Month 6: Lost in space: how to keep your SaaS company productive
By Dylan Touhey
You started with the best of intentions. But along the way, your team might have started to lose sight of the goal. It’s common to be lost in middle, reaching for milestones but having the new website launch delayed, the new product feature half-launched, always in a state of almost there.
This is the longest part of the journey, the last mile, which stretches on and on.
This chapter is going to change how you reach your company goals.
We will show you that overcommitting to weekly tasks and milestones is costing your SaaS company growth, employee productivity, and reducing the morale of your team.
By the end, you’ll learn:
- How to focus on the tasks that bring more revenue to your company.
- How to prevent projects from stalling at 70% completion.
- How to complete more each week by focusing on shorter time cycles.
The ship is moving, but we aren’t going anywhere
It’s Monday. You are excited to launch a new product feature. There are just a few things left to do. And your team has the entire week to do it. You’ve promised that this would be finished and it doesn’t look like there is much left. The developer said “no problem”; the designer said “just need a more few final images.”
It’s Friday. That new product feature never made it out the door. Come to think of it, there are a ton of projects that stalled at 70% completion: there’s the new website almost ready to go, customer cancellation data you meant to analyze, new UI designs, case studies half written, and a small treasure trove of landing pages that never quite made it into your AdWords campaigns.
It’s Monday again. This week, the new product feature will have to wait. Something else has come up.
Your team is always moving, but when you look back at the last year–what have you actually pushed live?
Time is your fuel. You have to manage your team’s focus to move forward. If you decide that getting 5,000 new customers in 7 months is your goal, you have to be disciplined. You can’t get distracted by shiny new planets, take detours, or send your team in different directions.
A simple way to stay on course
We hate not shipping. We hate half-finished campaigns. We hate clients wasting money by asking us to create assets that never go live.
You will never reach the goal you set out in Chapter 1 if you constantly change directions, switch projects, and leave tasks uncompleted.
What did you push live in the last two weeks?
In our agency, we encourage our clients to do 1-week flights. If you follow the scrum method, flights are analogous to sprints. We also use this method ourselves for our own marketing initiatives.
For example, this entire guide you are reading was created with 3 content flights. Our entire agency broke down into teams (designers, strategists, and developers) and wrote sections. We created this guide, from concept to final design and coding, in three working days.
The final editing and polishing then took 1 business day by one employee (by the way, project ownership is also key as group-leadership can be powerful but also lead to missed deadlines as culpability is equally distributed).
Unlike traditional companies that might launch yearly marketing campaigns, SaaS companies can continually improve their conversion rate, get new customers, and grow their revenue. For that reason, pushing campaigns and product improvements live should be your primary measure of success.
To keep your team happy, productive and fast, focus on hitting small goals with higher frequency.
By breaking down long-term projects (such as launching a new 3rd party integration or new website), your team will be more productive and happy.
Surviving shifting priorities and urgency
OK, we know that theory is easier than practice. You’d love to complete a new project every week. But urgency is going to email; priorities are going to change.
Let’s say you planned to complete the new UI for your IT project management software. Everything is on track and you are about 70% done. Suddenly, you get an email. Your Android app seems to be getting a lot of negative reviews. There is a bug. It is costing you customers. So what now? What do you choose to complete first?
Before shifting directions before a project is completed, ask yourself:
What has the bigger impact on revenue?
Let’s say that your Android app is buggy. Customers are mad. You want to finish the website design, but need to fix the app first.
Before you order the team to change direction, consider the impact of completing each project.
For example, your current site receives 10,000 visitors per month. The website is dated and looks terrible and so only 1.5% of those visitors convert into paying customers.
Make sure that you are always prioritizing the projects that are going to make the biggest impact on your bottom line.
Your team figures that if you roll out the new website, you could boost that conversion rate to 5 to 10 percent, which would mean 500 to 1,000 new customers each month. That would be a big boost to revenue.
If you have a decent conversion rate and people love your product, don’t create a new feature. Instead, focus on getting traffic as you have a proven product that sells.
Likewise, if your conversion rate is decent, don’t obsess about gathering cancellation data or optimizing the signup button color on your website…. get more traffic! Or, if you have tons of traffic, but a high cancellation rate, forget AdWords or chasing the latest marketing tool and invest in fixing retention.
Two reasons why SaaS companies have a low completion rate for tasks and projects:
1. You picked the wrong business goal
In Chapter One, you selected the goal that would change your business. Everything you do should be working towards that goal.
If you are constantly shifting priorities and running to new projects and features, this reveals a problem.
Either change the goal. Or reconsider the priority.
Either way, if you don’t complete tasks that are related to your goal you will never get to where you want to go.
There is no right answer. For example, improving customer retention can lead to slow and steady growth versus trying to scale quickly and having high churn.
But you need to show leadership. Commit to a goal and commit to completing the tasks that get you there.
2. You are not steering the ship
In other words, you don’t really know where you want to go. It isn’t the metric. It’s your leadership.
A new competitor enters the field and so you run to do feature parity.
You read about big data and so you think this might help.
You see a Facebook ad for a competitor and decide social ads are needed.
If you are constantly setting metrics, changing tactics, and changing your course, you need to work on your vision and leadership for the company.
If you don’t steer in a decisive direction, you will keep moving but never get anywhere.
Whatever you choose, don’t distract your team. All of the discussions above are management decisions.
The team’s job is to row. Your job is to steer the ship.
Two SaaS productivity killers
In sum, there are two things that stall you from shipping and make your team feel that they are spinning their wheels.
The first is: simply assigning a large project (such as new UI for android App) and giving a long time frame (such as two months), instead of breaking down that project into tasks that can be completed in a 1 week flight plan–”day one, do a competitive analysis, day 2, wireframes.
The other is letting your team overestimate their ability to produce: only allow people to commit to tasks they are 99% certain they can complete in 10 working days. If your team can’t consistently hit their commitments, you can’t make effective strategic decisions.
Your Flight Plan:
Here are some small things you can do to help you reach your destinations more consistently.
1. Keep your team focused by only showing them things they should be working on in the current flight. Don’t distract them with updates on new ideas and client demands without doing a careful analysis of priority. Hide the tasks that you want to complete but weren’t able to fit into the current time frames.
2. Have the team write down their commitments and make them publicly visible. This helps you track progress on what they’re working towards and allows your team members to help each other with dependencies. Hint: we use Trello for this.
3. Start recording data to help you make decisions on your existing processes. For example, our agency assigns complexity-point values to our weekly commitments so that we can track our completion rate from week-to-week. You can apply this to any other metric that you want to improve.
4. At the end of each flight, your team should present their completed commitments. You need your team to be accountable in order to make strategic and tactical decisions for your company.
5. At the end of each flight, the team should reflect on what could be done to improve the next flight. Some of these suggestions might not work for your particular situation. Get feedback from your team on how to improve every flight and try it out.