It’s no secret that in Q2-2022, there was a growing concern that the US economy could be heading into a recession. Official figures showed that the economy shrank for the second straight quarter.
Consumers were spending less, people were losing jobs, businesses were cutting back on investments and hiring, and industrial production slowed down.
On the other hand, some argued that an economy that is creating over 528,000 jobs couldn’t go into recession. However, being a heavily US-focussed business, we had to adjust and reprioritize to calm the rising anxiety among our target audience. And we were able to do that in just 2 days.
How did we do it? With data!
We had so much data available that we could reprioritize based on our business strategy. The data helped us make critical business decisions (because without data, everything is just an opinion!)
But a few years ago, we weren’t as data-driven as we are today. Here’s what we did to change that:
Assigned 1 Program Manager for every 70 people on the team
Data allows objective analysis of project performance. It also enables rational and informed decision-making.
Most startups focus on building a program management team after the org size has scaled massively, when the data is distributed and, in most cases, unavailable. At that stage, teams would have already developed bad practices that are significantly hard to reverse.
At IK, we have a Technical Program Management team of 4 for a total of 280 employees. This may sound like an overkill, but we believe that we’ll reap the benefits of this when our org size grows to a thousand.
What has this helped us achieve?
- Every stakeholder on a project is able to align on the scope.
- The TPM team is able to get everyone to commit to the scope with clearly defined timelines.
- We’re able to track every step, every task, and the status of what’s being delivered.
- And most importantly, when change happens, we are able to quickly adapt. This is possible due to the data-driven mindset that we have been able to ingrain in our culture.
From 1 scrum team to 24 scrum teams that work in sprints (including non-tech teams)
Today, when an engineer at IK communicates implementation timelines to our business teams, they have strong data to back it. So do other teams who build everything from landing pages, ads, blogs, and courses.
With sprints, we’ve been able to transition from ad-hoc to planned and from abstract to concrete thinking. Sprints prompt our teams to focus on what’s important, sharpen the decision-making process, and incite faster follow-ups.
(For the uninitiated, a sprint is a short, time-boxed period when a team works to complete a set amount of work. Work is measured in “story points.”)
Here’s an example:
The above graph is a representation of Q4-2021, when the Engineering team started the quarter without a Product Manager and Engineering Manager. We were cognizant that we’ll have a low velocity in the first few sprints as we had no product owner to define scope at the beginning of the quarter.
We started slow, delivering 46 story points per sprint (15 days) and slowly made our way up, peaking at 150 story points in the last sprint of the quarter. We also saw a steady decrease in new story points being added, because we were able to plan and estimate better.
A year later, today, we know which teams are at risk and are able to reprioritize their tasks. We also know which teams are under-utilized and can pick up more story points. When you have this level of data, you know how much you have to complete in every sprint and knowing this beforehand helps in better planning.
In the last year, we’ve grown 4x, smashing 3300 story points in Q3-2022 compared to 756 story points in Q3-2021.
Small budgets for gut-based opinions and large budgets for data-driven decisions
Being a bootstrapped startup without Venture Capital money, unless we have data to back a decision, we do not spend bucks validating it. It comes naturally to our team (as a unit) to ask “What data do you have to substantiate what you’re saying?”
This is a hard stance that we take and, along the way, this has provoked a data-driven mindset among every person on the team, for every single thing we do, individually and collectively.
We also realize that we cannot expect our team to make data-driven decisions without empowering them with tools and dashboards that give access to org-wide data. To enable this, the Business Analytics team at IK has:
- Set up automated email and Discord alerts for all key growth metrics so that we instantly know when something is going wrong.
- Partnered with a Professor from IIT Kharagpur to come up with an attribution model that can estimate the actual impact of different paid channels on organic leads.
- Created a unified view of key parameters across sales and marketing.
- Set up direct pipelines from UpLevel to Big Query, which enables us to access all UpLevel data and get a combined view.
- Created Appscripts to sync data every minute between the different tracking tools we use.
The data-driven mindset has helped us achieve predictability in all that we do. We’ve become more efficient, and the efficiency is compounding every quarter. And lastly, we as a team are well on track to achieve 100% effectiveness, i.e., the ability to measure the business impact of everything we do.