Doing more with less: learn to pivot when your budget disappears


Myrsini Koukiasa

Job title

Director of Developer Relations (EMEA)




DevRelCon London 2023

Myrsini KoukiasaIn this talk from DevRelCon London 2023, Myrsini Koukiasa, Director of Developer Relations at Twilio, discusses how to make informed decisions and do more with less when faced with budget cuts.

She presents a decision-making framework that includes defining the problem, examining objectives, generating alternatives, evaluating consequences, and considering uncertainty and risk.

Key themes

  • Importance of making informed decisions during budget cuts
  • Overview of the decision-making framework
  • Defining the problem statement
  • Examining team objectives and relevance
  • Generating alternatives and evaluating consequences
  • Considering uncertainty, risk, and linked decisions
  • Example of applying the framework to third-party events
  • Evaluating trade-offs and selecting the best option
  • Importance of data-driven decision-making
  • Conclusion and invitation for questions

The video

Watch the video on YouTube >


Rebecca Marshburn: I’m really excited to bring our next speaker to the stage. She was actually on the docket for last year and I was supposed to be able to introduce her last year and then she ended up not being able to make the conference and I was like, oh my gosh, I’m so excited that I get to introduce her this year. And so I also get to fangirl again because she has lent her talents to many places, including places like Vonage, PayPal, and Major League Hacking, and she’s now the senior director of developer relations for EMEA at Twilio and she will likely beat you at any quiz game related to film or tv. I want to make very clear that she makes very clear that that is a direct challenge, so please take her up on it because I think we could all have a really good time with that and maybe we could take some betts, we could all stand around the ping pong table and then just start throwing out trivia about TV and film and we’ll see what happens. With that is my great joy after much ado to introduce our next speaker here to talk about doing more with less Myrsini Koukiasa.

Myrsini Koukiasa: Yes, thank you Rebecca. And thank you for also giving me promotion. I’m not senior director of developer relations, just director, but thank you. I will let my supervisors know how much you value me. Hello everyone. So excited to be here. As Rebecca said, my name is Myrsini, my pronouns are she her. I currently work for the T-shirt company, Twilio supporting our evangelists in EMEA and we’re also super happy to be able to support DevRelCon this year. The thing that I wanted to start with is just to say that I’ve been in DevRel for quite a few years now, about nine or 10, and I have been fortunate to have worn many different hats. One of them being budget owner manager, call it what you like, which brings me straight to the topic of today’s talk. First, can I see a show of hands if you’ve managed a budget for your team now or if you’ve managed a budget for your team before?

Okay, so a few people here. So why this topic? Why now? With all of the uncertainty around in the economy and then instability, a lot of businesses are trying whatever they can to cut down on costs, therefore a lot of budgets are being restricted. And of course, as we know, DevRel teams vary in departments, which means that that influences where our budgets come from and what our values are and what our objectives are as well. So instead of getting into the granularity of what activities you should be funding from your budget, if that gets cut, we’re going to look at a framework that you can use no matter what your circumstances are. A guide if you’d like to help you make the best decision possible on how to make more with less. Because if it’s a time where you need to make an informed smart decision when the potential quality of your output or even your entire dev program is at risk, this is the time. So we will look at today our situation. We will set the scene and then we’ll jump straight into a decision-making framework and work through it with an example to figure out what you can do and what decisions you can make and how to make decisions if your budget does get cut.

Next. Okay. Oh no, what now? You’ve been given the news, your budget has been cut or if you’ve been managing DevRel budgets for a while. Oh no, not again. It’s not an uncommon thing to happen. It’s probably happened to myself. All of the budgets I’ve managed in the last 10 years for sure, and you’re probably depending on your team size, getting everyone together start coming up with options, alternatives, what should we be doing if you’re solo DevRel, you’re doing it on your own and are you thinking to, going back to basics. There’s a really good talk from Ben Greenberg. Is Ben here? Hello from DevRelCon Prague on going back to your team’s origins. Are you contemplating taking a risk and experimenting like we sometimes doing DevRel? Is this there a time for it? Probably not. Are you as a friend said when I was discussing this topic with them, pivoting to activities that only or more closely show how you impact the bottom line making friends that can vouch for you as close to profit centers as possible, regardless of which org you sit in.

