A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

24 February 2009

Disposable Assumptions

I'm working with a client this week that is a startup company.  On the one hand, it's a lot of fun working with a startup, because they tend to have few or no assumptions about "the way we've always done things around here."  On the other hand, it's an interesting challenge, because there may not be much of a framework to help us figure out how to create the operational structures and processes that will become that assumption base in the future.

One of the things we are building is an organizational chart.  At first glance, this might seem simple - just take the folks who are working to build the new company, slap job titles on them, and gin up a structure that seems to fit them all together.  Or alternatively, look at someone else's business plan or org chart, and fit your people into whatever positions on that chart seem most logical.  Both of those will get you an org chart, but odds are neither of them will represent either the company you want, nor even the company you actually have.

A better approach is to create the structure first, based on the needs of the customer and the nature of the product or service.  Decide what departments are needed, how they function within themselves and among each other.  Make these decisions based on how the company needs to look ultimately, in order to meet the mission and vision while working within the values.  Then place your existing people in the right roles based on their competencies and interests, and determine what talent the company is still missing.

This exercise is not only valuable for startups.  If you've been in business for awhile, when was the last time you threw ALL your assumptions out and really examined the question of whether your company's current structure meets its current needs?  Successful companies evolve and change over time, as well they should.  After a few years, a new department may be needed, or one may need to be eliminated.  Some may need to be combined, or recombined, in order to reduce waste, improve innovation or better respond to customers and suppliers.

The process won't be quick or easy, but the results of a careful evaluation and reinvention of a company's operational structure (or even a thoughtful validation that the current structure is the best it can be) will surely reveal opportunities to increase effectiveness and profitability.

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