Nimble, passionate and innovative: What startups can bring to legacy organizations
There is much to revere in an established capital project organization, where deep experience and vast expertise transform our most extraordinary ideas into reality. It is also true, however, that sprawling multi-national giants move slowly, and that the weight of large, powerful organizations can suffocate innovation.
By contrast, the startup is the nimblest corporate creature. Startups can pivot on a dime because they’re small, driven by passion and operating on a shoestring, without concern for “how things have always been done.”
Can they teach us anything? Yes.
Concord Project Technologies is a rare corporate creature: A startup in the petrochemical industry. Here are four things we think legacy organizations can take away from startup culture.
1 | Use Rapid Prototyping
Find ways to experiment and innovate at a small scale, so that if you fail, you’ll fail fast and cheap. This is called “rapid prototyping,” and it’s a cornerstone of startup culture.
Before we built T-CON™, we picked one small innovation problem: How can we best manage work packages in the field? In a matter of weeks, we had combined all of the existing solutions into a new, better prototype, and we were testing it with leaders in the petrochemical industry. Several rounds of rapid prototyping like this, and we had a clear understanding of how our comprehensive work packaging management solution would work.
Pro Tip: Don’t ask your IT department to innovate for you. They don’t understand the problems the way your team does. Give your team some flexible technology and some time, and allow them to create their own rapid prototypes. You’ll get better results, in less time.
2 | Establish a flat team structure
Most startups operate on a tight budget, so they are always looking to do more with less. Teams are small and intensely collaborative. Often, there’s little discernable difference between the founder and the intern; no task is too small — or too big — for someone to do. There’s no hidebound bureaucracy, and the work comes first. Everybody is focused on results.
At Concord, we manage everything in sprints. For one or two weeks at a time, everybody on the team is working toward a single goal. Delivering work comes first. The project manager doesn’t sit in a tower, she’s always communicating and working with the team. Everybody’s role is flexible, and the entire team is empowered to make decisions and get things done. We do whatever it takes, and a flat team structure makes that possible.
3 | Have a flexible scope
Yes, you should still plan, define your scope, and write up your specifications before you start. But when it becomes apparent that you need to revise that scope, be prepare to crumple it all up and start over. That’s not just what innovation requires; that’s what innovation is.
When we set out to develop T-CON™, we thought we could store our work packages the way every other company does: in a database, on a server. Mid-way through the development process, we realized that if we wanted to build the kind of rich, dynamic and collaborative work packages we had in mind, we would need to have search capabilities that were as powerful as the work package itself. We realized that we needed to go well beyond standard database technology to more robust, sophisticated big data technologies.
It was a big change. It was expensive. We needed more and different talent. But we are not slaves to scope. Instead, we remain dedicated to a simple principle: We do what is best for the end user, always. Whatever it takes to get there, we do it. And we did.
4 | Be resourceful
Think about what you need, then focus on how you can get it quickly and efficiently. This seems simplistic, but rigid corporate culture often involves jumping through multiple hoops to get even the simplest things done.
Legacy organizations can break out of this cycle by working with startups. Choose a small pilot project, and work with a startup to execute. Nimble, progressive, hungry startups are well-positioned to help legacy organizations find new solutions, try new methodologies and innovate for the future. Beyond this, they often have research, development and piloting budgets they can tap into for new projects, and so large organizations can actually save money by working with them.
This is what our clients are doing with our team. Through a single project and one ambitious team. A lightweight, versatile and productive pilot project that is driving the industry forward.
That’s how innovation happens.