Scaling up a services startup
October 26, 2010 § 1 Comment
Subject of the post is probably the most discussed topic in the service industry – Scaling up. We knew this from start that we have to manage how we hire resources, watch the costs and scale. I managed to drive the team from our garage office to a good facility, brought in processes for managing the work force & we now have a an army of brilliant engineers dedicated finance & HR teams. Still we hardly ate, we were always working.
Things were so bad that around that April (2010) I ran into serious sleeping trouble, I didn’t sleep for 8 days & the doctor told me – after giving a look as if he is talking to an alien – that you can come out of it yourself, it will be tough but that’s the better solution than he prescribing medicines – which I will not take anyways. I had to attend a wedding in north east and planned a 2 week vacation which I thought will help me to come out of the situation – it helped. I carried a book with me as I wanted to read it again. When I read it the first time, it didn’t much sense but this time after being in the shoes of an entrepreneur for nearly 2 years, it made sense.
No, Its not a cliche story. I didn’t sit there and read much and there was no revelation (Other than the long discussion which few young monks started with me on religions, Bilekuppe etc). I came back home, started working again and forgot about the book. Weeks later, I started reading it again and I came across a section where the author was mentioning about hard work and the amount of time in hours per week the most successful businessmen dedicate . This was the first time I had thought about such thing like number of work hours in a week. I calculated the amount of time I spend – the previous week it was roughly 116 hours, this week its already 80+ hours and I was scared to think beyond these 2 weeks. There was something seriously wrong and this is when I thinking about scaling up my team and started analysing how I spend time.
Being a startup means everyone has to multi-task and sometimes do the jobs which no one else will do. (Like how I used to clean the sole wash basin in our old office) So there was no point about stop doing multi-tasking. It was about make the best of the available resources. Soon I realized that the core problem was my worked spanned across marketing, execution, project planning, talking to clients from technical to finance matters to occasional chit chat. The first action item was to make the business development and market straight and we were searching for business development resources. By June end we had the business development team ready and they started putting together missing parts of the puzzle.
Now I had time to focus on my technical workforce and I was preaching agile methodologies and SCRUM for sometime then. But there were missing pieces and soon understood the key is to empower your team, let them own projects at the same time allowing marginal errors & more than anything trust their capabilities 100%
I started giving developers and lead developers more freedom to innovate, involved them client communications more than ever and started paring up senior engineers and the business development team. I have been applying, my method of learning from practice with little guidance. I strongly believed, inherently people are good enough to learn and not to commit errors which will cause catastrophe. In the mean time SCRUM meetings were introduced for every team from business development to HR. Initially it required some serious efforts to keep things going but now after nearly 6 months with SCRUM, we are looking good.
Another important idea implemented is Huddle – an internal social network which is meant to improve communication and knowledge sharing. Though we were small in size, because of the shift timings often communication between different teams were not happening and I wanted a platform for knowledge sharing which can be later used for coordinating activities from CSR initiatives to birthday celebrations or promoting art and culture within the staff. Huddle is in the nascent stages now, but hoping this to grow and become an integral part of the organization soon. (The name Huddle is carefully chosen to go well with the Agile practices we are following)
Now, after nearly 6 months of sole focus on developing the organization from within, we have started feeling the differences. Finally, after some serious struggle and hard work we have different functional parts of the organization running nearly smoothly. Few things we plan for future is to give more and more focus on communication, improve technical skills my continuous knowledge sharing sessions etc.
To summarize, the lessons learned are:
There should be a balance between how much business you do and how well you are able to collaborate with your own team. Its very difficult to find the balance but its essential for scaling up. The more we collaborate its better for scaling up as everyone learns in the process and becomes ready for the challenges. One should never forget to look back to our own team in the struggle to grow and scale up. The employees first policy may not be 100% correct, but keeping balance between how we spend time between employees and clients is important. I think, we were probably few months late in starting the initiatives, but we have done it atlast and now waiting for the positive results which we are confident of.
Yes, Collaborating the agile way is method to succeed and scaling up.