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Small teams, big results

(Image credit: Image Credit: Netguru)

We have entered the era of the cloud platform. In this era, the traditional methods of development are holding businesses back and the days of dozens of different RFPs, selection processes and implementations are fast becoming a thing of the past. In this article, Pat Malatack, VP Product at Twilio discusses why adopting a small teams structure will help businesses to achieve the agility needed to compete in today’s competitive landscape.

Today Nike has more software developers than shoe designers, and Goldman Sachs has more software developers than it does bankers. We have entered the era of the cloud platform, and in the words of the well-known venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, software is eating the world.

Mobile apps are shaking up entire industries, allowing consumers to hail a ride, book a room and order a takeaway at the click of a button. The rise of mobile usage by consumers combined with easy developer access to cloud platforms such as AWS, Digital Ocean, Stripe, New Relic and Twilio, is creating the perfect storm for experimentation on a scale never before possible. 

Behind these new cloud applications is a new kind of infrastructure, enabling software developers to build applications at an unprecedented speed and flexibility. These platforms are global, scalable and cost effective, and new ideas, new prototypes and new businesses are emerging every day.

Build or die

At the same time consumer needs are constantly evolving and there is an expectation for the services they use to keep up with these ever-changing needs. In order to keep up, businesses need to be flexible enough to adapt their solutions in a timely manner.

Not only is every innovative company on the planet now competing with the Amazons of the world, but also with nimble start-ups. These businesses, unencumbered by legacy systems and processes, are disrupting nearly every industry by providing more modern and customer-friendly approaches.

In order to differentiate from competitors, today’s businesses must constantly be building – not buying – new software. Those companies that adapt the fastest to the changing needs of consumers will be the ones that survive, and those who do not empower their developer teams now will lose out to those who do. 

Out with the old (ways of software development)

To achieve the agility required to succeed in today’s fast paced world of innovation, the days where the submission of 60 or 70 different documents was required before a single line of code could be written must become a thing of the past.

Businesses need to close the door on the rigid, old way of waterfall development processes and adopt modern agile approaches that empower small, autonomous teams. The old methods of development, which involved dozens of different RFP documents, long procurement cycles and significant upfront costs just to try a new idea, are no longer sustainable. These processes delay innovation, and any business who doesn’t adapt will ultimately lose out to those who do.

Adapting to the current pace of innovation can seem like a herculean effort, but by promoting a development structure based around small teams – all with a clear mission and relative autonomy to execute – a business of any size can move into the innovation fast lane. 

Small teams, agile innovation

By breaking up the challenges of your organisation and your customers into smaller problems and assigning those problems to teams of no more than eight to 10 people, a team can move fast at solving the problem. Each of these independent teams adhere to overall company standards and processes around their objectives, but are empowered to release independently so that they can move quickly and build out the applications and updates that address customer needs. 

Company-wide, or even department-wide planning and approval cycles can mire a project before it even gets into prototype stages. When you organise operations, engineering and even business processes into small, agile teams, you can empower them to make their own decisions and execute quickly. 

This small teams structure isn’t limited to budding new businesses, but can be applied in even the most traditional of organisations. Consider ING Bank as an example. One of the world’s largest banking institutions, ING realised that in order to remain competitive, it needed to be agile. This meant having short reporting lines, and the right people in the right positions in order to make important decisions, quickly. It reorganised not just IT, but also operations and commercial personnel into 180 agile teams.

At ING, these new small teams have been able to rapidly deploy innovations, such as the company’s “Contact Centre 2.0” that eradicated the need for 17 disparate legacy call centre systems, instead integrating communications across multiple channels to deliver a better experience for their customers. 

By adopting a small teams structure, businesses can optimise for velocity of delivery rather than organisational alignment. This incremental delivery allows for feedback from users along the way, so a business can learn as it builds and adapt to changing needs down the line.  

Remaining relevant

As the world continues to change, the capability to adapt to customers changing needs, with speed and at scale, becomes the most important enduring asset of any business. With such an approach businesses can expect, and should aim, to ship thousands of updates every year. 

At a time when software is eating the world, customers aren’t waiting around for your business to catch up. Today’s fickle consumers are brand promiscuous and will simply find another service that can accommodate the way they live, work, and communicate. By constantly building, rather than buying, software, businesses can remain relevant in today’s competitive marketplace.

Don’t hold your teams back with operational inflexibility – empower them to experiment and innovate, and you’ll see that small teams can deliver big results.

Patrick Malatack, VP of Product, Management, Twilio (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Netguru

Patrick is as passionate about elegant user interface designs as he is about simple, easy to use API's. Before joining Twilio, Patrick was in Product Management at Microsoft.