Coronavirus: Tech Tips & Business Advice for Engineering Managers Moving Faster (2 of 3)

author
Ahmed Datoo
Co-founder and COO, Mesmer
March 31, 2020
How can engineering teams help companies help companies move faster in crisis mode and ensure maximum productivity?

In my last post, I talked about how engineering leaders can manage through the coronavirus crisis by keeping the lights on. Your near-term focus should be ensuring your team works with as minimal disruption as possible. Now, it may be tempting to shore up your infrastructure and supply chain and claim victory, but IMHO you’ll be shortchanging your company and yourself if you do that. You have a unique opportunity to provide technical and business leadership for the company.

Businesses overly reliant on physical stores/branches to generate revenues or service customers are reeling from the coronavirus, especially in retail. Gap just announced a furlough program for 80,000 employees. Macy’s is furloughing most of their 125,000 employees, and Kohl’s is furloughing 85,000 employees. The uncertainty around when shelter in place orders will be lifted creates equal uncertainty around when stores will reopen. Companies still have high fixed costs of the stores (i.e., rent, utilities, insurance) plus large variable costs with store employees’ salaries. Unfortunately, there is little to no revenue coming from store traffic to offset these expenses. Cutting costs could buy some time, but as long as expenses exceed revenue, companies will run low on cash and will either generate more debt or shutdown. In order to survive, these businesses need alternate ways to generate revenue while their stores remain closed.

Digital transformation

There’s been much talk over the last several years about enterprise digital transformation. This term means different things to different people. In today’s crisis, digital transformation to me means helping your business make money from online sources. Many consumers are now at home sharing a computer with other household members, and are increasingly turning to their mobile devices as a critical point of access. Verizon has seen a 20% increase in its web traffic, and AT&T has seen a 19% increase in its core traffic. So if your company doesn’t have a mobile app, or has a feature poor mobile app, now would be the time to invest.

Over the last several days I’ve talked to our enterprise customers in retail, financial services, insurance, and one thing was common across all of them. They were all scrambling to add new features in their mobile app. Some were adding capabilities that previously could only be done at physical locations. Others were innovating on their business model by enabling curbside pickups for orders placed via the mobile app.

Speed matters here. The sooner your business shifts digitally, the sooner it starts making money. And the sooner your company makes money, the better the long term prognosis is for the business. Savvy engineering management is therefore critical to the success of the business. If you can quickly spin up new digital assets that help your company make money, you’ll be able to help the business immensely.

How should you start? There are two areas of initial focus:

  • Process improvements that can speed up feature delivery

  • Technology improvements to improve release velocity

Move Fast: Process Tips

Now’s the time to adopt agile methodology. There are plenty of great resources here to get you started. If you’re used to doing releases once every 3 months (or longer), it’s time to reorient your team. For mobile apps, consider a bi-weekly release cadence. For web apps, tighten that to once every couple of days. You may not have the time to figure out and implement all process changes required to go agile, and that’s OK. The biggest thing is to create a sense of urgency for the team, and help them establish a framework that enables faster releases.

To that end, consider setting up a virtual situation room where you’re reviewing status twice a day, either asynchronously with long form updates via a document or real time with a virtual meeting. You can reduce frequency as your team gets into a fast cadence. Work quickly to identify and resolve blocker issues for team members.

Move Fast: Tech Tips

Your team is only going to go as fast as the tools available to them. Anything that can speed up your development cycle should be your initial area of focus. If you don’t have a continuous integration/ continuous build system like JenkinsTravisCircleCI, consider adopting one of these sooner rather than later. Same goes for a source control system like Github and BitBucket that can integrate into your CI/CD system. Adoption of these technologies can increase the velocity of your existing development team.

Your ultimate metric of success will be around ensuring maximal productivity for the team you have. If you’re thinking you need more resources to deliver new web or mobile apps, you’ll need to get creative to be successful. You won’t have the time to hire, train, and enable new team members. So you’re going to have to make do with what you have, which means thinking through how to get the most productivity per engineer. My last post in this series will explore how to best improve engineering productivity.

About Mesmer

Mesmer, the leader in Robotics Process Automation for Development (RPAD), is radically changing the way developers work. Mesmer’s AI-powered bots use patent-pending Deep Learning Automation (DLA™) to accelerate every function of customer experience testing. This means means crazy fast releases, better apps, and happier employees. Mesmer is headquartered in Palo Alto, California, and funded by Intel Capital and True Ventures.


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