Making the Business Case for Software Engineers

If you can assign dollar amounts to steps on your product roadmap, you might just get the headcount you’re looking for.

Written by Shannon Hogue
Published on Aug. 04, 2020
Making the Business Case for Software Engineers
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As the world moves farther away from the initial shock of COVID-19, we’re starting to see an increase in economic activity. Gross domestic product and spending are up as lockdowns phase-out, and software engineering teams are starting to interview and hire at an accelerated rate.

But not all companies are positioned equally in this new world. Many of the businesses that have thrived during the shift to stay-at-home-life (the cloud providers, video conferencing platforms, gaming, and eCommerce companies, to name a few) have already accelerated hiring, capitalizing on a softer labor market.

This creates a big advantage for companies who are in a position to hire now. It’s going to widen the gap between the software engineering haves and have-nots, and catching up will be a steep hill to climb for companies looking to hire the right engineering talent to complete digital transformations and reignite growth.

But what about companies on the cusp? How can you make the case to your own leadership team that now is the right time to re-ignite your hiring program?


Making the Business Case for Engineering

A very hard lesson that I learned earlier in my career was that I needed to learn how to speak business. I used to get frustrated when non-technical business leaders didn’t understand what I was talking about and tried to drive my team’s priorities.

We needed better integration because it was on the product roadmap. And the new features we could ship with two more developers on the team would improve our UX. Early in my career, that was enough for me.

But as I moved from individual contributor roles to engineering management and leadership, it wasn’t just about fighting for my project; it became about fighting for my people.

The first time you have to lay someone off is gut-wrenching. I’d love to say it gets easier, but more often than not, I’ll still lose sleep over what I could have done to save my team. But I’m losing less sleep these days because I learned how to speak to business leaders outside of the engineering org by tying my projects to financial business goals.

Going from arguing for my product roadmap to making a business case for it took making new friends. Namely, friends in sales.

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Is Your Backlog Blocking Sales?

Getting closer to your sales team helps engineering leaders better understand what is blocking deals. If there are 10 deals that can’t close because your software doesn’t integrate with something in a customer’s stack, you can assign an exact dollar amount to your integration project.

The case for hiring two new software engineers goes from “this was in the plan so we have to do it, because, even though we missed our revenue last quarter, we need it in the product long term” to “these two developer hires will create $1.5 million in new revenue this quarter based on the sales that require our new integration.”


Cashflow Positive Engineering

Prioritizing the new features that customers are asking for is even more critical for cash-strapped companies. One way to do this is by assigning short-term revenue targets to your product backlog.

Especially if you’re a business with heavy recurring revenue, understanding which customers want new features is critical. As a contract approaches renewal, is there a specific feature in the works that your account manager can upsell? If so, that’s instant ROI justification for your headcount request. Tying engineering projects to revenue also helps identify the less-sexy but just as valuable updates that are necessary to evolve your tech stack.

Demonstrating that your software engineering team can help bring in new logos at higher contract values is what non-technical business leaders want to see, and it lets you argue that any new hires will improve the company’s bottom line.


ROI in a Changing World

The past few months have forced business leaders and engineering leaders to reassess what’s essential. Reprioritizing your roadmap and focusing on near-term ROI will help give you the business speak you need to meet your product goals and hit hiring targets.

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