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HR Advice: Controversial, or Wise Hires?

HR, and considering who to hire is not likely to be high on people’s list of to-do’s when they start a company.  But, there’s a certain path that most technology startups seem to follow. An individual sees an opportunity, and ideally it’s an opportunity for innovation. They get excited about it, and recruit friends / associates to build and test the solution. This usually adds up to a team of 4-6 people. That’s the typical startup group of co-founders. A visionary, who may or may not have developer skills, and a few developer friends who make the idea come to life.

Know a company like that?  We all do!

Once the initial concept is turned into reality, typically two things happen; 1) Initial customers / (often free) test or trial the product and provide feedback, and; 2) There’s an attempt to raise capital. Really, these are both sales initiatives, just different channels.

When either of these channels results in success, you’ve got a company! At some point shortly after you start acquiring customers or funding, the organization starts to grow. Have you as the entrepreneur planned for who you will need to hire?

Your next hire is someone who makes you more effective. In fact, every next hire should be chosen based on the same premise: who do we hire to make us more effective.

The surprising choice for many is not “another developer” or “sales” or “marketing.” The next hire(s) should be focused on getting more out of what you already have.

Too many entrepreneurs don’t recognize how valuable their time really is, and how much time is spent on mundane tasks. To that end, your first hire(s) should be people who remove those tasks from your responsibilities, allowing you and the company to drive forward more effectively.

So… the first two hires you should consider, in order… 1) an office manager, and 2) a QA person.

HR: The Office Manager Saves Time & Money

Some people will say “why waste the money” … Wrong response. You are hiring these people to save you money, and to stop you wasting time (hint: money) on operational basics that don’t require your, or your developers’ domain expertise.

Consider this; people invested in you because you are a domain expert. Every single minute you spend on company activities that don’t fully leverage your skills is a waste of your investor’s money. Want to piss your investor off: go whole hog on being wasteful!   Your single most valuable asset in the early days is your and your core teams’ time. Each and every one of you is key, and your contributions to making the business successful is irreplaceable.

So, understanding that, why would you handicap any of your core team’s productivity by spending time buying office supplies, filing in routine paperwork, expenses, or any other time consuming activities that do not directly help the company reach the next step?

You know what, administrating the company, and focusing on organizing all the operational details is a key function to the company’s success. They are managing all the details to support you and your team. The quality of their work is as important as anyone else’s, because everyone depends on them. Each mistake costs everyone affected time, but each optimization improves the entire company.

In the early days, this role likely won’t be full time.  But even if it’s one day a week, getting it off your plate makes you 25% more effective. (go from 4 days / week to 5). Or 14.5%, if you work 7 days a week, which also is unsustainable, and likely counterproductive.  But that’s a different train of thought!

HR: QA Drives to Success Faster

So how about that QA person? It’s amazing how many first-time / early stage entrepreneurs and development teams recoil at the thought of hiring a QA person. While the office manager gets an initial cold shoulder (until they say “I hate doing this stuff”), I’ve heard a litany of excuses from people trying to avoid QA long past the time they should engage someone.

QA is not “big brother” or an overlord. They are not there to point out your flaws. To the contrary, they make your organization MUCH more efficient. Want to grow quickly, and maximize the ROI on your time? Hire a solid QA person.

A great QA person is involved at the start of every development project, and continually asks: Why are we doing this? Who is the customer? Why is it necessary? And, they ask for definitions “how will this work?”  They don’t just sit there testing what you do, looking for errors, they help you define how your offering should work, and ensure it meets those goals.  In fact, the questions a great QA person asks forces you to qualify the value proposition of your offering, and in doing so you may actually make it more valuable.

Basically, a QA person has a dual role. First, by asking the right questions, they help you ensure that you spend your valuable resources focused on what matters; things people buy; benefits & value. They help you steer away from unnecessary ‘features’ that don’t add value.  They don’t establish your product plan, or decide what the schedule should be.  They simply help you retain focus on the developments that people will buy, simply by asking the right combinations of how and why.

Building ‘features’ is the shortest path to failure. Build value, and you will have a successful company.

A great QA person is not just there to double-check your work. They do that, but this is only part of their job. First and foremost, they help everyone focus on the value delivered. When they are double-checking your work, they are not trying to ‘fail you’, they are helping the customer avoid failing.

QA is really about that; helping the customer avoid failing. When we build products we know how they should operate, and hopefully understand the value delivered. QA forces us to clearly state the value delivered, but also tests products from the customer’s eyes. The developer knows what to do, the customer doesn’t. Therefore, the customer will interact (behave) with the application in an unexpected manner, and sometimes these unexpected behaviours result in unforeseen consequences. The more effective QA is, the less unforeseen consequences occur. This is a good thing, because once a project is finished, it should be closed, and the next one started. Every time an issue arises, and the team has to go back to patch or update it unnecessarily, it’s time lost.

QA helps us avoid losing time, and wasting effort.

An office manager does the same.

If your success depends on your and your team’s ability to execute, why would you make anyone less efficient, less productive, and more frustrated?

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