Big versus small companies

Just a quick observation – something I said at work today and thought was interesting. I was commenting how some people use process as a way of covering themselves in case things don’t go well (a reflection of my earlier sentiment). I understand how process can be used to answer questions of importance if it is used appropriately. But I get frustrated when the process becomes the point, rather than the success of the project. I was talking with a co-worker and wondered aloud why the folks in our office in San Francisco had a very different viewpoint than the folks in our home office of Toronto.

I think the difference is that they are part of a large, stable organization. If this project fails, there will be another one. So there is less incentive to take risks, and more of a tendency to follow the letter rather than the spirit of the process, which they think will minimize the chance of them losing their job. Most of us in the Bay Area have come from a startup environment where, if the project fails, that’s it. The company’s out of business. No more job. So there’s no incentive to try to play it safe to keep your job. The most important thing becomes making sure the thing works and gets out to market. It’s a very different attitude than trying to not lose your job. And it’s a lot more satisfying to me. But it definitely causes cultural communication difficulties.

It came up in the context of a review process. We were asked to rate ourselves on the project status. All of us took the view of rating ourselves in relation to what needed to happen to launch the product. This caused a lot of confusion with them because they were asking us to rate ourselves in terms of the current phase of the process we were in. But we just don’t think that way of phase to phase. We’re thinking in terms of the final product that’s going to go out the door, and what we need to do to get there. It’s a completely different mindset – one is end-goal driven, one is process-driven.

And I think it all comes back to the size and stability of the organization. You want to have some stability, otherwise you have everybody jumping ship. But you don’t want them too comfortable, because they lose that edge of competition. It’s an interesting thought process to consider what the optimum balance should be. Food for another post later, perhaps.

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