If anything, this type of reflection is most useful when practiced on a more frequent basis, but if it’s been a while (no judgement here), we’re happy to guide you through a few straight-to-the-point questions you and your team can ask yourselves to get to the next important question; what are your business goals for 2017?
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to put you through the wringer without our co-founders waving our own dirty laundry first. We asked our three co-founders Rouz, Max and Bob the very same questions and here’s what they had to offer.
Question #1: When you look at the goals you had at the beginning of 2016, which of them have you achieved?
- We built a well-structured team and created a culture that fit our vision.
- We put together ROI Tables, Metrics and Data Collectors to make smarter marketing decisions.
Rouz: “Actually, one of the most important tasks we had ahead in 2016 was to build a well structured team with the right culture while also creating an exceptional support team. We were relatively successful at both. Our support team has grown tenfold in the past year and we have team members, both in-office and remote, who, despite coming from different backgrounds and bringing different expertise, get so well together. That’s probably the most challenging but rewarding element of work, but when you actually want to spend your free time with your colleagues even after spending 40+ hours with them all week, that’s a great feeling.”
Max: “Definitely—another component we wanted to tackle was having a solid data-oriented path to measure our performance in marketing. For 2016, we wanted to design every marketing goal based on our reach, engagement and conversion metrics and try to stay away from assumption and speculation. This shift meant a huge load of statistical work to record data from across our Artbees Themes Portal, Themeforest where we sell our themes, our social media, newsletter, blog, advertisement channels and others to be monitored regularly. This data can then be used in weekly, monthly and quarterly goal-setting sessions. In order to accomplish this in 2016 we designed ROI tables, metrics spreadsheet, and automated data collectors. The next step which involves extracting insights from this data will be a lot easier.”
Question #2: Which 2016 goals were you unable to achieve? Why?
- We didn’t design a realistic product roadmap.
- We didn’t properly take into consideration the resources needed to fulfill our big plans and releases.
Bob: “We planned to start working on our next product but failed to do so. We made a mistake on how to design our product roadmap and let’s just say it wasn’t a realistic goal to set when we already had a lot to do with our then current product. Our current product has a lot of room to grow and become better but we ignored it because we were hypnotised by the idea of a new shiny product.”
Rouz: “We didn’t have the best habit of calculating and accounting for our resources meticulously. In order to start working on a new product and simultaneously maintain your current products you need to have the human resources ready to go and we were far from having that.”
Question #3: What challenges did you face this year that were unforeseen?
- Hiring right. Finding the right mix of skills, background and personality is a lot harder than we imagined!
- Not having a proper testing framework & test-driven culture.
- Creating written content to share our approach and progress with the public.
Rouz: “Well, the biggest challenge for us was something that we wouldn’t have foreseen to be so difficult actually. Don’t laugh now—but it was humans; human resources to be exact! Really, at times this process felt like an endless black hole. Cultivating a team culture that fits your vision and creates a healthy and productive work environment requires a lot of patience, flexibility and resilience. And that’s not all—while trying to find individuals who can contribute to your team just the right way, you’re simultaneously trying to hold down the fort with your services and products. It’s a juggling act but we found that it takes a team to make a team.”
Cultivating a team culture that fits your vision and creates a healthy and productive work environment requires a lot of patience, flexibility and resilience.
Bob: “Testing. From the technical standpoint, many of our this year’s problems are due to not having a proper testing framework or precisely test driven culture. It was a very hard lesson but we are happy we caught it right.”
Max: “Writing about ourselves! Yes it sounds very simple and easy to write about yourself at first but when you’re asked to do it you just don’t know where to begin or what is actually worth someone’s attention. Earlier this year when we released Jupiter V5 we released a series of blog posts about how we ideated and executed this huge update to an already giant theme and when I approached the dev team to ask them to write about their challenges they were simply speechless even though they faced a lot of challenges making that happen.”
Question #4: From all of the challenges you faced, what lessons did you learn that can help you achieve your business goals for 2017?
- Keeping our technical debt balanced; we didn’t make sure that our newly released features were completely supported before launching the next one.
- All releases should be intentional and, even more importantly, customer-approved and asked for!
Bob: “Technical debt. What do I mean by that? Technical debt is when you release code or a program that’s easy to use in the short-run but, overall, isn’t comprehensively completed and “test-driven”. And we didn’t take it seriously. We developed new features and made giant releases before the foundational cement had dried and without making sure that we had all of our bases covered in terms of manpower and support. For example we released a big feature and then another and then again another! This technical debt built up more and more and we turned a blind eye to it which left us with a huge debt to pay in the end. Like most professional lessons—this can be applied to our personal life too! What we will do in the future is release a feature, and then work for a period of time to fix any bugs and create the appropriate amount of documentation before releasing the next big feature.”
Rouz: “Right and when deciding about the next feature to release, we always used to brainstorm in our meeting room with other team members and choose some from the product backlog to execute and release. With the valuable lessons we got from the Jupiter V5 release, we understood that releasing a feature should be completely user-centered. No new feature should be added just based on a gut feeling unless it’s been asked for by your customers. How can you figure out what your customers want? Ask them! And then pay attention to them! Whether it’s from social media, support portals, reviews or comments, you can gain a lot of valuable information that can steer your compass. Also keeping track of your users’ interactions with your product can allow you to extract data to create an actionable plan based on them.”
With the valuable lessons we got from the Jupiter V5 release, we understood that releasing a feature should be completely user-centered. No new feature should be added just based on a gut feeling unless it’s been asked for by your customers.
Max: “I think the biggest lesson we learned this year was that it was better for our customers to have a planned gradual growth with limited but stable releases, products or services. This results in a comprehensively better in the long run than spending a huge amount of time and energy to ideate and build a huge product with no clear vision of its feasibility and timeline.”
Question #5: How would you consider your status as a company now compared with the beginning of 2016?
Rouz: “A company that is shaped by and with a unique working culture. Also much wiser.”
Bob: “We have always been modern and disruptive. But our apparatus and workflow were not as modern. We are confident with our workflow across different sections of the company now and are ready to accept much bigger challenges in our industry.”
Any advice for fellow software, tech or design companies?
Rouz: “Having an idea is just 30% of the story. The journey is rough and the possibility to fail is high unless you have a good business plan and also have an intelligent team with a good culture capable of forecasting challenges. I know that’s a lot but that is the secret formula right?” 😉
Max: “Translate your assumptions to numbers and figures and plan on their foundation. Feasible is better than extraordinary. Evolution always overcomes revolution. And finally, don’t buy Battlefield 1 for your holidays if you don’t have a PlayStation Plus subscription.” 🙂
Now, here are some questions for you:
What questions have you asked yourself and your team?
What lessons will you take into the New Year?
Tell us in the comment section below!