In the armed forces “high speed” refers to a person or group that is capable, prepared and fully dedicated to the mission. While it’s not a term you’re likely to hear in your next code review, the definition does a good job of describing the qualities that are most desirable in a SaaS team.
And that’s not the only instance in which we can draw clear parallels between SaaS software development and military operations. The smallest infantry unit, called a fire team, typically consists of a team leader, rifleman, automatic rifleman and/or grenadier. Each one has the specialized training and experience to be effective in carrying out the mission.
SaaS teams operate in much the same fashion, right down to similarities between their individual roles.
The Team Leader
“One of the primary responsibilities of the Team Leader is to “asses the situation and determine a suitable technique based on the effectiveness of the enemy’s fire and available cover and concealment.” *
Without the steady hand of a team leader to make and execute decisions, an engagement can easily dissolve into chaos. The product manager must evaluate the market, user preferences, feedback and production capability and direct the actions of the specialists on the team, and without that guidance in place things can go off the rails in much the same fashion.
Not so long ago, we had a startup client with a wonderful user experience strategy, a well thought out dev plan, highly experienced developers and veteran project managers to keep things rolling, but the product never launched.What they lacked was a product manager. There was no final “single voice of authority” and nobody on the production team could agree on a direction.
The Automatic Rifleman
"The automatic rifleman (AR) must be able to suppress enemy Infantry and bunkers, destroy enemy automatic rifle and anti-tank teams, and enable the movement of other teams and squads, using a number of different tools, and he is normally the senior Soldier of the fire team." *
In much the same way, you want software developers, with over 5 years experience, and strong skill-sets - and it also doesn’t hurt for them to love what they do. I can tell you from experience, the guys that shoot the fully automatic weapons tend to enjoy shooting them.
“The rifleman provides the baseline standard for all Infantrymen and is an integral part of the fire team. He must be an expert in handling and employing his weapon. Placing well-aimed, effective fire on the enemy is his primary capability.” *
Where the AR does the heavy lifting, the rifleman is all about precision, and that also happens to be the domain of the user experience (UX) specialist. Just as the AR must pinpoint the enemy's position and eliminate them with no more than a few shots, the UX specialist must use situational awareness and experience to pinpoint meaningful user insights and act upon them without disrupting the entire application.
A client who was working on a web-based membership platform thought that they could design their interface by themselves, and it ultimately resulted in their product suffering feature overload. That’s where the precision comes in. The UX specialist and rifleman are both all about quality over quantity; and success through well-aimed, selective use of the tools available to them.
Whether you’re on a fire team patrolling the streets of Fallujah, or a SaaS team occupying an office suite in Silicon Valley, the rules of engagement are remarkably similar. Ultimately, success comes down to a team of highly skilled, well-trained, experienced professionals working together to achieve a common goal.
And given the fact that military strategy has been practiced and perfected over thousands of years of warfare, and that success on the battlefield depends on teamwork, effective communication and coordination, there’s a lot those managing and/or participating in a SaaS team can learn by studying the approach our armed forces take to winning.
* Source: U.S. Army Field Manual - The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, Sec. 3: Organization