Scaling: How about the “Don’t do it!” option?

There is a lot of talk lately about scaling. And, to some degree, scaling is necessary and good.

They say only truly professional Teams try complicated plays.  Or should try complicated plays.  Most ‘lesser’ Teams do well to stick to basic blocking and tackling.  I think this is wise advice for most teams.

Scaling by its nature is complicated. It is attempting the impossible: To keep a large ‘blob’ of people fully informed about what each other is doing.  No, not 100% informed about every detail, of course, but ‘fully.’  Meaning: I, as a member of the blob, know everything I need to know to be effective (and to not be counter-productive) about anything that anyone else in the blob is doing.

Impossible.  Human communication is very difficult in a Team of 7.  It is just about impossible in a blob. Unless it is extremely slow moving which of course is what blobs naturally do.

So, how about this?  Instead of 50 people in 7 teams, let’s take the ‘best people’ from that blob, and make one Super Team.  The hard part is finding ‘super’ team players.  Maybe better to say: The hard part is appreciating the value of being a team player over having a so-called ‘extraordinary individual skill-set’ (usually a specific skill or knowledge domain in our business).  We have all seen a bunch of high-ego people not work well together.

Still, form your Super Team.

Maybe the other people (out of the 50 you were considering) can be useful, but the first rule is ‘do no harm.’  Get them the heck out of the way!!  Let the Super Team run.

Can these other people do anything?  Well, yes: mow the grass.  Honestly….they can do some ‘spade work’ that never gets in the way of the Super Team.  They can do things that enable the Super Team to go faster. They can prepare things. But the key thing is to optimize the speed of the Super Team. (Ceteris paribus. Other things equal.)

It’s an alternate idea.  From a business point of view, often faster, cheaper and higher quality.  And higher innovation.

Will this approach work well every time?  Not sure; probably not.  But often it is the best option available, I think.

What might say: Don’t scale up, scale down!



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2 thoughts on “Scaling: How about the “Don’t do it!” option?

  1. Lucie

    You know this idea of a Super Team sounded interesting to me at first. As a developer, I thought of it as a great idea as long as I imagined I would end up on the Super Team. I will have the best team ever! No stupid people, no slow people, no difficult people, no impediments. We are going to be super fast, super productive and write amazing quality code. But what if you think of yourself as someone who might be assigned to the team that will “mow the grass”? Would I be productive, motivated, committed to the company? Hell no. As a manager, how do you motivate the people who are now just going to “mow the grass” and won’t be allowed to get anywhere near the exciting stuff? Suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a good idea after all.

    1. Joe Little Post author

      Hi Lucie,

      You make a good point.
      In my experience, you (let’s say a manager right now) have to do it carefully.
      First, a super team is really a ‘super’ team. Meaning: anyone can see they are super. Imagine you are a good swimmer, you are competitive locally. And then Michael Phelps walks into the pool area. Immediately, you do not feel bad exactly, but you recognize that Phelps is a LOT better than you.
      So, if they truly are a super team, there is no ego hit to accept that you are not super, in that sense. You are still very good in your area, just not super.

      Second, ‘mowing the grass’ is stating it dramatically. And you are right, the manager has to explain this ‘other’ work in a decent way.
      If you (the worker) recognize you are not super and accept that, often this ‘other’ work…especially if the overall project is quite compelling (let’s use the original iPad-1 an an example)…then that ‘other’ work is still quite compelling, because you feel you are contributing to a really exciting effort. At least in some way.

      So, the ‘super team’ idea is not easy to execute on. Not easy in many ways. And you raise some great issues. But it is still an option.

      And in my experience, if it is done well, I (as a non-super performer in some cases) have been fine with it. And others have been fine with it. And some people, whose egos were bigger than their talent or ability, had ‘some’ problems. But even these got sorted out well enough, in the better cases.

      My thoughts. Thanks, Joe

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