Beyond DevOps

Over the last several years the DevOps movement has highlighted the need to break down silos between software development and operations. It emphasizes  communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other IT professionals[1]. When done right, it can help an organization rapidly produce software products and services and to improve operations performance. But while devOps focuses on breaking down silos between development and operations, in many organizations, big and small, the silos that remain between development and other parts of the business become obstacles for the business in achieving its true potential.

To build and sell a successful product or service, people need to be empowered with information needed to make the right decisions. Information needs to flow freely between various functions within an organization at all levels. This isn’t a new concept by any means and yet even today often communication happens at one level and information is partially shared with the broader organization. This can lead to poor decisions, surprises and delays, resulting in costs that can be easily avoided. The solution isn’t to communicate more often or have everybody attend every meeting and participate in every decision making, but rather to pick an organizational structure that is pertinent to the size and attitude of the people in the organization.

Recently I got into a discussion about organizational structure with Simon Wardley, researcher for CSC’s Leading edge Forum. Simon has written a few great posts on organizational structure – On structure and The only structure you will ever need for e.g. Rather than a departmental structure, a more effective approach is to break the organization into cells connected by services and comprised of people with skills required to provide the services e.g. engineering, product, finance, marketing, support, services. Cells have autonomy over how they organize and run themselves but autonomy is accompanied with accountability and measurement against specific criteria.

Its easy to see how a cell based approach to organizational structure is can lead to better outcomes. Yet it is not common and most organizations use departmental structures impeding their ability to compete effectively.

Customer Success or Customer Support or Both?

How are you improving your customer retention and lifetime value? If you are thinking better support, you are thinking about customers wrong.
 
Don’t get me wrong. If you are a product company of any kind, depending on your size, you need to have some one or an entire department dedicated to solving customer problems. Traditionally customer support departments have been focused on solving customer issues and escalations, answering customer queries for information or recording customer feature requests for product teams. While these activities are still needed to service customers, these are reactive tasks and may not help identify issues until its too late. 

On the other hand leveraging predictive analytics can help identify risks early on and provide proactive assistance to customers that may not reach out to customer support. Proactive assistance could easily take the form of an email offering help or providing a free trial or a 1:1 conversation with the customer on the phone or video. 

As an e.g. here is an email we received when we signed up for Blossom at Enstratius (Dell) when we were transitioning to weekly releases

“Since you are one of our Early Adopters we have a special offer for you.
A one hour free google hangout with our CEO & Head of Product on the Essence of Managing Software Projects.”

Since we were new to the process, we leveraged this offer and got several of our questions regarding process and best practices answered while also providing feedback to Blossom. Some our our pain points were rapidly addressed which increased our confidence in the team. 

Proactive assistance should leverage product usage data, metrics and funnel analysis to determine what the pain points are and how customers are using the product. Data should be tested This data helps frame the engagement with the customer for not only risks, but also opportunities for product improvements and for cross-selling and up-selling products and services. 

In short, the question is how are you are thinking about improving your customer relationship. Relabeling your customer support department as customer success will not cut it. You could create separate departments for customer support and customer success. Organization is not the point. Rethinking the approach is.