Finally! Your company has nailed its product market fit and is achieving increased market traction…more customers, higher sales. That’s great news! But many companies discover that their scaling journey is accompanied by operational and process breakdowns that cause rework, errors and, if the breakdowns involve core product delivery, customer complaints and attrition. When that happens, finger-pointing and frustration inside the company isn’t far behind.
What has happened here?
Well, back in the startup days, the founders were a small team who shared knowledge on all aspects of the business. They not only had an implicit understanding of the operational processes — they helped create them!
The flexibility a small, tight-knit team offers was critical during early product/market exploration and the inevitable pivots needed to get to market and gain traction. With each pivot, key delivery processes needed to change as well, and small scale made this relatively easy to do.
But now, many of the initial processes and ways of doing business that were designed for the startup begin to break down under the pressure of more volume. They just can’t keep up with the greater demands and velocity of growth. Demands for different approaches present themselves in a number of ways — and typically all at the same time:
The shift from “process experimentation” to “process mastery”
Growing companies face the double-whammy demand of fast-paced market-facing efforts and the internal process adjustments that need to keep pace. It can be an overwhelming experience. Literally not enough hours in the day.
Compounding the pressure even more is the reality that when things aren’t going well, everyone knows. There are no secrets. From long experience as both a manager and an observer, I can tell you that the frustration managers experience in these situations is felt by everyone in the company.
When things are breaking down, when mistakes are being made, when workarounds become the norm, it’s not only a morale killer it’s a bottom-line killer too. It becomes time to master those processes that will increase those margins!
The good news is that you have a key resource at your disposal to take some of the burden off your hands: your extended team. Take advantage of this powerful resource. They want to win too, and, in fact, the process problems they live with day-to-day are a source of frustration that they’re just biting at the bit to fix.
As a leader, give them the green light and harness that power.
Your Process Mastery Team (PMT)
Form PMTs tasked with bringing your processes in line to support your growth. Here are key pointers to keep in mind:
1. Organize teams around high-priority process problems — A+ problems only. Don’t squander the effort on issues which won’t really move the needle.
2. No more than 2 – 3 teams at a time. Resist the impulse to try and fix everything at once.
3. Pay attention to team composition. Well documented, but easy to overlook in the heat of crisis mode, is the fact that most key processes are cross-functional. Ensure that a cross-section of members is represented. And consider including strategic partners as potential team members too.
4. Don’t waste a leadership development opportunity. It’s not always the most senior person who’s right for leading the team. This is a great opportunity to help your “high potentials” gain valuable leadership experience.
5. Choose team members carefully. You’re looking for “can do,” open-minded, curious types. Also, team members whom others look up to.
6. Signal and provide support. Assign a member of the leadership team as a sponsor and coach. This signals the importance of the effort, facilitates cross-communication on the leadership level and, most importantly, helps create leadership team buy-in.
7. Don’t micro-manage. Team empowerment pays dividends both in morale and ultimate buy-in for implementation. The leadership is well positioned to provide insight and feedback, but avoid dictating solutions from the top down.
Succeeding in the next-stage level of growth requires an eyes-wide-open view of what processes need to change or be added, discipline to standardize those processes, and follow-through to build the new organizational culture that will support them.
[Updated "When thing go wrong in growth-stage companies...and something always goes wrong" 4/11/2019]
Andrew Green shares perspectives and hard-won lessons on mastering the business growth path