Impactful Underdog

Tech Startup Maturity Levels

February 04, 2020

A SaaS software company is formed to mainly build solutions that a target market has demand for. For a tech company to be generally successful at what they do, they need to build their software solution in a way that:

  • It continuously delivers value to the end users with best user experience possible.
  • It has high quality and it’s well-engineered.
  • It’s scalable, maintainable, and future friendly as much as possible.
  • It continuously minimizes time and financial costs during software delivery to increase profitability.
  • It continuously drives innovation to be relevant in the ever-changing tech scene.

In reality, tech companies are in the constant battle of time, resources, and deliverables. The product management team along with tech leadership decides what needs to be done to achieve aforementioned goals. Companies at different levels of maturity need to be equipped with right technologies and processes to be considered high performing.

Here is the checklist for every level of maturity of any tech company. The higher level a tech company is on this scale, the more it’s considered a high performing tech organization.

Level 1

  • Use a software development methodology that works for your team.
  • Structured goal setting is in place: Using a systematic way of setting goals that drives what is built by developers. This brings alignment to all functions of an organization and helps everyone have focus and ensure individual contributors are working on the right thing. Let’s face it, building and shipping software is very expensive! therefore, building the wrong products or features can really hurt a tech company. OKRs are a very handy tool for structured goal setting.
  • Extreme ownership in the engineering team: once developers are code complete, they are not done! They are trained to have this mindset that they are done once what they are working on is in production creating value for end-users.
  • Continuous negotiation with the product team: There is a constant line of communication open between engineers and product managers to bring down the feature scope/complexity while not drastically minimize the value delivered to the user. The result of this practice is to save time and development costs while still delivering great customer experience.
  • Using an issue & project tracking software system: Platforms such as Jira enable you to implement the software development methodology you are using and ensure any engineering work is being tracked through the entire development lifecycle.
  • Using version control systems, proper branching and code merging model that works for your team resulting in fast code integration.
  • Using an effective communication mechanism such as Slack.
  • Developers can reproduce bugs and test everything in their development environments.

    Level 2

  • Everything mentioned in level 1 is practiced.
  • A prioritization model is in place: the engineering team is always working on what matters the most. RICE is a very effective prioritization model. Also, product team always ensures engineers do not run out of high priority work.
  • Engineers understand the big picture: technical individual contributors can sometimes get into too much implementation detail of what they are working on. This results in them losing touch with the big picture and the overall intended value being delivered. To help with this, we always want to ensure engineers follow the “working backwards” method. i.e. always asking ourselves “imagine we are done and this feature is live! How would the user use the output of this work and is it creating the value the user is looking for?”
  • Processes are defined in a way that people are not blocked on each other as much as feasible. Leaders are very attentive to the the word “blocked”, strive to resolve the situation immediately and place processes in place to minimize the amount of blockage occurring from the same root cause.
  • Genuine care for developer happiness: ensure developers are heard, they are appreciated, their concerns are addressed, and there is a clear career growth plan laid out for them by retrospective and 1-on-1 meetings. 
  • Engineers get architectural design buy-in before implementation: engineers talk to as many colleagues as they can about how they are going to address a problem before actual implementation. This is to ensure the solution is the most optimal and follows the best engineering practices.
  • Having a systematic way of communicating internally and external regarding what is going to be built long term and short term.
  • Application environments are isolated: Modern software systems can consist of many different services. Any instance of any service running in an environment should be completely isolated from services running on a different environment (having a test, staging, and a production environment is very common).
  • Log application output and and expose them to the team: engineers need to have access to application logs for debugging purposes. Ideally, logs for all the environments are available through a logging aggregator.

    Level 3

  • Everything mentioned in level 2 is practiced.
  • Unify design systems: When building new features, engineers at don’t have to think about how the general UI elements look like as they use a repository commonly called style guide.
  • Educate engineers to be product-oriented: Engineers building out features are trained to have a passion for the product as a whole. This helps them make better decisions during development and make the right comprises.
  • Build out technology radar: Clearly communicate what tools, frameworks, and languages will be used in the org. Tech Radar can be a handy tool regarding this matter. This allows a cohesive development strategy and more code reusability resulting in faster product delivery.
  • Develop with SEO in mind: effective tech organizations do not let SEO be afterthought. They are always up-to-date with the latest SEO trends and ensure engineers follow them during feature development.  
  • Develop with mobile-first mind set: where applicable, all the experiences delivered to the user are mobile-friendly.
  • Know your users: start gathering data on how users are using your software while respecting their privacy.
  • Feature toggle strategy is in place: there is a way to incrementally and continuously release new features to customers.
  • Zero downtime deployments: when production deployments take place, there is no downtime for current users.

    Level 4

  • Everything mentioned in level 3 is practiced.
  • Maximize code reusability: for all the back-end, front-end, and infrastructure code there is a strategy in place to maximize code reusability across projects. 
  • Systematic documentation in place: there is a consistent way of documenting any transferable knowledge across the tech organization. The company culture entices engineers to keep the documentation updated as things change.
  • Constantly asking and addressing this question: are we automating anything that can be automated?
  • Have a systematic way to handle escalations when the software is not working as expected in the production environment and close the loop with support and non-tech stake holders when issues are scheduled to be addressed. 
  • Document production issues caused by human error as post-mortems. This is a mechanism to continuously improve the tech organization.
  • There is a systematic way of training and onboarding in place for new hires. There is also protocol in place to knowledge transfer and revoke access rights when people decide to leave the company. Services and tools are registered using a company identity (e.g. email) and not a specific person’s identity. 
  • There is a structure in place for engineers to grow in their career.
  • Unit tests, integration tests, and end-to-end tests are in place as much as possible to ensure quality and maintainability.
  • Common data exposure mechanism: if microservices are being used in the tech infrastructure, there is a strategy in place to expose all the data endpoints using the same consistent mechanism as much as possible (e.g. consistently use GraphQL or RESTful APIs).
  • CI/CD: there is a clear operational strategy for continuous integration and continuous delivery of the software.

    Level 5

  • Everything mentioned in level 4 is practiced.
  • Train everyone to be a leader! As the organization grows, it’s crucial to build leadership skills in as many people as possible. This sense of ownership helps the company to succeed in the long run.
  • Monitoring performance and find what’s slowing down the system on both the front-end(e.g. using Lighthouse) and the back-end(e.g. using APMs). Monitoring service health to be proactive instead of reactive when problems arise (i.e. strategy in place to find issues before users find them). There should also be load testing involved as part of the monitoring system.
  • Having a systematic way to monitor security and develop with security in mind.
  • Engineers and leaders consider the financial cost of any third party service vs ROI and scalability when choosing a technology to use.
  • If the organization is involved in building software systems that include different levels of users, there needs to be a system in place to let users know, who did what action at what time (i.e. have user activity tracking system in place)
  • A/B testing strategy in place: there is a way for the product team to deliver different experiences to different users where applicable. This is to learn more about what users want, what works for the product, and continuously build the right features. 

Written by Mehdi Karamnejad, a tech and startup enthusiast based in Vancouver. Follow on Twitter