Bamboo is truly an extraordinary plant.
It’s one of the fastest-growing plants in the world. Some species can grow up to 98 feet tall with only an 11 inch diameter at a rate of 36 inches in a 24-hour period (that’s a growth-rate of almost 1.6 inches an hour — or 1 inch every 40 minutes!).
To grow this thin, yet this tall, bamboo has to be extremely strong, yet, when a storm or hurricane strikes, bamboo doesn’t break, because as it is tall and strong it is also flexible and can bend and sway in the wind, absorbing the storm’s energy but not giving into it (i.e.: cracking).
In a way, startups are very much like bamboo shoots. They need to grow quick and strong, yet remain flexible to be able to absorb and accommodate to constant changing environments.
A startup’s early investments (pre-seed, seed, and sometimes A round) can provide much needed “nutrients” to keep the “shoot” alive and growing. But this, in itself, is not enough to guarantee that the startup will gain upward momentum.
As much as the startup needs “nutrients” to enable it’s grow, it also needs a framework to help it form a structure that will allow it to grow strong and reach for the skies.
What I found to provide the framework needed for a startup to be able to gain upward momentum is what and how it institutes processes early on.
Processes… I love processes.
They help me get organized and provide structure to my workday, track and prioritize my most important tasks, accomplish more (usually in less time) and reduce my cognitive load.
But, sometime, too much of a good thing can turn into a negative.
The objective and utility in any process is to help us layout a series of steps towards achieving an objective or goal.
As long as the process serves to guide us towards our destination and desired outcome, then the process is a good one.
But what happens when the processes that we put in place actually keeps us from accomplishing our objectives and goals?
Process is how to get things done. Bureaucracy are processes that get in the way of getting things done.
As a Product leader, I rely heavily on processes to help me guide my team’s actions and decisions through the, often, stormy weather that creating a product in a startup environment (always more to do than time and resources available) can be.
We have processes for doing customer research and gathering requirements. Processes for prioritizing new features and bugs; and processes for communicating with customers and stakeholders and running our Sprints and release cycles.
As long as events happen along the lines of what we have planned and prepare for in our strategic vision planning and tactical roadmap for accomplishing it, then processes are our allies.
But, as often happens with early stage startups in search of product/market fit and a repeatable and scalable business model, priorities can change in a hurry.
In startup life…
The only constant is change.
This can throw the best laid out plans and processes out the window with the bathwater.
When sudden changes hit (and sooner or later they always do in the startup world) and your objectives get scrambled up like a Sunday’s omelet, trying to stick to the processes that you and your team have work so hard to put in place and optimize can keep you from making the necessary adjustments to weather the storm until calmer weather arrives.
I’ve written here about why trying to impose a software development methodology (i.e.: process to build software in a team environment) onto your team can be detrimental to the team’s productivity and happiness.
And the same can be said for just about any other methodology or process that you apply, too rigidly, and without proper judgement and consideration just for the sake of being able to say “we are following a process.”
As I’ve stated in the article about methodology:
“Put me in a room with a group of smart people, tell us what we need to accomplish and we’ll figure how to get organized and what processes we need to complete our task.”
But this also applies the other way around:
“Put me in a room with a group of smart people, let us figure how to get organized and what processes we need to complete our task and then trust us when we need to change the process or completely throw it out the window.”
To follow a process just for the sake of following “a” process is akin to goats going off of a cliff after seeing the first one dive off — they probably know that this is one situation when they shouldn’t follow the leader but they do it never the less. The result…
So be mindful of the process that you put in place. Have a very clear view of the objectives that you want to accomplish and what goals you want to reach and make sure that whatever process you put in place are clear to your entire team, targeted to the objective and goals that they should inch you closer too and then have the wisdom to know when they are getting in your way and should be scuttled.
In stormy times, remember to be like bamboo…sometimes, flexibility is the real sign of strength.