We’ve all seen it happen: You put on a little weight, then you start to lose energy and stamina, and before long, you’re in a rut. Well, unfortunately, a business can fall into the same pattern. Maybe it grows too fast and can’t manage the extra weight, or it gets trapped in an inefficient process — whatever the reason, businesses, just like individuals, have to work to stay fit. Even an established business should try to maintain the lean business model of its startup days.
So what’s a business to do? Here are four rules for getting your business back in shape.
Rule #1: Build, Measure, Learn
Staying lean is a three-part process; however, most businesses are eager to take on the first step (build) and skip the last two (measure and learn). I often see leaders (myself included) putting all their energy into building and implementing new ideas, whether that means expanding a department or growing one’s client base. If leaders aren’t measuring the results of each change, there’s no way to know if it was a successful one. They are basically shooting darts in the dark.
Acting on your ideas can build a brilliant company culture of doers and go-getters, but if you aren’t measuring the effectiveness of these innovative new ideas or learning anything from your analysis, then you aren’t progressing as a company. You’re just adding unnecessary processes and procedures, and, eventually, that is going to bog down the company’s efficiency.
Rule #2: Lose the Red Tape
As companies grow bigger, many of them fall into the inefficient, bureaucratic rut that some call management. If you’re holding formal, boardroom-like meetings where nothing really gets done, stop now! Meetings upon meetings can become a huge waste of time, and they often result in a slow corporate approval process — the archenemy of lean and agile.
At Lincoln Loop, we often serve as a skunkworks team for companies that, over the years, have become bogged down by internal processes. As an unencumbered team, we have the freedom to make decisions on the fly and keep projects moving forward. People are consistently blown away by how much we can accomplish in a short period of time compared to in-house teams.
To adopt a culture of swift and responsive processes, you need to minimize the amount of red tape in your organization. Instead, empower your people by building small and efficient teams, and then give them the room they need to excel. Remember: excessive rules and approval processes can stifle creativity.
Rule #3: Use Communication Tools
Quick and efficient communication is one of the most important parts of keeping a company young at heart and agile. Talking in-person is an important part of this — that’s how you build trust and personal relationships. However, as stated above, those formal status update meetings often are a waste of time. Instead, use communication tools that don’t require everyone to be in the same room. Facilitate and encourage daily communication between employees in different areas of the company, rather than forcing them to wait for tomorrow’s meeting.
A critical, but often overlooked, tool is the discussion forum. People invest a lot of time in project management systems and issue trackers, but disregard the importance of having an open forum online for employees to contribute opinions and ideas about a project. A good discussion forum lets staff share information without contributing to email overload or interrupting workflow (like chat or meetings do). By letting your employees contribute on their own time, the team will be more efficient, and good ideas will flow freely.
Rule #4: Don’t Assume You Have All the Answers
As a leader, it’s your job to recognize when the company is stuck in a rut, but don’t assume you’re the only one with the answers. Great ideas can come from anywhere, so get feedback internally and externally on how your business can be improved. Your team and your customers can offer a lot of insight into what’s working and what’s not.
Oftentimes, an external team can be the best option to rediscover a lean and agile structure. An outside team offers a different perspective and will bring fresh ideas to the table. If you do this, it’s critical to keep the lines of communication open. Don’t just throw them a to-do list and wait for results; discuss your business needs and end goals to ensure success.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that it’s easy to get stuck in an inefficient, bloated process. Give your leaders the freedom to trim down and pivot when necessary. Even if your business has long outgrown the “startup” moniker, with a little effort, it can stay lean and agile.
Peter Baumgartner is the founder of Lincoln Loop, a full-service tech company specializing in web and mobile development for companies of all sizes, from startups to publicly-traded corporations. Peter is an expert in Django-based web development and a thought leader in entrepreneurship and tech. He welcomes anyone to reach out to him on Twitter or Google+.
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