How to organize development in a lean software startup

Inside Salesflare

Starting a tech company can be a chaotic, stressful and rewarding process.

But one of the things that can really help early on is to have structures in place that empower your team to work effectively and efficiently — especially on the development side. The last thing your company needs is chaos around building your product. 😱

So, how do you begin? And do you outsource or hire in-house?

Below is a quick guide to building and structuring your SaaS development team — and if you do decide to outsource, you can use this guide as a framework as well. 🤩


Categorizing development at your company

One of the things that can help with development structure is to break down the different types of development tasks at the company into categories, so you can have a better idea of prioritization, delegation and organization within the team. 🤝

Below are the three categories of development we have at Salesflare:

Issues are things that are broken and need to be fixed in the product.

But what has priority? And how do you organize them? That’s why we’ve broken issues down into three additional categories: instant issues, instant staging and non-instant issues.

Instant issues are the ones that — you guessed it — need to be addressed immediately. These can be things that are really broken, things that the users notice, things in the app that need to be fixed, etc. 🚨

Instant staging is not as “instant” as instant issues, but these are things that need to be fixed before releasing the newest software version into the production environment. These are mostly issues that we notice on our staging environment through internal testing.

Non-instant issues are lower priority and are discussed in the sprint preparation meeting (more on that later).

UX improvements get higher priority than non-instant issues and include anything in development that pertains to the experience and usability of the product. Essentially, these are things that improve the experience for customers.

Features are new functionalities that we want to add to the product, such as bulk actions, advanced filtering, etc. These are the lowest priority of the planned tasks during a sprint.

While breaking down the types of development can help you better organize your team, how do you decide who addresses what?


Support Hero is here to save the day!

As a SaaS company ourselves, we understand the importance of addressing issues promptly to give customers the best experience possible. However, that doesn’t mean that we should have the entire team spending their days jumping on issues — we’d never get any other work done! 👨‍💻👩‍💻

That’s why we use a system that both removes distractions and increases productivity within the development team. We call it the Support Hero.

The Support Hero is one person on the development team, rotated daily, that focuses on instant issues that need to be addressed (and answers more in-depth and technical questions users have), so that the team can stay focused on their tasks. 💪

Any issues that can’t be fixed in that exact moment by the Support Hero are logged in GitHub, the software we use for code and issue management, and is then addressed as soon as possible.

The beauty of having a Support Hero is that even with a small team, you can offer high-quality support to your customers — any in-depth technical issues can be fixed on the spot, avoiding the frustrating process of having to hand off issues to the “right” person.

The best part: having a Support Hero brings your developers closer to your customers. 💛


It’s all about structure

Now that we’ve touched on the types of development and how to delegate issues, let’s discuss how to organize your structure. All of the different components below come together to inform how the team moves forward.

A product vision and roadmap can help you know where you want to bring the product, so you can then have features in mind that will get you there — this ideally overlaps with what you pick up from your support. 👓

Support is all about getting customer feedback. This includes feature requests, issues and UX improvements, which follow the aforementioned product vision and roadmap. Log these and bring them to the sprint preparation meeting.

An issue tracker reports errors both on the back-end and the front-end. It also allows you to see what issues appear even without people telling you. One suggestion is Elastic APM — but there are many options out there.

Internal testing allows your whole team to test new features before they go live. We test actively before releasing updates from staging to production. And since we use Salesflare internally, we can therefore detect possible issues and improvements in the product ourselves as well. It’s always good to have your team use your product whenever possible to get first-hand exposure to any issues that can arise and to have a deep understanding of your own product.

Hotjar recording sessions can help your team see how people interact with the product and where things go wrong (or right). User recordings, while not necessary on a daily basis, can give you additional insights into how people use your product, since you can see what they go through without them needing to explain it to you.


Time to sprint!

Structure your development team’s work into sprints — an agile methodology. As a general guideline, two-week-long sprints are most common for IT and software product development. 🏃‍

However, it’s recommended to prepare ahead of your sprint meetings — otherwise things can get a bit chaotic and off-topic.

This can be addressed by having sprint preparation meetings. The CTO, product owner and support team attend this meeting, and use this time to look at instant issues that are remaining, UX improvements, non-instant issues and features. This helps set the agenda and priorities for the upcoming sprint without needing to take time out of the sprint meeting itself. ✅

Then, of course, it’s time to have your sprint meeting! The sprint meeting zooms in technically on what was discussed during the sprint preparation meeting, so that the development team knows exactly how they will go about things. It also gives a platform to review instant issues together as a team. This meeting should include the CTO and development team. The product owner and support team can also join, but are less needed at this stage.

At the start of this meeting, it’s a good idea to reflect on the previous sprint — what went well, what went wrong, etc.


What’s in your toolkit?

The tools you use within your company can set your development team up for success. We’ve already touched on Hotjar and Elastic APM, but some other tools to consider for more streamlined communication and task management include:

Slack — for internal discussions, updates/notifications, file sharing and the occasional funny gif

Trello — for task/project management and tracking who is doing what in a given sprint

GitHub — where we track issues, feature requests, etc.

Intercom — for communicating with customers

A great aspect of using these tools is that they can interact with one another. For example, we get updates from Trello and Github in Slack. And in Trello we use a GitHub power-up that integrates GitHub info into Trello. 🌐

Plus, we can link GitHub back to Intercom conversations, so that we always get the context at hand; and when we ship features or fix issues, we can communicate back about it without fault.


Regardless of how you decide to structure development at your company, it’s always important to make sure that your team — no matter how big or small — can work within the processes you decide to utilize. 🚀

Don’t be afraid to change things if they aren’t working! The key is to find what works for you and your company and go with that.

We hope this quick guide has given you a bit of inspiration for how to build and structure your development team!

Have more great ideas? Tell us in the comments! ✨


Enjoy this post? Check out the rest of our Inside Salesflare series.


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