One of the classic pieces of software engineering literature that has had a profound influence on me since first reading it at Penn Engineering is The Mythical Man-Month by Fred Books. Fred initially authored the book in 1975 based on his experiences at IBM managing the development of OS/360. His central thesis is that leveraging man-months, a hypothetical unit of work representing the work done by one person in a month, as an effective way to estimate software projects is a myth. Put more simply, adding manpower to a late software project in fact makes it even later. This is because adding additional people to a software project significantly increasing the communication overhead and more people need to communicate in order to ensure they are aligned and aware of what everyone else is doing on the project. This significantly reduces the incremental output from each added resource.
While this is a well-understood and generally accepted reality, I still see many software organizations using some form of man-months for their estimation and jumping to add additional resources to their team in order to try to speed up their projects. I wanted to share some of the lessons I've learned on how to improve software engineering team velocity without simply adding additional resources to the team, which has all the challenges that Fred describes.
In a recent post Tomasz Tunguz helped popularize the term B2C2B, which characterizes enterprise businesses that leverage winning the hearts and minds of the intermediate consumer, the employees of the company, as a primary customer acquisition channel. This bottoms-up approach to driving adoption & purchase within the enterprise has gained popularity for SaaS companies in the past years, including very successful startups like Dropbox, Slack, and New Relic leveraging the model.
LinkedIn is arguably the largest B2C2B SaaS business out there and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the lessons I learned on leveraging this model for success.
When LinkedIn acquired my startup Connected in 2011, Elliot Shmukler was the sponsor for the acquisition and I ended up reporting directly to him. At the time his team was not only responsible for the core experience at LinkedIn (profile, connections, pymk, search, and more), but he also led the LinkedIn growth team. It ended up being an incredibly fortuitous place for us to land in the organization, as both Ada Chen Rekhi and I learned an incredible amount on growth through working directly with Elliot. These invaluable lessons from such a growth expert who helped scale LinkedIn from 20M to over 200M+ members certainly shape how Ada and I think about driving growth in every future endeavor.
Over the past year at LinkedIn I developed a strong appreciation for using Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a key performance indicator (KPI) to understand customer loyalty. In addition to the standard repertoire of acquisition, engagement, and monetization KPIs, NPS has become a great additional measure for understanding customer loyalty and ultimately an actionable metric for enhancing your product experience to deliver delight.
One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had at LinkedIn is the opportunity to see Jeff Weiner’s leadership in action. His disciplined approach to leadership has transformed the concept in my mind from an amorphous set of soft skills to a key competitive differentiator in scaling organizations.