But that’s this thing here, which organization you sit in matters and your team’s mission matters now and in the longterm as well. Are you focused on education, community contribution, signups? What are you measuring? Hoping you all have your objectives and metrics in place? I’m assuming you do for the purposes of the talk. And some teams do measure self-service revenue. Some teams do help sales through the life cycle. And on top of all of those dilemmas, as some of us may have often experienced, DevRel gets pulled in many different directions. You have multiple stakeholders, their expectations to be managed with all these different groups of people and especially upwards in your management chain. Be clear from the start that you won’t be able to deliver what you had originally set out to do. If you give us less, we’ll do less. But this is a time where you need to start thinking how you’ll get it right and how you can try and do what matters.

There is a complexity in appeasing stakeholders with less budget while figuring how to keep activities and that are important. And this is the pivoting part of the problem in question here. Options may seem endless and hard to navigate, but basically what it comes down to is what decision you’ll make. And I do recognize here that sometimes you don’t have a say at all. People will just tell you what gets cut and what you can keep. But if you have the opportunity to present and support your case on what you can keep and what gets cut, it’s worth exploring how you can make the best decision possible. And it’s at times like this that the necessity and speed in which we need to make decisions often leads us to make bad decisions. And all this pressure can be very negative and can set us astray. And this is the time where you need to refocus on what’s important. You need to be making decisions based on your objectives and not because of pressure. And this thought about how we make decisions led me to doing some research on decision-making frameworks. Some of you may already be using some techniques, anything from a simple pros and cons list to a cost benefit analysis to something more complex.

Next slide. There we go. So as I was researching, I stumbled upon this book Value, value-Focused Thinking, a Path to Creative Decision-making published in the early nineties, I know bit of a long time ago from Ralph Ney who’s a professor. And decision-making consultant. Keeney talks about how we usually default to alternative focused thinking, figuring out what the options are, then deciding what works and what he proposes is value focused thinking, figuring out what’s important, what you value, and then figuring out how to get it something that might sound like common sense but yet not a way of thinking we’re traditional trained on. He says We’re putting value at the center of decision-making. It makes it easier for you to rank alternatives, generate new ones, figure out how to please all the stakeholders we talked about before because you can validate why your choices are important and all of the other things that you see in the diagram.

Taking it a step further, a few years later, Keeny, this time with co-authors took the theory of value focused thinking to a more practical level. Let’s say basically bridging what researchers say we should be doing, what people actually go and do and what is introduced in this book. Smart Choices is a step-by-step guide, a list of elements you can use to make decisions and avoid those non-optimal rush decisions that we talked about before. And this is of course the framework we will look at today. It is called ProAct coming from the first letters of the five basic elements. And then there are three special elements. Has anyone heard of this framework?

No one, not even one person. Okay, something new for everyone today. So let’s do what all the different parts are. The problem itself and how you frame it, how you define it, your objectives, how you specify them, alternatives, how do you evaluate them, how do you create new ones? Consequences, what do you sacrifice when you make a choice? Sorry, that’s trade offs, consequences, the consequences of your decisions. And then trade offs are the sacrifices you make when you make a decision. And then the three special elements, uncertainty. Are there scenarios that might play out? How likely are these scenarios to happen? Risk tolerance, how much of a risk taker are you with your choices and linked decisions? A decision you make now will influence one or more in the future. And these special elements are still important, especially in evolving environments like the uncertainty that we talked about at the start.

In order for us to work through the framework, I’d like us to use an example and disclaimer and resemblance to real people, teams, companies, purely coincidental. This is all made up, but let’s get to know this. Global DevRel team, they essentially focus on outreach. They’re in a, let’s say, medium-sized company. Their headcount is between 15 to 20 people. Their customer is a developer with decision-making authority. Their goal is to market the API to developers. That’s why they focus on outreach. They sit within marketing making the CMO, their budget owner. Their budget spend is 1 million, but now they’ve been told to cut this by half, which is our problem here. They focus on outreach. So they do events, workshops, content and their objectives are centered, are on awareness and signups. As we mentioned, there are many examples of DevRel teams. So what I’d like to ask you to do is imagine your team as we go through the exercise, trying to figure what matters to you, what your objectives are, and trying to tailor to your circumstances.

