Every manager wants their team (and company) to be successful. After all, no one sets out to fail, but every company stumbles along the way. Projects can go awry. Products fall flat. These are normal and educational. Interestingly, success can be just as detrimental — especially sudden, stratospheric growth. When things go from good to great to meteoric, that’s an exciting, but equally stressful time, that requires you to scale in all directions at the same time.
Success comes with many challenges, but don’t get us wrong, these are good problems to have. The fallout from rapid expansion has shuttered many businesses just as they were getting off the ground, but today the odds are in your favor.
There has never been a better time to experience exponential growth from an IT perspective, as cost-effective cloud, virtualization, and hybrid networking strategies allow us to rapidly achieve massive scale.
The technological challenges of immense growth
Every system should have scalability baked in. The challenge of growth can be more easily met if your systems are designed to be scalable from the onset. You don’t want to back yourself into any corners that will require a major systems overhaul just as IT demands intensify.
One of the most common offenders in this regard is poor database design. An experienced database admin is an important asset during the early stages of conceptualization. They should be kept in the loop on the overall strategy, and possess the technical chops to design in scalability, fault tolerance, and advanced analytics from the get-go.
Servers and connectivity need to follow suit, minimizing the potential for bottlenecks as your IT needs evolve. In the past this was accomplished with expensive over-procurement, ensuring there was always an adequate cushion for growth. But today, budgets can be minimized during the early stages while allowing for rapid capacity expansion when the time arrives.
For example, cloud server instances can usually be upgraded from tiny to massive with nothing more than a few clicks of the mouse, using either the AWS console, Azure Portal, or a hybrid environment DevOps tool such as Ansible with Satellite. This means that costs can now increase directly in proportion with revenues, eliminating many avenues of early financial ruin.
Developing Your Soft Assets
Rapid growth isn’t just a systems dilemma. Often overlooked in the early stages, staff organization also needs to be scalable. A detailed IT department organization chart should be part of the early plan. It might seem silly at first, especially if only one or two IT techs are handling all of the positions. But when the department is ready to grow, the org chart provides focus and direction through the chaos.
Despite our best efforts to prepare, staff shuffling is to be expected, and there may be some toes stepped on along the way. That one IT pro who is doing InfoSec, systems admin, and tech support won’t be able to continue in all of those roles. Maybe they’re the ideal candidate to get PMP-certified or manage the growing IT staff? Or maybe some of your amazing grassroots talent no longer has a place in an evolving IT department.
By creating a plan early and sticking to it as growth ensues, you can manage expectations. You can also reduce turnover by transitioning the team for growth before everyone is burnt out from overwork.
Evolution of IT’s Role
When everything is operating smoothly and consistently, IT departments can sometimes seem as if they operate in a vacuum. That will not be the case as a growing business evolves. Suddenly, IT teams come under the scrutiny of various entities they may not have even known existed.
Financiers will seek regular status reports. InfoSec, fault-tolerance, and disaster recovery plans will come under the scrutiny of due diligence officers. Regulatory agencies may want to probe the inner workings of systems to ensure compliance and will expect immediate resolution if they encounter any shortcomings. An information infrastructure suddenly becomes a primary catalyst for the success or failure of the enterprise.
External powers are not the only forces at play. Other company departments will need to coordinate their activities with IT so that they may strategize their next moves. This process is so important that Silicon Valley startups often choose to employ a Growth Manager to oversee this task. Being able to quickly recognize and adapt to change is an important component of the growth function.
As part of this process, the IT crew will be hit with a barrage of report requests, unlike anything they have seen previously. The availability of documentation, metrics, and analytics will be critical to ensure the IT department facilitates growth rather than pose an obstacle. While a brilliant idea may have sparked the fire of growth, data is the fuel that will keep it burning.
By designing for scale from the early stages of planning, our focus is free to evolve with the confidence that our systems and staff are up to the challenge.