Scale is an important aspect of any growing business, but it doesn’t have to be overdone to be effective.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of organizations that are in exciting market spaces, experiencing tremendous success, driving incredible growth, and yet their teams are drowning trying to keep up with the breakneck speed at which they’re expanding their business. Although real pain exists, there’s often an organizational reluctance to implementing elements of process and technology that will alleviate this lack of scalability. Concerns about “red tape”, “too much process”, and “over-investment in systems” are common reactions to tackling the problem.
In a lot of ways, these companies are doing things right, and doing them differently than everyone else. They’re experiencing hyper-growth because they’re capitalizing on a new market opportunity like StrongLoop or WePay, they’re re-inventing how we consume or create services like Scopely and Docker, or they’re providing a product or service we never knew we needed like Metamind and Zuli. Generally these are young companies filled with talented teams of individuals who want to change the world and enjoy the excitement of entrepreneurship.
And yet, there’s a real cost to not being able to scale up operations to manage the demand of a growing customer base. Best case, it requires extra resources to deal with manual and conflicting processes; worst case, it actually puts a hard cap on the company’s opportunity to grow.
The reality is, scaling for tomorrow doesn’t have to come at the cost of today’s growth. If done in a thoughtful, right-sized way, it represents an investment in building a foundation for the future. James Kenigsberg says it well in his blog post where he likens scale to “the base of a pyramid: it’s strong, sturdy, and prepares you to build on top of it later on. It’s the foundation upon which everything else can be built, and you know that it will hold.”
An example of right-sized scale is in the area of metrics. One of the most important things a growing business should do is establish the set of objectives and associated metrics that the organization is trying to achieve for the month/quarter/year, and religiously track progress against them. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. However, a metrics program doesn’t necessarily require significant time and investment in a large data warehousing project. The emergence of powerful, lightweight BI tools such as Tableau, Qlik, and Birst provide for powerful analytics without a lot of investment in setup and configuration. If those tools are still too heavy for the current state of the organization, manual data aggregation and reporting via Excel is still a very powerful way to track and measure the performance of your business. The important thing is that you invest in the fundamental elements of scale at a size that “fits” the business, and then grow that investment over time with appropriate expansion of processes and technology.
Although this type of approach might sound like a no-brainer, emerging companies are typically staffed with deep expertise in their functional or market area, and are (rightly so) concentrating on improving their product and top line revenue, not on building in elements of scale. But it doesn’t have to be an “either-or” scenario. A colleague of mine, Darren Cunningham recently stated, “The old adage is to ‘nail it then scale it’, when the real goal should be to ‘nail it while you scale it’.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
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Cross-functional initiatives often represent a high level of
Deliberately allocating time to the right activities can make
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will
Why poor planning for your product launch will always come back