Tasktop Tasty Dog Food Series Blog #3

How We Built the Case for Application Replatforming Using Flow Metrics

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In this third installment of our Tasty Dog Food Series, we continue to share stories of how we’re using our own product, Tasktop Viz™, internally to boost our growth and happiness.

This time, I spoke to Jeff McCollum, our Product Value Stream Lead for Tasktop Hub, who told me how he used Tasktop Viz and Flow Metrics to perfectly time a major application replatforming. 

“I started thinking about application replatforming a while back, mostly based on intuition and drawing on my professional experience,” Jeff begins. “But I was waiting for the data points to come together and convince me the time was right.”

The data points Jeff is referring to are all brought together in his Tasktop Viz dashboards, which he consults several times a week. Viz measures flow across his end-to-end product value stream. Jeff looks at Flow Time (time-to-market), Flow Velocity (throughput) and Flow Efficiency. He also keeps a close eye on Flow Load (a measure of work in progress) and Flow Distribution (where delivery capacity is going). 

Side-by-side with Flow Metrics, Jeff tracks business results: ARR, renewal rates, value stream costs, escaped defect ratios, customer and employee NPS scores to name a few. He uses the business results to keep everyone focused on doing the right things. And he uses Flow Metrics to make sure things are being done well and that the value stream is continuously improving.  

“When you have a successful, mature product, finding the right time to replatform is a challenge. There is always so much to do, it’s hard to prioritize a big undertaking like this. But at the same time, we want to keep our solution modern, we want it to be relatively easy to grow and evolve. And there comes a time in a product’s life cycle where you just have to prioritize tech debt for the sake of future acceleration.”

So how do you know when it’s the right time to replatform? For Jeff there were a few telltale signs: 

  • Delivery was gradually slowing down. As the codebase became more complex, every code change for Features or Defects was more complicated, required more care, more testing. As a result, over several consecutive quarters, Flow Time was getting longer and Flow Velocity was decreasing.
  • Product quality was becoming more of an issue. Flow Distribution showed more and more capacity going towards defect resolution, while very little tech debt was being addressed. 
  • New hire onboarding was taking longer. Learning the ins and outs of a large codebase is difficult, and it would take new hires several months to ramp up. 
  • Employee happiness was on the decline. Engineers were getting frustrated with the complexity of the existing platform and it was causing attrition. They would call this out explicitly in Jeff’s quarterly eNPS surveys and 1:1s.

This last point about employee happiness was critical for Jeff, who is one of our best people managers. “It’s important to see the software and the people working on the software as a system. The software affects engineers just as much as engineers affect the software. And as a manager and value stream lead, you owe it to both to expect — and enable — high performance. If you see a decline in performance of either one over the long term, something should be done.”

Jeff turned to his most senior technical braintrust to investigate the options, who came back with a recommendation to move to a standardized and widely-used platform. They also suggested that the re-platforming be done by the principal engineers in a parallel track so as not to disrupt the whole value stream. 

“The next step was getting leadership buy-in. But now that I was armed with all the data to build the business case, that was very easy!” Jeff told me. “Once we had the green light, I made a big effort to communicate the implications of this undertaking to our go-to-market and support teams. We would likely have to turn down or delay some features while this work was going on, and we would need to be prepared for a higher Defect distribution in the month or two following this major release.”

Over the course of this endeavor, Jeff managed Flow Distribution carefully, giving adequate bandwidth to Debt at the expense of Features, with the ultimate goal of flipping the ratio as soon as possible. 

In late 2020, the replatforming was complete to an industry-standard extensible platform. Next, Jeff watched the Flow Metrics and business results charts on his Viz dashboard to see the payoff. And it came: 

  • Delivery sped up. Flow Time for any type of work got shorter, and the value stream’s velocity began trending upwards, month over month. 
  • New hire onboarding was 70% faster. New hires were up and running within just a few weeks. 
  • eNPS scores shot up by 40 points. There was a huge turnaround in employee engagement and happiness.
  • Product quality improved such that customer escalations went down by 80%.
Timeline events in Tasktop Viz™ help track the impact of paying off Tech Debt in increased eNPS scores and Flow Velocity

For Jeff, the ability to see the long-term trend of his value stream’s Flow Metrics was a game changer. “It allowed me to see what needed to be done to improve our product, and maybe just as importantly, it allowed me to show the executive leadership why the time to do this was now. It helped me prepare our leadership company-wide for what this would mean for our capacity and capabilities both in the near future and in the long term. And lastly, it gave me a way to constantly track my progress towards meeting my goals with this investment.”

More Blogs in the Tasty Dog Food Series

Take a Course in Flow Metrics

The Flow Institute offers a range of courses on the Flow Framework® and Value Stream Management.

In this on-demand course by Dominica DeGrandis (bestselling author of Making Work Visible) introduces the Flow Metrics, providing a deeper dive into what they are and why you need them. The course explains the theory behind Flow Time, Flow Velocity, Flow Efficiency, Flow Load and Flow Distribution.

Register today.

This course is provided on-demand and includes video lessons by Flow Experts and in-course quizzes. Login details will be provided within 24 hours of registration.


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