For software companies, it’s not enough for executives to create business goals and share them during an organization-wide meeting — they need to seek out alignment with developers. Organizations must ensure that development teams are on the same page with company leadership, understand business objectives, and connect to the big picture.
How can you help your developers bring business goals into every line of code they write? Read on for 5 strategies to help enterprise product owners build a framework for aligning business goals with development.
Why alignment is critical
The rate of change in the software space is only speeding up. For the fintech industry and many others, advancements like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will fundamentally change the way software serves customers. In fact, many of these changes are already taking place.
Alongside these sweeping technology shifts, companies can’t afford to simply instruct developers on what to build. They must cast a vision that helps devs understand what they’re building toward and what that end goal will accomplish for the company as a whole — in the short term and the long term.
“Software engineers must connect with the organizational mission beyond the code,” says Vikas Kaushik, Chief Executive Officer of TechAhead. “I frequently say, ‘Writing outstanding code is just the beginning in the world of technology. The secret to real success is incorporating that code into your company’s goals.’”
True alignment doesn’t mean only communicating organizational goals from the top down — such an approach can keep developers disconnected and distant from the big picture. Alignment means allowing development teams’ insights and expertise to play a role in crafting the business objectives.
When a company’s goals and software inform each other, the product better serves customers, and development teams work more effectively.
What’s more, when developers feel connected to business goals and understand how their code serves those goals, they’re likely to feel a greater sense of purpose. Satisfied software engineers work more effectively, solve problems proactively, and stay with a company for longer.
5 tactics to align business goals with development
Alignment doesn’t happen overnight. When done right, alignment requires company-wide culture change and cooperation at every level of leadership.
Here are firsthand insights from product and tech leaders who know what it takes to get your developers zeroed in on business goals and to help everyone move toward the same North Star.
1. Put the developer experience first
Alignment starts with company culture — and company culture is fueled by hiring decisions.
Different people have different motivations to join (and stay with) a company. For some, money is the driving force; others look for interesting projects and may leave after finishing those projects. Others still look for a work community and prioritize the team they work with daily.
Each company needs to determine how it will attract and recruit developers. But it’s best to lean into one primary motivation — otherwise, companies risk culture challenges that may limit teams’ effectiveness toward company goals. “If you start hiring people that like three different models, you’ll actually have a culture clash within the company and people pulling in different directions,” says Mike Pilawski, Chief Product Officer at Lokalise on the Dreams with Deadlines podcast.
Organizations that are serious about the developer experience should start by understanding various forms of motivation. Development leaders should account for individuals’ desire to learn new things or grow as a developer and create space for them to pursue those aspirations.
Rajeev Rajan, Chief Technology Officer at Atlassian, says one way of keeping developers aligned is to make the developer experience a company OKR (Objective and Key Result). Atlassian has created input and output metrics to measure these efforts, such as developer satisfaction scores and reduced wait times in development cycles.
Organizations that foster an enjoyable work environment for developers — based on their priorities and what they want from the workplace — better motivate teams to work hard toward achieving company goals. Developers will see that the company is for them and respond in kind: with investment in its mission and goals.
2. Zero in on your metrics
Company-level goals revolve around the major problems you want to solve for your customers. They drive revenue and loyalty, and they touch every employee in your organization. But if developers don’t know where their code fits in — or what kind of progress they’re making as they contribute to the big picture — alignment will be elusive.
Most companies track lagging metrics like net promoter score (NPS) or customer retention. But those metrics can take months to show changes — for better or for worse. These measurements don’t always show developers the effectiveness of their code right away or help devs feel their direct impact on business goals.
Outside of lagging indicators, find leading metrics that change anywhere from week to week, to once a month, advises Pilawski. That way, “the team can actually see that what they are doing is making an impact or not, and it’s taking them in the right direction or not,” he says.
When engineers can see the difference their work is making by the numbers, they’ll feel connected to the broader impact they can make toward achieving business goals.
3. Build a culture of ownership and problem-solving
Many development teams receive company goals from a distant executive team, but they may not be invited to proactively solve problems outside of those goals. This kind of culture only distances them from company-level goals and turns developers into order-takers.
Instead, organizations must invite developers to take the initiative to solve problems and embrace ownership where applicable. Companies should create a culture that empowers developers to not only ask “How?” but also explore “Why?” When development teams think this way, they arrive at more holistic solutions. These solutions strengthen the product as a whole, rather than having devs build what was asked without being rooted in a big-picture objective.
A culture of ownership doesn’t detract from focusing on company goals. On the contrary, it invites developers to go above and beyond, finding creative ways to achieve objectives and spark innovative new ideas.
To build a problem-solving culture, start with ensuring developers have the right platform and tools at their fingertips. Saju Pillai, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Kong, emphasizes the importance of enabling efficiency for developers to proactively solve problems. He notes that the right platform helps devs avoid “reinventing the wheel” or rewriting code as dictated by corporate standards. They can then focus their time and efforts on building the best product possible.
Atlassian unlocks developer productivity and invites ownership by empowering teams to solve their own problems: the problems that make their workday more difficult. By setting aside 10% of developer time for fixing issues that bog them down, the company makes development teams more efficient.
In the end, these problem-solving efforts drive developer effectiveness in solving customer problems and accomplishing business goals.
4. Prioritize purpose — and real people
Objectives are important because they reveal what developers are working toward on a business level. But companies also need to back them with purpose that developers can see in real time.
Rather than staying at a high level with goals (“make our product do X,” “automate Y function”), organizations need to help developers understand why those outcomes are a priority. What difference will achieving these goals make? Who will benefit and how?
One way to help developers see the connection between their work, their goals, and their impact, according to Pilawski, is connecting engineers with real end-users.
When developers spend frequent face time with the people who use the product they spend their days coding, they gain an understanding of the problems users face and how the product helps users. Those interactions can be some of the strongest motivation for engineers to efficiently resolve issues and to keep going even if they’re struggling to see the broader impact of their work.
When developers know they are making a difference for real people, business goals aren’t just numbers anymore. They’re about impact — which is something they want to be a part of.
5. Bring developers to the table when developing goals
One of the most straightforward ways to align developers with company goals is to involve engineering and development leadership in goal-setting conversations. If executives set company goals in a silo and tell development teams what they are to achieve, devs feel separate from the mission and may not see how their work fits into the big picture.
On the other hand, developer input can help a company to craft more holistic goals that resonate at every level of the organization. “Collaborative goal-setting with developers and business leaders at the table is crucial,” Kaushik says. “This interaction fosters innovation and produces user-friendly solutions.”
Developer expertise — about what it’s possible to build and how those features or solutions can help users — allows company goals to become transformative and enable holistic growth. As Kaushik explains, “Developers become drivers of progress when they have a stake in the vision.”
Every software company must keep developers close to and aligned with company-level objectives.
Developers write the code that allows a business to deliver a top-notch product to end-users. Companies that consistently achieve their objectives will invest in the developer experience, help development teams understand the company’s mission, and bring developers into strategic conversations.
These efforts will foster an all-around stronger culture, company, and product, helping you to stand out from your competitors at every turn.