Maslow for Startups
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist and professor. He designed this great hierarchy of human needs:
Basically, it says we need to breathe before bothering with staying warm. And we need to eat before worrying about having any friends. And we really can’t spend any time following our dreams until we’re clothed, fed, warm, have some friends, and overall feel pretty good about ourselves.
It seems natural to me that product-driven companies would follow a similar sort of hierarchy. There’s a fairly common progression of needs that a company must satisfy in order to survive, grow and succeed. In trying to figure out which GForge features you’ll really need, and in what order, I’ve come up with these buckets and given them catchy Greek-themed names. We’re using these buckets to guide our feature deployment for GForge Next, so that we meet the needs of new users easily, and give them more features as they begin to need them.
Group 1: Atlas
The most basic level of business development. This model depends heavily on large efforts by a small group. Their roles, interactions and dependencies may be somewhat defined, but most processes are still ad-hoc, and are created, revised and discarded based on immediate needs.
Generally, boot-strapping — that is, getting to market on little (or no) financial budget. Initial product/service delivery to see if the business model is viable, or trying to bring in the first customers to fund further expansion.
Atlas groups tend to:
- Spend Time/Effort instead of Money
- Be Flexible as opposed to Repeatable
- Depend on A Few Heroes instead of Divide and Conquer
- Prefer Simple Process over Robust/Complex Process
- Task/Issue Tracking — First and foremost, a persistent list for who is doing what. The group is very small, self-directed, and self-organizing, so features like metadata (e.g., severity, milestone, priority, workflow by status) and access control are not important.
- Version Control — Whatever type of product (software, design/creative/mkting, manufactured goods, etc.), there will be some kind of source code, documentation, images, or other output to be kept safe and trackable over time.
- Project Chat — A live, persistent and searchable scratchpad for quick discussions, news and humor without having everyone leave their desk.
Group 2: Vulcan
The first big change in team organization. Initial product may be out, customers calling for support, feature requests, etc. Team’s focus is still more tactical, day-to-day, but the group is growing to handle success. Working some things in parallel, especially support tasks vs new features.
Leaders are focused on finding more customers, and keeping current ones happy. Product delivery functions need to be automated, to allow tech staff to focus on what instead of how. Customer service, support, operations and development tasks need to be centralized so that everyone can stay focused. Knowledge needs to become somewhat portable so that team members can be added, back-fill others and cover breaks/days off.
- Place more premium on Time as money starts coming in
- Need Repeatable processes that may still change often
- Feel torn about moving key staff to bigger and better things
- Start seeing many exceptions to what used to be simple processes
- Document Management & Wiki — Create a culture of portable knowledge early, and staff will maintain docs out of habit. This makes it easier for players to switch positions, cover others during crunch times.
- Standups, Sprints & Milestones — Start to group tasks into small projects and track overall completion. Allow different milestones to start competing for resources. A first step toward portfolio management.
- Ubiquitous Search — Make it brain-dead simple to find that thing you saw a month ago, and share it with others.
Group 3: Prometheus
Things are really under way. Founders may be somewhat disconnected from daily operations. With monthly cash flow ensured, leaders begin to reach out to partners, competitors, upstream/downstream value chains, trying to expand customer base and/or find new features/products to add. This phase usually includes the first serious wave of new hires who were not present at the founding of the org. Cycle times get larger and more unpredictable as internal process and technical dependencies begin to weigh on the system.
Staying agile and responsive is even more important here than in previous phases. Partners and competitors begin taking the product and company seriously. This means real contracts, real accounts won and lost based on delivery. At the same time, the heroes from Atlas phase are no longer able to touch everything every day.
At this point, the steering function has become as important to success as the rowing function. Management needs to be able to see into the future, predict outcomes, plan for contingencies.
- Start to segregate knowledge to insulate groups from information overload and keep them focused.
- Develop a strong need for metrics and measurement, instead of steering by feel.
- Want standardized processes to allow for apples-to-apples comparisons over time.
- Robust Roles and Access Control — Organize things according to company structure, lines of business, etc. Begin to control access by org and project membership. Allow selected people/groups to collaborate from outside the company.
- Workflow and Audit — As complexity and required quality levels both grow, more detailed workflow and audit trails are required to keep things moving quickly.