identify biggest time sinks (e.g. technical customer support) and train them up. Get Tech Guy to make the internals of the product safer to work with. Get to a place where he can spend time on improving the platform, not running after customers
- The hard one: your business domain is complex, this is not a window cleaning shop. It'll take time and attention, mostly from Tech Guy. This means not overloading him. Respect his time more, protect him from "urgent" work (which is rarely important) and set more reasonable customer timescales than “end of this week”
You guessed it; Business Guy was OK with the first, but less the others. He doesn’t really want Tech Guy to take time out from the tire fire of customer asks, and also wants to increase the new customer rate, complete with status meetings.
I’m not sure how to proceed. I think they need to slow down to speed up, but am unsure how to convince him. What other options may I have missed?