Testing, Testing, Testing—
Why We’re Fools for Tools
Don’t get lost in measuring your
business instead of running it
to do the work and circulate it (oh, lord, Outlook!)
and—if you were big enough—enterprise software
from SAP or Oracle PeopleSoft to manage operations. But in these more cloud-y days, a startup
can choose among a profusion of tools designed
expressly for small companies—tools to handle
process, like Slack, Basecamp, Asana, Jira, HipChat,
and Trello, and productivity tools to handle
operations and oversight, like 15Five, Trakstar, and
Better Works. Jerry Chen, a venture capitalist at
Greylock, described these as “systems of engagement” and “systems of record,” a helpful rubric.
At my startup, Iodine, getting this mix right has
been a four-year e;ort. At times, we’ve overdone
our process, to the detriment of getting things done;
at other times, we’ve been undisciplined, to the
detriment of learning from our mistakes and wins.
This year, we’ve reevaluated. We’ve added a few
new tools, such as 15Five, and tried to deploy old
ones, such as Slack and Asana, more e;ectively.
For startups, it’s essential to get this calibration
right, because every tool carries training and
input costs, and it’s easy to add new tools without
dropping old ones. Above all, make sure to avoid
tool fatigue—churning through too many services
or adding more tools without eliminating others.
Tool fatigue is a tax paid more by employees than
managers, so it’s easy to miss. Tool fatigue is what
happens when tracking process becomes more
important than making progress.
And know that every tool comes with tradeo;s. Some services can be overwhelming, creating
a cascade of messages that disrupt workflow and drown vital data in a stream of irrelevant
burps. Many tools force redundant inputs. And as great as some of these tools can be, they can
result in a fragmented universe, each requiring work to work. Thankfully, some folks have
spotted this problem and are eager to solve it. “The world of work is changing, and the tools
haven’t caught up,” says Dan Pupius, the former head of engineering at Medium and co-founder
of Habitat, a startup that is building a platform to solve process. “Even the tools that promise
to help you work together better are often only helping you use their tools better.”
His startup envisions tools that support both collaboration and engagement without taxing
the team too much with process overhead—tools that help a company perform well but also
perform smarter. Greylock’s Chen calls this new space “systems of intelligence,” pointing
to a hopeful world where enterprise software doesn’t just track the work, but informs better
work. After all, when we spend more time measuring our work than doing the work, then
the dashboards have won.
tHERE’S NO BIGGER CLICHÉ in startup land today than the o;ce dashboard—a giant, flat-screen, 4K monitor prominently mounted by the front door, flickering with data points that a;rm how this company is killing it by every conceivable measure. I confess I’m a sucker for these dashboards. I love to see what companies profess to care most about, and how they display their progress. But the most important dashboards are the ones visitors never see. They are designed to measure not external output, but rather internal productivity— not how many widgets a company is making, but
how it goes about making said widgets, and how well employees are
working together to make them. These dashboards are all about the
process, not the product. Every company needs tools (i.e., software)
that help people work together and see how that work is going. These
tools are critical and among the hardest ones to pick.
Choosing tools used to be pretty simple. You used Microsoft O;ce
Thomas Goetz is a co-founder
of Iodine, a digital health startup
based in San Francisco. Follow him
on Twitter: @tgoetz.
INC.500 ; LAUNCH 58 - INC. - SEP TEMBER 2017