Okay, so jumping right into the framework. The first step to making a good decision is to work on the right decision problem. The way you frame your decision problem drives everything else in the decision making process. And what it comes down to is essentially how you phrase your decision problem. You can go more open or you can go more closed in the phrasing, but the closer you get to the phrasing, the closer you’ll get to solving the problem. So in our case and thinking of our example DevRel team, I’ve written down the same issue in two different ways. So the first one, how can we reevaluate our activities to save budget? The essence is there, but it’s a bit generic to steer us to the right direction, right? So if we look at the second phrasing that’s more closed, how can we cut $500,000 out of our budget?

Again, maximum return on investment from activities we keep. This gives us a more concise problem to solve. We know exactly how much money we need to save and we know that the activities we need to matter. Should we go with that? Seen a couple of nods. Okay, I’ll take that. Thank you. The phrasing is so important. Everything else in the decision-making process hangs onto this next step. When you frame the decision problem, it’s time to specify or reevaluate your objectives. Why is this important? Because your objectives will form the basis for evaluating your alternatives. They basically become your decision criteria. And in addition to making sure your decision gets to you where you want to go, the objectives also guide you throughout the process. They help you determine what information you need, they help you justify your decision to others, and they help you determine a decision’s importance.

Let’s go through our hypothetical team’s objectives. Increase platform signups by 20%. Year on year reach 50,000 developers. Increase awareness and use of a specific product, focus on central eastern European countries and increase blog views by 50% year on year. Not saying these are right or wrong, this would be a topic for a whole other talk, but this is our example here. So how can these objectives determine what information we need? Let’s take the signups goal. We need to check from historical data. Which activities have given us more signups? Can we still do 20% year on year? Maybe we can, but as we said, we can also adopt the objectives at this point if they no longer work for us. Secondly, justify your decisions to others. One good example could be a sales team. A sales leader comes to you and says, let’s do this very cost activity in this completely different region. You can say thank you, no, point them to your objectives. We have a direct ask from our leadership to focus on ce. Maybe when we had 1 million budget we could be doing that, but we now have to be careful with our resourcing. And then finally determine the decision’s. Importance. Huge point to be made here that this objectives will help us evaluate alternatives because if the alternatives don’t satisfy objectives, we’ll basically won’t be able to meet them.

And in order to make a decision, you need to have alterna alternatives to decide upon. You want to have a wide range to choose from. So don’t admit yourself, get creative. This can be alternatives you already have or who says you can’t come up with new ones. However you want all your alternatives to be good ones because the decision you make can only be as good as your best alternative. And to make sure you get quality alternatives, you can ask yourself how about each of your objectives? Create them first. Evaluate them after challenge constraints, learn from your experience. And then finally ask others for suggestions. So if we go ahead and ask these questions for one of our objectives, choosing the first one that was increasing in signups, 20% year on year. How was the first question? Probably here you need activities that have a hands-on element that require people to sign up for your platform.

Start thinking without evaluating. Write your alternatives down. Workshops online or in person, hackathons, online or in person. What are some constraints? Budget and resources. Hands-on activities require more prep time. Learn from your experience was the other part. Look at what activities historically have yielded more signups and go with that. And then the final part was ask other for suggestions. Again here, maybe your field marketing team is sponsoring event and there’s a developer audience there. They’ve invited you to do a hands-on activity at the booth. Great pay for it and we’ll be there and you satisfy your objectives throughout as well. And then finally, once you’re happy with the amount of objectives free of presumptions, evaluate them. Let’s say we’re happy with the ones we have here. And just another thing to consider with signups, there’s going to be other parts depending on your objective that you need to consider.

Is quality a target or do you just want numbers? If quality is a target, going with an alternative, that might be a hackathon with a partner might yield more quality signups. If it’s volume you’re after like a CTA and your blog post or documentation would do. And the guidance here is that you do this exercise for all of your alternatives and then for all of your objectives or in come up with alternatives, then look at the commonalities between these alternatives and figure out which work. But just for the interest of time, we’ll just do the signups one here before we move on. Let’s remember our example team and the activities they do. Let’s assume before the budget cut, they did 50 50 events and content. They might now have to pivot and say, we’ll do 70% content, 30% events with the budget cut.

