What growth means for a design factory.
February 10, 2018 | Soura Bhattacharyya
What is Growth?
Growth is a combination of capability and capacity - doing better, and doing more. Nature provides us with simple yet complete examples of growth. As a tree grows, not only does it become bigger, but it also produces more fruit for each unit of resource it consumes.
This is the model of growth that Lattice wants to pursue. We intend to simultaneously increase our capability - by designing and developing more complex technologies in shorter time periods - and our capacity - by doing more projects in total.
Why pursue Growth? If we accept the definition above, then it is apparent that growth is a form of improvement. And improvement is the pursuit of perfection. When we start exploring our own potential, each one of us strives to do more, and do better - we strive to improve, and move towards perfection. Growth is natural.
How do we Grow? Learn. Do. Repeat. Growth is driven by learning AND action.
From Individuals to an Organization At Lattice, we seek to harness the individual pursuit of growth into organizational growth. As each of our team members learns and delivers, we attempt to convert this learning into ever-improving work processes. By doing so, a "Lattice Way" of designing and developing new solutions emerges.
The Lattice Way Over the last 3+ years and 14 projects, we have understood that effective solutions emerge from the following process:
Clear understanding of the client's needs - both explicit and implicit
Ensuring that this understanding is well-documented AND within our capability to deliver
Translating needs into unambiguous specifications
Converting specifications into functional solutions – within committed costs and timelines
1 through 3 can be grouped into the design phase, and 4 constitutes the development phase.
Imagine you have purchased a plot of land with the intent of building a home. You engage an architect to design it, and a builder to build/ develop it. The architect must translate your vision of a home into a design - and ensure that your attention is drawn to key features that are important to you. The builder must ensure that the design is buildable - within the time and cost that you can afford.
Lattice serves as both architect and builder – or designer and developer - for its clients. Therefore, we need to pay equal attention to both the sweep of an elegant archway, and the quality of plumbing. A good-looking home with a dysfunctional bathroom is a disaster. From Systems to Structure This system of design and development must be enabled by the right structure.
At inception, Lattice was loosely organization. Its 5-6 team members were involved in all projects, and there was little need to formalize roles.
By late 2016, we had grown to 10+ members, and one of them was promoted to lead a development team. This allowed for clearer separation between design and development. One senior manager was accountable to source new projects.
By late 2017, our structure evolved further. Both senior managers took accountability for client engagement and system design (the client interface role), while two team leads managed the development process.
The past 4 projects have demonstrated this to be an effective structure, with clear roles and well-segmented areas of accountability. Senior managers are accountable for ensuring that specifications reflect client needs, while team leads ensure that the developed solution meets specifications. A total of ~20 employees are thus organized in three roles - design (convert needs to specs), define (convert specs to technical approach and project plan), deliver (the actual act of writing code or building a device). Structure: Design Cells We intend to adopt this structure as we scale. Our observation is that 10-12 members form a natural unit, or "cell", which today handles up to 3 projects in tandem – completing each project in 12-14 weeks on average.
Each cell will consists of 1 client interface, 1 development team lead, and 8-10 members organized into 3 teams. One of the team members will support the client interface, by writing the specification document, and testing the final system against these specifications.
This structure makes it simple to plan for and measure growth. Capacity is increased by adding a cell – we intend to add one more by September 2018. Capability is improved by shortening the duration of each project – from 12 to 10 weeks – or by completing more complex projects within 12 weeks.
Translated into numbers, 3 cells, each converting a design into a solution in 10 weeks, with 3 projects running in tandem, equals a capacity of 3 x (52/10) x 3, or ~45 projects each year. This is what one organization of less than 40 people can be capable of, within 4 years of inception.
A key feature of a cell is its self-sufficiency – much like its biological counterpart. Each design cell will generate enough income to cover its costs while contributing to the organization’s reserves. This self-sufficiency brings with it autonomy – different cells have the freedom to adopt different business models, evolve different cost structures, and address different domains of operation. They can choose to serve client with similar needs, or design solutions with similar features.
While operating in this structure, growth is driven by two synchronous activities. First, by identifying new opportunities, and adding new cells, capacity increases. Second, by improving processes and eliminating waste, capability improves. .