The importance of building systems in businesses is well known. Conceptually, it’s easy to understand: automate what you can and have systems support one another. Knowing how to apply this to a business is another story, and each stage of a company requires a different set of systems.
It took me around six months in my current role as Head of Engineering to know what systems needed building and how to get them working together. I’ll detail some of these systems in this post, and hopefully it will give some guidance on applying to your own business.
Understand Your Stage
There are a few fairly well known stages during a company’s growth, which in terms of employees is roughly 0 to 10, 10 to 100, 100 to 1,000 and 1,000+. Each of these stages requires a step change in the way work is done, and if you’ve ever worked in a company during one of these transitions you’ll understand how the best way to do something when you’re at 8 people is definitely not the best way to do something when you’re at 30 people.
My company is moving through the 100 person mark now. Our operations and resourcing teams have done a great job at ensuring their processes match our current stage. On the engineering business side, we are now seeing it’s time to change how we work on the company.
What Is The One Thing
Your job will have the One Thing that you should be focusing on. If you’re an engineer, it will likely be delivering a specific feature, working on some critical tickets or improvements in pipelines to better enforce good code. The One Thing is the one item at the top of your to do list, which generally relates most closely to what you are being paid to do.
Asking yourself how you, as an individual, make your company money is a good exercise and often enlightening. I’d also recommend reading The One Thing if you want to understand how to do less and get better results.
As Head of Engineering at a consultancy it became clear that my One Thing was effectively sales. This might sound odd, but my biggest key accountability is growth in revenue. Of course I need to ensure that deliveries go well, that we grow as a company and more - but the one thing is to get more of our products in more customers hands.
Mind Map Systems
A business should be viewed holistically. No system lives in isolation, and there are generally a number of supporting systems. Identify what these systems are as it relates to your focus, and understand how they can work together and create positive feedback loops.
In addition to being focused on sales, I also need to have an eye on training, our internal community, internal frameworks and more. After doing this mind map, it became clear how everything fit together:
- What we sell influenced our training and any internal work
- Our internal work could be used to deliver what we sell (frameworks, etc)
- Our targets could be used directly to influence resourcing
- What we sell influences our marketing campaigns
- Our marketing campaigns influence what other internal work we do (blog posts, talks, meet ups, etc)
You then have a clear holistic view of what the system looks like and how it all fits together.
Once you understand what systems you need you move on to the execution of these systems: build, implement and operate. These are all separate steps, and there should be a clear process for all of them. Systems take continuous energy to maintain and the more you can ensure this is part of the process, the more momentum can be conserved. It will also become clear if the system isn’t working as well as it should.
After understanding what systems my company needs it becomes clear that there is a lot that our team can be doing that directly benefits the company (training, internal frameworks supporting what we sell, blog posts) so my job is to make sure that they have the incentives and the time to do this. We should also build frameworks for everyone to work within to make it as easy as possible for them to do this type of work. If we need people to write blog posts we should give them ideas, a template and access to a copywriter.
All of these team-focused systems support our main focus of sales. Of course, there are a multitude of systems supporting sales directly. These range from templates for the creation of products (structure of the product, market description, costing, commercials), to templates for our sales team and website, to templates for when we sell these products so we can quickly get a proposal in front of the client.
My goal is to put in place as many systems as possible with the intention of making the work we do as easy as possible. The more machinery there is in place to handle a given task, the easier it is to scale with assurance on quality.
We’re at the start of this journey now and there will be course corrections along the way. However, from just identifying what systems support one another and the few systems we have already implemented there has been a big step forward in focus, productivity and growth.