Starting a transformation in the Performance Foundry back office

One of the business aphorisms closest to my heart is: What got you here, won’t get you there.

I know it’s the title of a business book, focused on climbing the corporate ladder. I first heard it out of that context, and I’ve carried it through most of my business career. It seems to apply to decisions I make every single week.

What got you here, won’t get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith

I see it in action when clients’ sites are growing, and they need more resources. I see it when they develop further, and Frankenstein’s collection of plugins starts to grow erratic. I see it as small business owners need to go from budget hosting to managed hosting, to custom development, and ongoing retainers and become medium-sized business owners. Recently, I’ve seen it in Performance Foundry’s back office.


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The right tool for the right job

Performance Foundry’s theme this year is encapsulated in three words: Systemisation, Specialisation and Service.

We’ve always had specialist software solutions – we looked for the best, most streamlined, most beautiful software we could. If it reduced mental noise, was enjoyable to work with, and could be trusted with our data, then it was a good fit.

As we grew from one person to three people, to six and ten, to having a middle management layer and having distinct teams… as our client list grew from half a dozen to dozens… as we started having more vendors and some past clients and more potential clients and more products… we ended up with over a dozen pieces of software that didn’t talk to each other, or did so through expensive ‘pipelines’ and automation tools.

When you abstract to the point that you run a tool that pulls data from one tool to prepare that data for another tool, that then spits it into another tool for visualisation, and that might trigger the use of another tool… Inception starts to look like a pretty simple movie to wrap to your head around.

The per-person costs were rising very quickly, and every new situation demanded new software and a new monthly bill. What was worse was that we were starting to make mistakes. It began in our comms. If our support team didn’t know that development work was going on, they couldn’t make the best recommendations to clients. If they didn’t know that engineering had customised a tool for a client site, they’d provide information on the standard recommendations, rather than the custom ones.

The complexity problem defined

No business owner likes higher costs. But higher costs for worse outcomes? That’s the worst possible combination.

Looking forward, I couldn’t see how we could reconcile this. There was no roadmap for any of our current solutions that would smoothly allow us to get the right level of insight to the right people at the right time.

Luckily, we’re software engineers! We could build our own dashboard, enabling support people, developers and managers alike to see all the important data for each user. Except… that became another place to log in, another data set to maintain, another bit of visual noise that would slow things down.

So a new search started. The search to find one tool to rule them all.

As a shortlist, it must:

  • Be flexible enough to allow customisation;
  • Be powerful enough to fuel our automations;
  • Be simple enough that we can get up and running with a new hire quickly;
  • Act as a central repository for all knowledge about a person or organisation;
  • Meet or exceed data protection guidance;
  • Meet or exceed the feature set that we currently expect;
  • Not increase total software costs by more than 20%.

Nice and simple, eh? I’m sure this will be easy!

In our next post, we’ll look more closely at what tools we needed to replace, in order to simplify and automate our back office, and what we chose.


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