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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Scaling Up Is Not the Only Option

Scaling Up Is Not the Only Option post image

There is one thing that seems to be present in pretty much every company strategy these days. Given the opportunity, they want to grow. Obviously not every organization is successful at that but scaling up is treated as a default option and a universally desired goal.

In fact, it is sometimes assumed so obvious that it doesn’t even gets discussed. One example was a recent discussion on preserving culture (see comments too). The post that initiated the whole thing seems to assume that the growth is a fixed part of the equation.

An interesting thing happens when I mention scaling up strategy that we have at Lunar Logic, which is: don’t. All those blank stares and questions like “why would you pass an opportunity to grow?” Interestingly enough ceasing to grow means that we have to pass on some potential projects. This makes the whole discussion even more interesting.

An issue we forget is that scaling up doesn’t come for free and the biggest cost of growth is how it affects organizational culture. Given that the current culture is something one values, preserving the important parts of it during growth is extremely difficult. If we are talking about rapid growth it’s basically impossible.

If you happen to be in a place where the culture is a cornerstone of your success, which is exactly our case at Lunar, you may want to rethink whether scaling up is an obvious, or even desired, choice.

Nevertheless a story I keep hearing over and over again about different organizations is “we’ve been doing so great so far that we decided that we want to grow by 100% in a year.” The trick is that when they succeed they will likely be a very different organization. Different values will be shared across the group. Different behaviors will be treated as a norm. Different way of work will be considered a standard. It will be a different culture altogether.

It is likely that the very things that made them successful in the first place will be gone by then lost in rush to get bigger.

Obviously there’s only that many things one can do with couple dozen people but then decision about growth is typically made without considering all side effects.

And by the way, while I keep focusing on culture, as it is most vulnerable, there’s much more than that. One of the catchy themes these days is scaling Agile. Obviously part of the story is rolling out Agile in the context of big organizations. Another part though is maintaining all the value that we get thanks to using agile approach once we grow. While this is doable it adds to complexity of all the processes and the whole system.

It’s not without a reason that smallest organizations tend to be the most efficient and as they grow they tend to spend more and more effort trying to comply with their internal and artificial processes.

So why not dodge the bullet and keep an organization small? While I don’t say it has to be a default option it’s definitely an option to consider.

It changes the whole equation as suddenly you are incentivized to say no. No, we won’t take this project as we are fully booked. No, we won’t jump on that candidate even though she seems to be pretty good. Suddenly, we have higher standards for work we do and people we hire.

The focus is not on “more and more” but on “better and better.” Wouldn’t that be a nice option to consider?

in: software business

2 comments… add one

  • Paweł July 18, 2014, 3:33 am

    Hi Paweł,

    What if you want to create a great place to work for many people, not only 20 or 30 but 5oo or maybe 5000? Should I accept that it is not possible to keep perfect culture and allow other companies to grow or maybe should I accept that the culture will not be perfect but it is worth it anway for these people?


  • Pawel Brodzinski July 21, 2014, 1:41 am


    I would start asking a question why would that be you ambition :) Anyway, I don’t say that one shall not scale up. I simply question the idea that it should be a default option for every company, which is what we see pretty much all the time in IT.

    The discussion is valuable if you want to scale up too, as from that perspective it’s more about understanding the tradeoffs that you make to grow.

    There are few exceptional examples of very strong cultures across big companies so it is possible to make it happen I guess. There’s no recipe how to make it there and odds are against us, as there are plenty of companies that wanted to sustain the culture while growing and failed miserably. In fact, I’d say that counting each giant in our industry would be a safe bet to be on that list.

    If you want to get there, by all means try. Make sure though that you understand the existing culture and continuously sense (measure isn’t the right word here I guess) how it evolves. And be ready to roll back your experiments too, despite the fact that many of them don’t really have a safety net – these are experiments on people after all.

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