How Freewill Cut Their Cycle Time in Half and Delivered More Business Value

The Background

Year Founded
2017
Industry
SaaS
Engineers
30+
Funding
$40M

Highlights

  • Reduced Cycle Time by 50% in 6 months
  • Decreased Code Review Time by >60%
  • Improved communication with the CEO
  • Created a culture of continuous improvement

About Freewill

Freewill is a philanthropy and estate planning tool that makes charitable giving easy. It was founded in 2017 and has secured more than $40M in funding. Its Engineering Organization has more than 30 engineers.

The Challenge

When Alden Quimby, VP of Engineering at Freewill, joined the company, he needed a way of assessing how efficiently the engineering team was operating. At the same time, he knew his team had to deliver business value and find a way to communicate with the executive team about the impact of their work.

Very soon, he and his team realized and agreed they had to focus on two leading indicators: Cycle Time and Bug Response Time. So how fast they were shipping and addressing customer issues.

"We chose these metrics because they are both great early indicators of potential future problems. It was clear we must've had a fast Cycle Time. Why? It's what enables our team to have the most business impact. Having a fast Cycle Time means we can respond quickly to changes in the market. We can fix bugs quickly and keep customers happy. And we can develop iteratively and learn as we go." Alden Quimby, VP of Engineering

But the biggest question was how they would measure and report on these metrics.

Enters Athenian!

Freewill chose Athenian because the platform breaks down the Delivery Pipeline into the four main stages of the development process showing easy targets for improvements. Also, the Advanced Filters by teams, repositories, etc., makes Athenian the perfect fit with the company's architecture and workflow.

By opening the main dashboard, Alden and his engineering managers can instantly see the issues and prioritize and guide their teams to make the necessary improvements.

"The Velocity Pipeline visualization was exactly what I wanted to see. The fact that I could break down each stage further to see the root issues really stood out for us as a solution." Alden Quimby, VP of Engineering

The Solution

With the right tool, Alden and his team could finally understand how fast they were shipping and where their bottlenecks were.

When they started using Athenian, Freewill's Cycle Time was four days, way above what the organization wanted. How would the engineering team show their business impact if they took longer than expected to deliver?

They had to dig deeper into the problem and find a solution. Fast. 

Soon, they realized that the most significant bottleneck was in the Review stage, with code reviews taking 24h. Investigating further, Alden saw in the Review Activity graph at Athenian that some teams took more time to review than others.

The reason why was simple: teams that had the GitHub-Slack integration were reviewing faster than those who didn't. Simply because of the notifications. At that time, half of the team didn't have the connection between the two tools, so they couldn't know about PRs they had to review instantly.

After realizing that something so simple could cause a long Review Time and consequently a longer Cycle Time, Alden instructed all teams to have the GitHub-Slack integration, and the Review Time went from 24h to 8h.

"Athenian helped us know where to focus our efforts to make big improvements with minimal effort. Because of that, we managed to cut our PR Cycle Time in half in 6 months." Alden Quimby, VP of Engineering

The Impact

Freewill's engineering org continues to improve. The team maintained its PR Cycle Time stable even with new developers joining last year.

Additionally, communicating with the executive team became a lot more straightforward. The company knows that if PR Cycle Time is fast and stable, the engineering team adds business value.

"With Athenian, I can now confidently talk about team velocity with my CEO. She knows we are working on the right things and that the team is running efficiently." Alden Quimby, VP of Engineering

High impact was also felt within the teams as Engineering Managers established best practices to improve their efficiency. Even with a recession and hiring freeze, Freewill's teams are equipped with the best tool to support their decisions.

"Ultimately, Athenian lets us measure and improve on our velocity, which has helped us hit our product goals and ensure that we're driving value to our customers." Alden Quimby, VP of Engineering