A couple of weeks ago, I had discussed about an accelerating rate of change.  Companies are coming out of nowhere and disrupting well-established industries. Consumer expectations are fickle and changing dramatically. Co-incidentally, some of these disrupters are starting to shape up consumer expectations.  When you layer in the power of big data, analytics and mobile – the ability of these disrupters to make fundamental changes to any industry are dramatic.

These days, the entry barriers for disruption are pretty low. No longer do you need huge capital requirements for setting up server farms and buying pricey software licenses. The impact of the revolution unleashed by Amazon and Salesforce is mind-boggling. Anyone with a great idea, and a few hundred dollars, can now start a company. With cloud, they have scale without the capital needed. The operating costs are largely variable –which are very controllable based on their business volume.

Start ups run lean. The Founder, CEO, CTO, Product Manager, are usually rolled into one. The VP of Engineering is also a software architect, a designer and probably a developer. Only as the scale of the business grows, do the roles start to segregate, to provide the much needed focus.

Time to market is critical for a startup.  So you will see incremental development – no long development lifecycles. Development time is measured in weeks and not in months.

Capital and resource allocation is critical – can mean the difference between life and death. So the things a start up will work on – will only be the ones that are critical for getting new revenue (attract new customers), or maintaining current revenue (retain current customers). With maturity, they will focus on efficiency (reducing costs).

In a nutshell – here is what start-ups are doing:

  • Low fixed costs
  • Multi-faceted, multi-skilled resources and flat organizations
  • Time to market – short development cycles
  • Ruthless focus and prioritization on what is critical to win in the market

Now – let’s compare this to a “typical” IT organization. I could almost argue that a  typical IT organization is the exact anti-thesis of a start-up.  If speed to market and agility is the need of the business, is there even a hope and a prayer to make it happen?

I can hear some arguments to these points – some of them sounding something like this. “You don’t understand, we run a very complex business. We handle PII, PHI and are subject to regulations of PCI, HIPAA, and other draconian bevy of legislations. We have legacy systems that these so-called start up’s don’t have to deal with….our systems are so interconnected…” and so on…

Alright – granted. Here’s my question: how do you respond to the market? How do you respond to your executive? What is your choice? If you can’t do ALL of the above – surely, you can do SOME of the above…?

Here is my challenge. Next time in a project review meeting – let us count the number of people around the table and ask – do you need an architect, designer, tech lead, developer, test lead, tester, environment engineer, network lead, middleware lead, security…. (you get the drift) around the table.  As a leader – what can you do?

How can you get past “this is how we do things” to “what can we do in the fastest, most cost-effective manner”?  If you can change the discussion from “no one asked the BA/ tech lead/security/test lead” to “how did we deliver the product in a timely and cost effective manner” – it will be a win.

This means changing the prevailing paradigm. We can’t be thinking of 3-5 year roadmaps – but 9-12 month runs. We can’t be thinking of silo’ed functions – but multi-faceted skills. 

This is not the way of the world – but to make a difference, one needs to start somewhere. Can you start with smaller “Innovation” team? Perhaps, that is the “start up” within the organization – and is allowed the latitude to experiment, and to break rules. This team is given short cycles, a short runway to succeed or to fail. If they succeed, additional resources are provided, and in time, they are “industrialized”. If they fail, they move on to the next thing.

What I am suggesting is that we need to start somewhere. If we don’t start somewhere, we will not get anywhere.

If you are a large/ mid-sized organization, you have a great advantage. You do not have the day-to-day existential struggle of a start-up. There is the luxury of having money in the bank and a paycheck. Use that as an lever – play to your strengths – experiment – break the rules – challenge yourself – challenge your organization – become a startup. It is the most fun you will ever have. And make a huge difference to your business.