Starting something is hard. You sweat, struggle and persist and you’re off and running, you start to gain momentum. You build a team around you of dedicated commandos. The ones who take risks, get shit done and make things happen - the starters. The company is small, communications overhead is minimal and you’re focused on becoming sustainable and proving your viability.
But then what?
Then you start to scale up. You get more revenue, or you take on some funding. There’s more to do, so you add more people. You need to lift your eyes from the road in front and look to the horizon, so you add structure and start making plans.
Suddenly you can’t move as fast as you did before. Your commandos find structure constrictive and start to leave. A hierarchy begins to form, which slows communications down and introduces noise into the system. The mission becomes blurry and people aren’t sure how what they are doing contributes to the purpose of this grand enterprise that you’ve put in motion.
There are organisations that have figured out how to move fast, while remaining oriented on their goals and grounded in who they are. They get the best out of people in insanely challenging circumstances, often under ludicrous constraints. They operate by consistently holding themselves to standards that are universally understood and shared. The foundations of this ability are operational excellence, which enables continuous improvement and evolution.
One such organisation which has been learning and honing these lessons for over 350 years is the Royal Marines. Way before I was a software developer I served in the corps, in fact I taught myself how to code en route to the second Iraq war on board a ship. When I began my second career in software development I looked up my time in the corps as something fun and challenging that had certainly shaped me personally, but that didn’t have much bearing on my new direction.