Minimum Viable Company

we are all made of stars

I am afraid of writing an unnecessary article, only transforming information from other sources. On the other hand, that’s what works well in the development world and I suspect a lot of journalism of being written exactly this way. The point is that I know that I am writing last year’s story, but I hope that I will add some value on top of the existing articles.

Everyone with an interest in the management world knows (or should know) the Lean Startup method. Even the idea of using disruptive methods inside a company isn’t something new and yes, if you feel your company is slowing down, it is a great way to tackle a slow death enemy. Lean companies work with value stream maps to analyse sources of produced values and tailor the process towards effective serving customer needs. What a wonderful world.

Until you talk with people who create this value, the creators themselves.

Being a Scrum Master, I talk to these people a lot. And let me tell you one thing: even if you tried to improve company process and succeeded, you only made their ugly world better. Yes, Agile and Lean improve whole company and companies who don’t change fast enough are on the pathway to slow death. But this is all from a managerial view on the issue. Now we see the people as people, not as cogs in our crazy waterfall model.

But they are not just people. They are creators right? They have their own individualities, dreams and social relations. In a slow process they forge working teams with their shared visions, ideas and directions. And I doubt it is effective to bend these teams to follow same path, to set them a direction just because they share a company with others. In fact, I would like to propose that we look at the company as a minimum viable infrastructure needed for such teams to create value. This perspective shift provides opportunity to rethink the company value streams and redefine what is a team. If we create a company as a minimal infrastructure for such teams, we will see very fast reconfigurations in organisational structure, leading to startup-like structured teams with a very thin layer of shared services.

These new teams will be more eager to succeed and they will tend to fail faster, because the financial buffer of minimal company will be as thin as a company itself. They will naturally try to minimise any fixed operational costs, leaving services from internal mail servers to HR training programs in the dust. But the biggest win would be the most hidden and overlooked fact — those creators will tend to create new and unusual things, take a different angle and convince the rest of the team to change direction rapidly and without the usual friction of company processes. Yes, they will be less effective, if you look at it from an operations management standpoint and capacity planning mechanisms. But this is also one big advantage, the advantage of people not working as cogs in factory process. The difference between feeling any ineffectiveness in person and seeing it in a company report is huge.

You might be virtually writing the comment to the section above “Yes, now you understand how Agile/Lean/whatever company should work”. But we all know that there are just a fraction of companies who were able to overcome a problem with their own growth. Only few companies found some mechanisms to enable people moving quickly between teams (Valve is a particularly good example in this case) or creating internal startup teams (e.g. GE have made a nice effort in research). But the framework here is tailored to companies with thick, decision making layers, allowing them to stay competitive despite the fact they keep all those hierarchies and waste. What I am saying is that we need a new approach for new types of companies, minimal companies full of teams that stay “hungry and foolish”. And that part of the answer is already here.