06 January 2010

Let's Get Small!

I like small teams, groups and organizations.

I'm quite convinced that organizational growth is not always desirable. That is to say, for the kind of work I like to do, I don't find organizational bigness all that attractive, both as a matter of personal preference and professional opinion. Yes, being big provides certain economies of scale, but in any economy there are two sides to the balance sheet. Economies of scale convey benefits AND costs. Similarly, being small conveys some benefits and some costs.

The technical term for this preference for smallness is subsidiarity (which says that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.)

So, Rogue Project Leadership is a subsidiarity-based approach. It rests on the idea that the costs and benefits of being small are better than the costs and benefits of being large, within the context of the kind of work that Rogue Project Leaders do. Other people with other values and priorities may find that being big satisfies their needs and interests better than being small. I'm just pointing out that being big is not a universal, inevitable objective.

As yesterday's post mentioned, RPL is all about people, and being small makes it easier to know, respond to, understand and care for everyone on the team. As a general rule, small teams have more direct, organic and human communication paths. They're more personal.

Small can also improve the quality of production, by enabling a craftsman approach instead of a mechanical assembly line. It's been my experience that I care about something more (and have a greater sense of ownership) if I'm involved with it end-to-end. Throwing it over the wall to the next guy has a distancing affect. We see this benefit in things like microbrews and home made bread... or small tech companies.

This approach doesn't exactly scale, at least not in the sense that some people mean when they use the word "scale." It's not supposed to. It's about handling things at the smallest, most local level. So one of the costs of being small is that your reach is limited. You probably can't penetrate certain markets. The demand may always be higher than what you can supply (which is a mixed blessing, I suppose). But keep in mind it's not about choosing between one small Rogue team and one big non-Rogue team. It's about choosing between 1000 Rogue teams and one big enterprise... and this approach is unlikely to create something that's "too big to (be allowed to) fail."

1 comment:

Gabe said...

For those interested, a great investigation into the power of being small and valuing people is the book Small Giants by Bo Burlingham. You point here, Dan, is spot on if you value people and believe all work life is for the purpose of edifying people.