For many years, and even today, our company operates on a lean model. What does operating lean mean?
There are a lot of definitions. Some believe that operating lean means like a startup, with the good and bad that kind of company culture engenders. The startup culture is all about getting things done, lack of process combined with quick decision making.
Others believe it’s more akin to bootstrapping. You have the resources you have, and you’ll just have to figure it out with what you have.
And some go to an even more extreme belief. If someone cannot justify all 40 hours+ of their work week, they will be removed from the company.
Our belief on what operating lean means is right in the middle, with some flexibility. Bootstrapping doesn’t mean doing everything on a shoestring budget. For us, it means learn to be creative in how you approach problems. If you can get something done without needing additional resources, that means some other project which does need those resources does not need to face internal competition to determine what gets done.
This allows for a lot more flexible decision making. When you look at your company’s project board, and virtually every project is fighting for the same resources, you will almost always fall into decision paralysis. Everyone will want their project to move forward. Sure, you can have your leadership team make all the decisions, but then you’re not going to scale properly and no longer get others involved with the decision making process This type of paralysis can handicap your future growth and scale.
We approach things along similar lines, with the knowledge that not every project will be a success if you bootstrap everything. There are just certain limits that can’t be powered through. As a business, you need to make a decision. Either the project must fail, be delayed, or additional resources added to ensure its success.
And that’s where the hybrid model works so well. It encourages everyone to do everything they can, to learn different skills and ways to do things. However, it also provides a safety net, especially for critical projects. If a project is deemed business critical, it will gain access to a pool of resources as needed. These resources, be they budget, people, or software and tools, aren’t dedicated to any one project and sit as a safety net to ensure proper business operations in the project department.
This also means you can’t have a ton of business critical projects. Budgets and resources are finite.
This is why the entire company is involved in nominating which projects are absolutely business critical, and the rest are not. This system works well because you get input from everyone, from every team in the business, and in return, the entire business gets to see what is going on, to understand the context, and make informed decisions on what goes forward, and at what pace.
By sitting right in the middle between a startup culture with no process, and at the other end, where everyone is judged on metrics and nothing more, our team is able to deliver really solid results, within a reasonable budget and timeframe. And as a bonus, we all learn different ways to do something, gaining that experience and applying it to future projects.