The Community Garden of SaaS
Dwane Lay
July 14, 2016

The Perfect Analogy

From time to time, we come up with analogies on the fly that make so much sense, we have to share them. This is a great example. Not long ago, I was trying to explain how SaaS works in relation to developing software and product management.  While we’ve talked about our process in the past, it has been on the “how,” not the “why.” To explain that part, we found a perfect analogy in the Community Garden.

The Plot

Let’s start with the land. To get our garden going, we need a place to put it.  So we imagine a city block that has been razed and plowed. This is our garden, and we have opened up access to our clients, who wish to grow their own beets. We let the spinach people in too, of course. Plenty of space for everyone. While we have cleaned up, tilled, fertilized and weeded the plot, there isn’t much value until someone comes to plant.

The Crew

We have a team that is on site at all times caring for the Plot. We have soil experts, testers, hydration monitors, fertilizers, and general gardening experts who are around if there are any questions. We even have a team who will help you get started in planting your crops, and give you advice on how to manage them. While we all have roles to play, not everyone gets noticed by the Gardeners. In fact, when they do their job right, you’ll never see them at all.

We also have a manger of the Plot itself. Their job is to watch how the entire Plot is being used, as well as listening to the Gardeners to understand their needs. Our goal is to make sure everyone gets the best harvest they can, and that they are happy being part of the community.

The Gardeners (That’s You)

The Plot needs Gardeners to produce anything worth having.  It doesn’t matter how much time the Crew spends preparing the soil, without Gardeners the Plot is just dirt. Plenty of potential, but no output. The Gardeners are the ones who really make the system worthwhile, and we are excited when we see their crops start to bear fruit.  Or vegetables.  Or both.

Growing the Plot

As anyone who has worked the soil knows, a Plot can only hold so many plants. So as we grow, we may need to add the next block to the Plot to make sure everyone has the room they need. That means more Crew members, not to mention crosswalks, wheelbarrows, additional tools and resources to make sure the Plots are connected.

Strategy? Yes!

It also means, though, that we have to be strategic on how we deploy our Crew.  The bigger the Plot, the smarter we have to be. Our Plot manager also has to think not just of what we need today, but what we might need tomorrow. Do we spend time acquiring the next block and preparing it in case we need to expand?  Do we install an electric weasel fence to prevent unwanted pests? Do we deploy the entire Crew with extra water in case of drought? The larger the Plot, the more difficult those decisions get.

There’s also the issue of what the Gardeners want. They may not see the drought coming, or know that the Plot down the street has a HUGE weasel problem. They see their own part of the Plot, and give their feedback to the manager based on that view. One Gardener grows mostly tomatoes, and what they need is a support system so they don’t need to keep adding stakes as the plants grow. Another doesn’t grow any tomatoes, but they would really like to adjust the acidity of the soil to get their pH levels up so they can grow better peppers and rhubarb. A third Gardener just wants to grow flowers, really, so they’d like it if we could build a beehive to support pollination.

Listening to the Voices

All of those voices are important, though naturally some ask louder than others. Our job as the Crew is to listen to the Gardeners and try to do what’s best for the entire Plot. Sometimes, that means we all pitch in on the soil pH issue. Sometimes it means listening to the requests, but deciding to work on the fence that no one asked for, but we know is going to be really important. And sometimes it means saying sorry, but we aren’t going to build a beehive.  Though we know someone who can help you get your flowers pollinated another way.

All of this relates directly to life in a SaaS world.  There is one platform that we all share, and our team has a lot of tasks that go unnoticed. We make decisions every day for the good of the whole, though sometimes that means saying no (or no for now) to some requests. When we do that, you can trust that it is because we are planning for everyone’s present and future needs, and working to get everyone to max capacity.

Hopefully, that analogy resonates with you. If not, drop us a note. Always happy to talk software or gardening with you!

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