Start-up Value Streams: The Secret to Speed

Kenneth Johnson Amazon Web Services, Cloud Technology, Cloud Transformation, Uncategorized, Well-Architected Review

Achieving product market fit is perhaps the hardest part of building a successful start-up.  Unfortunately, it is also the one thing without which a start-up cannot succeed.  The speed with which you can achieve product market fit determines whether you run out of capital before getting traction in the market.  And, the speed with which you can refine that fit after initial success is your long-term competitive advantage in the marketplace. 

The task of getting a minimum viable product to market as quickly as possible and then to iterate on that MVP in response to customer preferences is sometimes referred to as the Value Stream.  To the extent your value stream is agile and fast, you will achieve fit quickly and have the ability to stay ahead of competitors as they enter your market.

Many SaaS start-ups begin with a good knowledge of their customer and great software engineers, but have trouble making the value stream agile and fast. What is the secret to speed in your value stream? Software Engineers must focus on customer value.   

All too often the software engineering team is responsible not only for creating great features in code, but also for everything else related to getting the product features to market.  We call this “everything else” the undifferentiated heavy lifting of the value stream.  It includes things like:

  • Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (“CI/CD”)
    • Testing and other quality gates
    • Pipeline automation
    • 12-Factor methodology
    • Database artefact management
  • Microservices architecture and management
  • Kubernetes cluster deployment, monitoring, and management
  • Database management
  • Site Reliability Engineering 

We call it “heavy lifting” because it is every bit as complex as the application code it serves.  We call it “undifferentiated” because none of these items provide direct value to your end customer.  Rather, these items are simply the table stakes that every strong competitor must ante up to play with agility in the market.  

Odds are that your software engineering team is smart enough to figure these items out with a great deal of trial and error.  Most engineers have knowledge of these items but have never had to implement them in the real world.  But, even if your engineers are confident on all of these heavy lifting items, do you really want them spending their time on things that create no direct value for your customer?

So what are your options?

Buy off-the-shelf products to relieve some of the burden on your engineering team. There are products available that address some of these heavy lifting items by allowing your team to bypass much of the technical detail required for infrastructure management. The drawback is that your team must still spend time evaluating, installing, and adapting the mix of products you select, which has the same time-consuming effect of slowing down your value stream.  Additionally, the third-party solutions you must accept out of the box are not customized specifically to your needs and may conflict with your preferred mode of operating.  Also, a change or update in one product can break the automation of your value stream.  This means your team is constantly fixing and updating things that provide no value to your customer.

Establish your own dedicated platform team. A better solution is to have a strong, dedicated internal platform team focused on every aspect of your infrastructure handling the “Ops” side of DevOps. The function of this team is to support your software engineers and to ensure that infrastructure issues do not slow down your product deployments. This team allows your software engineers to focus on writing great code to enhance your product value without having to worry about all of the details required to launch that code quickly and reliably. This is a good solution but it will require resources that you may not be able to devote to a dedicated team. Also, platform talent is scarce, so recruiting, hiring and training new platform engineers requires a lot of time and expense.   With each new hire comes risk that skillsets or attitudes may be different from your expectations or that your new hire is simply not a cultural fit.  Developing an internal platform team is time consuming and expensive. 

Embed a turnkey vendor-managed platform team. There are many cloud consultants to choose from.  But, as the founder and CEO of Blue Sentry I can tell you that the problem of speed in the value stream is the problem Blue Sentry was founded to solve.  We exist to provide fast moving companies turnkey platform teams that are cheaper and less risky than the alternatives.  

For less than the cost of a single new employee you can immediately bring online a veteran, battle-tested platform team that has seen all the pitfalls and can help you avoid them.  This team is dedicated to your needs and can rapidly design, customize and implement the bespoke platform to make your Value Stream run at warp speed.  Once engaged this team takes all of the undifferentiated heavy lifting off of your software engineering team so that you can achieve product market fit quickly, and, once you’ve achieved it, continue to move fast and stay ahead.

Not sure how an outside team would work with your developers?  How about a free test drive?  Blue Sentry offers a no cost review of your infrastructure through AWS’s Well Architected Review process. As an AWS Premier Consulting Partner Blue Sentry will evaluate your environment based on five pillars of the AWS Well Architected Framework:

  1. Operational Excellence -- the speed of your value stream
  2. Security -- protecting your data and applications
  3. Reliability -- ensuring the best possible user experience, every time
  4. Performance -- increasing the efficiency of your cloud resources
  5. Cost Optimization -- minimizing the costs of operation

You will receive a detailed list of best practices and recommended fixes and adjustments. If your environment qualifies, you will also receive 20 free hours of remediation engineering to get you off to a great start this year. Read more about this no-risk offer.