The Eagle and The Crow

A post for blograbbit

(written by Jeff Zhao for Jackrabbit Mobile)

Despite some similarities in appearance and geometry, the eagle and crow are different animals. The eagle is more powerful in flight and has an awe-inspiring wingspan; the crow is smaller, more mobile, and known for its exceptional intelligence. While a single crow challenging an eagle almost always fails, a murder of crows can mob together to bring down their larger foes.

Before I came to Jackrabbit as a project manager and product owner, I worked in the implementation division of a much larger software company. Both Jackrabbit and my former employer have their pros and cons, and it’s up to individuals to determine which is right for them. I’ve included some takeaways from my own experience of having worked with both.

working for a large company

You stand on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes, it feels like the company has unlimited resources. Your company often has more and better talent. If the company has been around for a while, you probably have well-defined processes and quality tools. Things feel stable, safe, and well-established. You and the people know what to do and how to do it, because people have done it hundreds of times before.

You’re the king of the jungle. Your company’s existence isn’t easily threatened. You get to say you work for a serious player and know it — the numbers don’t lie! If you’re not working for the biggest company, you feel like you’re working for the best. If you’re working for the biggest, nobody will ever beat you, so you are the best by default.

The projects you work on are bigger. You’ve always wanted to change the world. Your company has the reputation and capacity to handle big, multi-million dollar contracts. Your work lifestyle is swankier, with plusher benefits. Your software might have more end users, and you might take better Instagram photos.

You don’t worry about the company shutting down. Not knowing for certain what will happen in your company’s future can be unnerving, but that’s not your life. You’ve landed a sweet gig with this awesome company, and it’s not going anywhere. Sure, there are challenges, but you’ll weather the storm as you always have.

working for a smallcompany

Smaller companies can implement better tools quicker. Processes don’t mean much unless they’re implemented in a standard way, and it’s easier, cheaper, and faster for 20 people to change than 8,000.

Flexible work conditions mean better output. People work better when they’re happier, and people are happier when they have more control over their lives. While it’s possible to give people trust and ownership in a small operation, granting a large workforce the same kind of autonomy will lead to abuses by some.

Ownership is easy when you’re making it all yourself. Although the scale of your projects might be smaller, you own more of them, so it feels like you’re contributing more. Projects might feel more cohesive, as you work on projects from beginning to end — you’re not just completing someone else’s code to keep it from going to waste.

New hires aren’t just replacements. Good small companies have an easier time retaining talent because they can give people more individual attention and development opportunities. Standout individuals also have more room to shine, and aren’t as constrained by inefficient processes or corporate shenanigans.

You know everybody and everybody knows you. No hiding. You’re kept accountable. Everyone seems tough but fair. You feel less like a number, and more like a person who matters.

takeaways

Struggling with processes is inevitable. Big companies struggle to implement processes on a large scale. It’s crucial for them to have good processes because bad ones can leech productivity and quality from the entire company, which could cost millions.

Small companies struggle with discovering and defining good processes. Experimenting with processes can be a risky proposition, because if things go badly you might not get a second choice.

Resources are meaningless if you don’t have access to them. The amount of top talent of a company doesn’t guarantee access to these repositories of wisdom. Big companies often overstretch their most experienced talent. This causes a bottleneck as that person becomes invaluable, and ultimately a skills gap if that person leaves. (Or, unexpected turnover frequency × average technical debt = chaos caused by churn.)

Small companies have less bandwidth and can struggle with staffing. During busy season, it can be hard to qualify and onboard quality talent that fits with the company culture. During lean season, you might have a lot of employees not at full bandwidth, which impacts you more than a large company.

Reward quality performance (or, position your team for victory). Regardless of the size of your company, everyone wants to work on awesome projects with awesome people and to feel valued. Don’t abuse your employees’ trust. Don’t punish overachievers by overloading them with work, and don’t tolerate mediocrity by overlooking missteps. Give your team the support and feedback they need, and you’ll run a successful company — of any size.

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