The need for start-ups to be agile

header-agile-business-guy-jumpingAsk anyone who has ever been involved in a start-up, there is no such thing as titles, roles, or departments. There is work to be done and everyone on the team gets that work done. It does not matter what your business card says you do, it matters what needs to be done to get that product to market.

This has been my story for the last four and a half years. I work for a well established organization and manage a newly developed product line for the company. Even though we have been able to pull from a lot of the existing resources within the company, we have also had to reinvent the wheel a few times. It is not uncommon to find our team members (most of which are civil engineers) out in the shop, with torn jeans and wrench in hand.

I am always proud of our team members and their willingness to do whatever job needs doing. And even though much of our success can be attributed to the multiple hats that sit on each of my teammates shelves, it’s not all roses. One of the less enjoyable aspects of a start-up is the stress that comes with having to juggle all the work. I can definitely relate to the saying, “Jack of all trades, and master of none.”

When and why start-ups must transition to traditional business structures

The importance of every departmentOn any given day I might be working on an estimate for a project, buying new operation equipment, website development, or training a new hire on safety. As we have continued to grow, the resultant stress from having undefined work roles has grown as well. There were times that the product quality and consistency suffered because every project manager did their work differently. This did not sit well with our group because we believed (and still do) that a low quality product would have meant a loss of customers.

So over the last couple of years we have started to departmentalize our work. We have an ordering procurement manager, two operations technicians, three engineers, and we are about to hire our first inside sales representative. The result has been a massive improvement in product quality and more importantly, customer satisfaction.

Flat or hierarchical management structure?

As we grow, my team and I worry about the group fracturing as we departmentalize. The basis for this concern is our unique perspective of being a start-up within an existing company. We are able to observe firsthand the challenges big companies have in managing multiple business units and departments. There are more stake holders which means it is harder for the organization to change course quickly.

I don’t have an answer to which management structure (flat or hierarchical) is better. I do know that our product line greatly benefited from our teams agile mentality in the beginning. We could not have grown the product as fast as we did with an extensively defined management system. I also believe that without the recent transition to a more organized structure, our customers would have likely suffered.

The jury is still out on how structured we will become. Look for future updates as we work through this time of transition.

If you have any experience taking a department through the stage ours is currently in, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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