In tough economic times, your company has two goals: 1) conserve cash internally, and 2) generate new cash from outside. You can contribute to both these objectives and come to the aid of your bleeding company by modifying the way your team operates.

The oldest strategy is the best
How can you, from where you sit in IT development, bring additional cash into the company? Your role is generally that of an accommodator, not a business strategist. But you can use the oldest strategy of all: diversify. Present yourself to senior management anew. State that you see the company’s peril and that you’re willing to lay yourself and your team on the line to see it through.

How? Well, of all the departments in your company, isn’t yours the one filled with professionals whose job it is to create? Go entrepreneurial—fill your team’s downtime and unbudgeted hours with contract work. Do it aggressively, do it with company resources, turn a profit, and offer the profit back to the company.

Ridiculous? Not at all. The infrastructure needed to do the job is already in place. All you need is permission to use it. Concerned about competing against established contract groups? Why? In the age of the Internet, you can successfully bid for contract work in a matter of weeks, not months. Barriers to entry are almost nonexistent. And you can afford to bid low, since you’re not actually gathering operating capital.

The Internet takes most of the work out of tracking down consulting contracts. The best way to find a good match for your team’s skill set is to search out consulting clearinghouses on the Web, based on your group’s platform. For instance, if you’re an Oracle shop, seek out consulting sites that cater to the Oracle user base. An even faster way to go into the consulting business is to seek out bidding sites on which clients have already posted their system design needs for you to review.

I’ve done this twice, once in a software development group and once in an engineering group. Both times, the income was modest—$25,000 here, $60,000 there—but it was enough to justify my team’s payroll and then some.

Progressive maintenance
What about conserving your company’s internal cash? You can do this primarily by spending what’s already allocated and adding value to the expenditure. Where is this money? It’s in your maintenance and support budgets. If you’re a typical vendor, the balance is over on the support side rather than the maintenance side: Customers are probably paying for support, and bug-fix updates are probably sent out for free and done grudgingly.

Here’s a new spin: Try progressive maintenance rather than bug-hunts. This comes from the pre-Windows days when GUI was achieved only at great cost in time and effort, and programmers needed to be reeled in constantly in order to produce stable products.

The progressive maintenance concept is simple: When routinely combing code for an update, your operational imperative is “simplify.” Instead of putting things in, take things out. Both internally and functionally, your team should be carving down the product.

This runs against the instincts of most programmers, of course, but the justification is almost effortless. Point out to your people the difference between buying from two years ago, when a purchase took them through four or five screens, and today, when the same purchase takes only two. Leaner and meaner is what the customer wants. And if you bring your marketing department in on the plan, you can achieve a significant product enhancement without a lengthy and costly design phase. You can use maintenance funds, in record time, simply by taking things out rather than putting things in. And the customer might even be willing to pay extra for it!

Upper management will welcome your willingness to protect the bottom line through cash-handling strategies. And you’ll be preserving your company’s greatest assets: its people.

Surviving in tough times?

What do you do to make the dev team more entrepreneurial in tough economic times? Post a comment below or drop us an e-mail.