You might say, why not do a hundred percent content and save on more budget? Because at events you get human interactions, you build community. And because your budget owner slash CMO said you still need to do events. And considering the breadth of events out there and the difficulty in tracking their R o I sometimes or all of the time choosing which ones to do and which to drop can be hard. So we will focus on events for the rest of the exercise and just put aside the content goal for now. Understanding the consequences. How well do your alternatives satisfy your objectives? Assessing the consequences for each objective frankly will help you choose and identify the ones that meet your objectives, all of your objectives. And they’re call it fun. I did put in the first slide that I’m a nerd. A fun exercise you can do here to clarify, to give you clarity and clarify, the scene is a consequences table for imaginary DevRel team.

We’ve third party events as the example, and we’ve put them against each other against each objective to see how they match up with that objective. Plus an extra sneaky thing I added in here, which is costs, which of course it is prudent to look at that now. So in the first column we have the objectives and how they relate to the third party event. So signups, what activity can we do at the event? Can we have a booth and we can run activity there. Can we do a talk or a workshop even better the reach. Remember the 50,000 developers, what’s the size of the event? This a bit more straightforward, this specific product we wanted to push, can we do a demo? The location, again, a bit more straightforward was ce. And then finally the cost. So if we wanted to choose one event from here, how do we pick which one is winning?

If we had to go with one, one, it’s clear or close to clear how each event matches against each objective, but we’ve not put the events against each other yet. Which brings me to the final step of the main elements of the framework. Many times objectives will conflict with each other, and as a result you will have to evaluate trade-offs between the objectives. So sacrificing something from one objective to gain something from another. So for example, going back to the consequences table, event B is a thousand people, so that’s a good size to help with reach, but it’s in France so it doesn’t satisfy a location priority. And in order to properly consider trade-offs, you need to rank all the alternatives against each objective. And this can be used with a ranking table and now another table, but it is the same as the consequences one, but we’ve just removed the content from it and basically did a ranking of one to five for each objective.

For our events, it is okay to have ties by the way. So I think even A and B, we could do a demo for a product push. So it’s okay for them to tie at number three. So if you add the totals here to figure out which alternative satisfies all of your objectives the most, in our case we’ll be D with eight. And remember we said we might need to make some sacrifices. As it’s rare, you’ll have one alternative. So one event that will be ranked number one across all objectives here. If we say that signups is the most important objective for us and event D ranked first, that’s another reason to go with it other than the total. And remember the event D ranked first because we could do a workshop, we could do a talk, we could do loads of activities that could yield signups.

And now some of the other totals are very close. Here is where you can use a bit of your experience and say, Hey, I know event D won technically, but we’ve done event E for the past 10 years and it’s an amazing event. Let’s go with that. So you’re using a mix of experience, instinct and a gut decision here, which we will talk about the notion of a gut decision at the end of the talk as well. And coming to the final part, the elements that help us make decisions in evolving environments, clarifying uncertainties, what could happen in the future? How likely is it that it will think about your risk tolerance when decisions evolve? Uncertainties, the desired outcome might not be the outcome you were pursuing. How willing are you to risk that? And considering linked decisions, what you decide today should be informed from your goals of the future.

And what you want to do in the future should inform your decision today, especially in an uncertain landscape like ours. But let’s look at some examples so we can understand these elements as well. Uncertainty makes choosing difficult, but effective decision making essentially means you need to confront uncertainty and then judge the likelihood of different outcomes and their possible impacts. And in order to examine uncertainty, you can do a risk profile. It’s basically an evaluation of your ability to take risks. And you can do that by asking yourself these questions. What are the key uncertainties? What are the possible outcomes of these uncertainties? What are the chances of recurrence, of which possible outcome? And what are the consequences of which outcome? So again, if we think of third party events as our example for our team, what are key uncertainties? Economic geopolitical instability in the region?

We’re looking at inflation, covid related issues that we’ve all faced in the last couple of years. What are possible outcomes of these uncertainties? The event getting canceled completely, having less attendees at the event, hidden costs, staffing. What are the chances of occurrence of these possibilities? A cancellation of the whole event, less likely, less attendees more likely. And then what are the consequences of these outcomes? Not meeting your objectives because you had that reach objective and the less people at the event, bad return on investment. And then finally, if something goes horribly, horribly wrong, damage to company reputation, but how to put the really bad one there. In this step, talking about risk, it’s important to determine how willing you are to risk getting a less favorable outcome in pursuit of a better consequence, as you said. And to do that, you can think about the desirability of which consequence, balance the desirability with their chances of occurring and choose the most attractive alternative.

