How we plan and prioritize our work

Inevitably, all good applicants ask us this question: “so, perks aside, how do you actually plan and prioritize your work at SI?”.

First of all, we need to consider our overall goal:

“We want to build an awesome product, and enjoy coding and supporting it.

This guides the first two stages of filtering:

Ensure ‘Philosophy match’
This is something we always have in the back of our head. If a feature would make the product less awesome, then we won’t build it. For instance, we often get asked about adding tons more ratings. We don’t think that’s useful, we’re a feedback tool and not a ratings too. So that feature won’t be built at all.

Ensure “Technology match”

Some features would be awesome to have, but terribly to code. Internationalization is such a feature. Sure, having great German or French or Spanish language support would be slick – but it simply makes coding less fun, and each feature much slower to implement. Demand exists, but it doesn’t outweigh the downsides by far. We’re not touching internationalization for the next couple of years.

Prioritization

Once we’ve removed all the feature requests we don’t want to build, there’s still a massive amount of things we can pick from.

Next up, here’s our general prioritization approach:

  • We favor bugfixes over new features. We hate answering the same support ticket over and over again, so it’s more efficient to squash bugs with a high priority.
  • We favor incremental improvements to existing features over entirely new features. It’s better to have fewer but more awesome features, and you only get there by iterating relentlessly. So we are careful in opening up new cans of worms. We’ll ensure that existing features are awesome first.
  • We clean up code debt all the time. This slows us down in the short term, but helps us move faster longer term, and makes bugfixing easier too. Also, if we didn’t clean up debt, we’d get buried after a while, hate our jobs, and quit.
  • We build new features as well. It’s most fun of course. 🙂 But we usually wait until no other pressing work needs to be done before we tackle entirely new features.

Having this basic ordering is good, but there’s still a large amount of features and improvements to choose from. We need to consider efficiency as well:

  • How many customers will like a feature (or improvements) vs how many customers will not even use it?
  • How risky/hard is it to build?
  • What developers is available to build it, will they be efficient at it, and are they keen on building it at all?

The first items are kind of obvious and probably commonplace at most companies. Items 3 is not quite as common though. We believe that everyone should enjoy their work, so even if our AngularJS expert Sebastian is available for building a new AngularJS screen, and would be super efficient – well, if he needs a break and wants to work on the Java side for a month, then the task might get postponed.

Urgency?
If you’ve read this far, you might have wondered about “but, what about urgency!?”.  And that’s the really great thing about SI. It’s almost never urgent to implement something. Sure, we do want to ship a lot of stuff, and do so as fast as we can. We’re not slackers. But working under extreme pressure only leads to problems in code quality and morale, so we try to avoid it. By always prioritizing bugs, by always cleaning up code when we see it, bugs rarely linger until they are really urgent.

Sure, sometimes unexpected problems crop up, sometimes issues are urgent. Then we work on them immediately – but it’s usually not a problem if they take more than a day. We have built a pretty large test system that covers the backend and the frontend, so a massive unexpected problem is rare, and we haven’t done a single night shift in the 4 years of SI history.

So, summing it up, we first filter loads of things that look good on paper but don’t match our philosophy, and then we prioritize with a bias for bugfixes and improvements of existing features, and also take into account what each developer wants to work on.

It’s no rocket science, but we get asked about this a lot by applicants, so we thought we’d share it!

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