When we started Avora, communication within our team was very easy. There were a couple of us, in shared office space, mostly talking to each other in person and on Skype or sending a few emails about data and analytics. Life was simple. But to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, with progress we need to change and adapt.
I’m the CTO of Avora and run a very talented team of software developers. Even before the pandemic, my team of around twenty people was spread across four countries (Romania, India, Serbia and the UK). Now of course, like with most businesses, we have as many locations as we have team members.
This blog is a short summary of my perspective on better knowledge sharing for SaaS development teams. A challenge that comes with an increasingly pressing need to communicate well both across the team and up and down from a leadership perspective.
Knowledge capture, sharing and management are highly dependent on good internal communications – this is true for all organisations, not just SaaS companies. If we can disseminate the latest information quickly, and establish it as the common understanding enterprise wide, we can reliably use it as the basis for making business decisions. This foundation then allows each individual to work more cohesively toward our common goals.
As I’ve seen with Avora, as an organisation gets larger the requirements for information sharing become more complex. No matter what type of business you run, whether advanced analytics or otherwise, your people need the most relevant information in order to make the best decisions. And with growth, there is an inevitable degradation of that information.
Sometimes this is because the information has to travel through more layers. Sometimes it’s because decisions are made around who needs which pieces of information, and then in hindsight you can see these have been suboptimal. For example a person is included in several time-consuming and disruptive face-to-face meetings, when all they really needed was the outcome. Or on the flip side, information didn’t get to someone early enough and so it affected the quality of their work product.
So with all that being said, here are the key considerations I’d advise a CTO or software team leader to think about when knowledge sharing in a growing software team in a SaaS company:
- Consider the cost of communicating. Every time we transmit information, we see an associated cost. The time it takes someone to read an email, or interact on Slack, or read and react to an action in a project management tool such as Asana. These costs add up when spread across a growing organisation.
As developers we need to stay focused on our work which is usually very technical, and we need to timebox when we read information that isn’t urgent or fundamental to our roles. Knowledge sharing is caring, but overload people and you have a knowledge management problem.
- Create a knowledge sharing strategy that enables people, rather than distracting them. Our need to have a strong internal communications framework in places is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of software developers. Only the relevant information should be shared at the right time with the right people.
It’s easy for people to slip into the mistake of reading updates that aren’t directly relevant to their role. It can happen under the banner of being productive. But if they aren’t sent these updates, or receive a shorter summary in a weekly bulletin for example, this issue doesn’t occur so easily. Reducing information overload is one of the most effective things you can do to help your people stay focused.
- Continually improve to get the balance right. While reducing distractions is great, people are people and need to feel connected to the business and each other from an emotional perspective and there is plenty of research about how important employee buy-in is when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. And in the brave new world of entirely remote working, it’s even more crucial to ensure people stay connected on a human.
One reason small businesses are able to foster a more innovative culture is that when we are in start-up mode we have less hierarchical communication chains, so information moves freely upward as well as downward, with less politics and vested interests. Left unchecked, as you grow these issues can hinder your company’s ability to stay fresh and dynamic.
Also, it can sometimes be helpful to use techniques like collective knowledge and paired working, where when a group of people work together on a problem they are smarter than if a single person was to attempt to solve the problem. In my experience the effectiveness of this approach generally has an upper bound of around ten people. Go higher than that number and your efficiency starts to decrease while any benefits are lost.
- Understand your team’s needs. Software teams require a particularly intense level of communication between different members at times. The change of pace can be considerable when we’re adding new features or we need to update old code at pace.
So dissemination of knowledge across our teams is critically important. At Avora, this extends outside of the software team to our data scientists, analytics team, customer success and sales and marketing teams.
Different members of your team will doubtless hold knowledge about how a given component works, and that information needs to be shared to help increase overall efficiency. Documentation can help, but it isn’t a silver bullet because there are instances where there is no substitute for an in-person (virtual) conversation with the subject matter expert.
Information is the lifeblood of all organisations. If you can get your knowledge and communications strategy working properly for you, it allows you to take clear decisions on when not to communicate, as well as when it’s appropriate to share information. Key actions to take are:
- Segmenting your internal audiences
- Understanding the most effective channel mix for each audience (tools like Slack, stand-ups, digital signage, management cascades, email etc)
- Get your knowledge management framework in shape
When my development team get the right information at the right time, they are more empowered to do a great job which improves customer experience and the team is more connected, effective and, ultimately, happy.
My colleague Jeremy recently wrote a blog about being a data storyteller at Avora – check it out here.