Being a startup does not prevent you from organizing your goals, workload and teams in a structured way or refusing to give teams clear guidelines and processes how to interact or to achieve results.
How the start-up and founder vibe can prevent an easy and healthy structure and organization?
Working for one of the largest E-commerce in South Asia as VP Customer Experience, I often faced resistance in structuring meetings or using basic templates or documentation for project or work content. The sentence "We do not need that, as we are a start up" was often used, even in the 5th year of operations with approx. 800 employees.
While I agree, and certainly enjoyed the E-commerce and start-up vibe with less rigid culture, meetings and processes as in my previous banking experiences, I sometimes saw that especially manager and employee level would like to have more guidance, clarity and security in their daily work. I agreed with my CX Manager to run all Customer improvement projects on easy shared spreadsheets with clear follow-ups for the teams and it was a huge step towards cross-functional commitment, motivation and accountability for all teams and employees involved.
In one of our Fintech clients in South East Asia, the founder wanted to run the product development on a 2-3 month cycle, while the Product and IT needed 4-6 months commitment to get results done together with external vendors and stakeholders. That means that often the startup founders working mode to create a fast-paced and flexible environment does not match with development or market realities and putting the project management and result creation in a 3 or 6 months structure gives the teams the time and focus to get products done, rather than jumping on new ideas while the previous one is not launched yet.
Which level of organization do startups need to initiate?
Our experience shows, that reaching more than 20-30 employees needs structure, organisation and roles especially when it comes to goals, measurable results and projects.
Most start-ups confuse structure by adding a traditional team or department layer on the organisation (e.g. Marketing, Sales, OPS) which in an early stage is probably not needed, as everything can be handled as cross-functional and agile project.
Our early or established start-up clients with 10-20 employees make a start by adding North Star, Strategy Layers and agile goal setting like OKRs to be transparent, aligned and still flexible to shift goals, results and resources on upcoming ideas and projects. This make sure that everybody in their organisation works against common results, know their project teams the next 3-6 months and what they should achieve and contribute to.
For organisation in the 30 to 100 employee range, we advise to add a central role or small team under the CEO which is typically Chief of Staff or PMO. These teams or individual perform a neutral coordination role between the Founders / C-Level and the operational and project needs of the organisation. They further support to mitigate conflicts around scope, resources, etc. and could coordinate employees in different project roles where they want to work or where they are needed.
More information on new roles: https://www.okrasia.com/post/get-ready-for-exciting-new-facilitator-roles-in-your-company
More information on PMOs: https://www.asiapmo.com/post/how-portfolio-management-helps-you-to-run-multiple-projects-successfully
How to organize a startup and grow it sustainably?
As previously explained, early startups do not have to grow immediately into a heavy and siloed department or team structure, but can be organised around different strategy layers, objectives and projects with measurable outcomes.
Eventually department and team structures are more need for solid admin and support teams like HR and Finance to keep the business running. These support teams can run on KPI structures with clear and repetitive tasks. Likewise Operations can be added later when products and markets are established, and also the sales follow-up has clear processes.
It is important that all early stage projects to invent or innovate products will eventually lead into more standardized offerings and processes, which then can be handed over to operations and sales teams. We advise that project teams are not only in charge for product or market development but also to establish and handover solid processes. In larger organisation a process team can be established which goes hand-in-hand with PMO to centrally coordinate processes and projects.
For more information on how to structure your startup from the beginning, without siloing or too heavy processes, please contact us here or on email@example.com
This blog was written by Carsten Ley, Entrepreneur, Enabler & Project Lead in Customer Experience, Project & Business Transformation leading large scale project implementations in Retail, E-commerce, Banking, Consulting & Experience Management for companies like Deloitte Germany, VW Mexico, Rolls-Royce UK, Lazada Vietnam and H&M South East Asia. He founded 2018 Asia PMO, a consulting firm focussing on getting clients fast and efficient into implementation of company objectives, customer & employee experience improvements to foster a result- and team-oriented environment.