So again, here for our example team, we have the consequences of our uncertainties for sponsoring these events, not meeting objectives, bad return investment and damage to company reputation. And we’ve added a ranking for essentially which one is the worst to happen, and then their chances of occurring, not meeting objectives, not the worst thing that could happen. So ranking it number one, but somewhat likely bad return on investment, less desirable. Because if you remember our problem statement, we wanted good r i from the activities we kept, however, but R O I is quite possible of occurring in this current climate with the economy. And finally, damage to company reputation. Definitely the worst thing that could happen. But also not so likely. Maybe there’s an event that you know you’ll get good metrics, good results from, but the organizers are doing some dodgy stuff. Do you want to risk your company reputation and go for it?

There’s probably also ethics involved here. And then the final element, linked decisions, the decisions you make today will influence the decisions you make in the future. There are three basic steps here. I won’t go through them in detail just for the interest of time. And also just to say in John’s talk, before he mentioned how a w S was sponsoring the events. Then they pulled out and Google cloud came in and there was a difference. This is actually like a linked decision, if I could borrow that example. But I’ll go back to the first circle, back to the first step of the framework, which was the problem statement. Even if this changes, you’ve operated under this mandate for a while. So the decisions you’ve made today based on this and based on your objectives will also impact future decisions. And going back to that MLH example that I tried to borrow, I’ll give you a generic example here.

Let’s say the product you wanted to push specific communities using that product, they’re asking you to focus a hundred percent of your time on that community and stop engaging with other communities. Two years later, the product is being deprioritized and you suddenly to push another product in new communities or other communities that you had stopped engaging with and you basically need to start from scratch. So using a bit of insight, a bit of foresight as well. At this step you could have said no, we’ll put 80% behind that product you want us to push, but we will keep 20% to engage with all of our communities. So we still have a presence there and we don’t have to start from scratch.

Coming to the end of the talk, I just wanted to recap the framework again. We phrased our decision problem, we examined the team’s objectives to make sure that we’re still relevant. We looked at the process of generating alternatives. We saw what the consequences of our decisions could be and what the trade-offs were. And then we looked at the underlying uncertainty, risk and linked decisions. What I’d like to leave you with a quote from Malcolm Gladwell’s book, blink. I’ve been listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and it is great. Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking, not going to suddenly ve off into psychology and the cognitive aspects of decision making that this about. You might also think has she lost it? She just showed us a very deliberate framework with tables and everything only to tell us to follow our instinct. But you don’t have to follow the framework. Maybe there’s a couple of techniques you can use, but if you leave with one thing, live with a desire to make more informed decisions and not pure gut ones. We often use our gut endeavor and most of the time we might be right, but if your data is there, examine it. Thank you.

Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you.

Myrsini Koukiasa: We have time for questions.

Audience member: Hi, I love tables. So my question is in regarding to when you are setting up these decision making sessions, who do you involve your team, the stakeholders, or do you get them all in a room and have biscuits and bash out?

Myrsini Koukiasa: That’s an excellent question. I think it depends on who your stakeholders are as well. I think there are different levels. First, what I’d personally do, get my team together, also talk with senior leadership in that team and get the team together first, come up with a proposal and then see how you can enrich that before you make the final decision. Because remember, one of the steps was learn from your experience. So after you’ve brought the team together, look at data. It’s not a stakeholder, but bring your data in the room for that and then go to folks that you work with. As we said, like several teams have so many different stakeholders. You’re pushing that specific product. Bring in product managers, product marketing, bring in all of the stakeholders. You don’t have to have everyone in one room. You can have separate sessions and then just bring everything together. And then you need to know, are you the decision maker? Is your leadership the decision maker? But the more information and the more input you can have from other teams and then present that the more value will bring to whoever’s making that final decision.

Rebecca Marshburn: Thank you. So that is actually time, but where can people find you so that they can ask more questions?

Myrsini Koukiasa: Yes, you can find me in the break after. Please feel free to come and have a chat about this or about anything else. Thank you.


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