Attention Start-Ups: Do You Need Hipster Replacement Surgery?

If your business’ digital infrastructure is run by “a guy you know,” you might be in trouble. Even if that guy is your best friend from kindergarten, a genius in his own right, and doesn’t even wear a fedora or ride a skateboard to the office.

Of course, when your organization is new or small, and you have one person working in each area that is critical to your success, setting up documented processes may not occur to you because you’re simply too busy doing the actual work. Or, perhaps, designing business infrastructure – including putting together teams and processes – just doesn’t occur to you because things just hum along fine for now. Maybe you simply think you don’t have the budget. All that is common among young organizations that are built around a core of talented people who are used to working hard and can function across multiple disciplines.

Even if none of those reasons are the reason, there is a true management mistake in hiring a single, smart individual into this role. It is the absence of a path to repeatable successes. This absence is the result of anyone working in relative isolation; perhaps doing excellent work, but without the need to ever document, share, explain, or teach others.

What you want is not a genius who makes the right call every time, stands ready to work 36-hour shifts, and whose loyalty to you and your organization is unflappable.

What you really want are procedures. Procedures you can rely on, write down, repeat, and assign to others. The book of your procedures then becomes your company manual.

At mac-tech, we practice a three-step approach:

Organize, Proceduralize, Systematize

In a nutshell, organizing is defining separate tasks, proceduralizing (not in this spell-checker’s dictionary) is sorting those separate tasks into a sequence that guarantees a desired outcome, and systematizing is putting these procedures together in order to handle complex situations.

An additional part of systematization may be testing for any condition that can then trigger a series of tasks or procedures. For example:

When the temperature in the office reaches above x degrees, the person sitting next to the thermometer informs the one closest to the window. That person then gets up, walks over, and opens the window.

There are several discrete steps and at least two conditionals in this simple example, but they span the entire definite challenge from problem discovery to solution.

These are all steps toward architecting automation, but all systems do not have to be machine-based. It applies to human teams and our workflows just as much. Knowing what to do and when to do it is crucial to the successes of the people in your organization. Organizing big challenges into discrete tasks also creates hand-off points which are opportunities to interact, communicate, share.

This doesn’t have to start with IT, but we have a huge opportunity to improve our organizations through digital workflows and modern software tools. All of that lessens our dependence on a single individual and their ability—or luck— at making the correct call every single time.

Who knows, maybe we’ll find out that we were too enamored with the idea of being, or working with, geniuses, and that was the actual bottleneck. And perhaps, it is holding us back all the time – not just while “our guy” is out at Burning Man.