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How to Build a Minimum Viable Bureaucracy

How to Build a Minimum Viable Bureaucracy
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‘We need more resources!’

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a corporate innovator or a startup entrepreneur utter these words.

As Machiavelli put it, ‘A large body of infantry is impossible to feed and a small one insufficient to make a mark’.

As such, organisations should strive to optimise the size of project teams. They should be large enough to create impact, but not so large that they require countless paralysing processes just to keep everybody on the same page.

The problem is not deficient resources, the problem is the processes that existing resources follow to create value are debilitating. 

To help escape process paralysis, opt for what agile practitioners call a minimum viable bureaucracy, or MVB - a system best embodied by the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Spotify, all of which create several-times more revenue per employee than your typical organisation - not just because they’re tech-driven, but because of the way they work.

A minimum viable bureaucracy is the the version of a team or company that can move, learn and create the most value the fastest, with the least effort.

Building upon the work of Adam Rose, at technology firm Dialexa, I’ve developed the following simple framework to help organisations move towards becoming a minimum viable bureaucracy.

MVB =      Value  ↑ / Bureaucracy ↓

Ultimately, you’ll want to increase the value your organisation creates, while decreasing the bureaucracy, or steps required, to create that value - without compromising the quality of output to an unacceptable level.

If you’re a one man band, you can apply this formula to your own work to gauge where you’re at. 

The following non-exhaustible list of levers can help you increase value while decreasing bureaucracy.

Increase Value: 

·  Stretch your product S-curve (cross-sell, up-sell, explore new customer segments and geographies)

·  Share learnings with other parts of the business and replicate wins

·  Leverage customer referrals

·  Increase marketing spend on higher performing products

·  Focus on objectively high value activities

Decrease Bureaucracy:

·  Automate rudimentary and process-oriented tasks

·  Outsource what can’t be automated to talent-on-demand

·  Decrease number of people required to make Type 2 decisions

·  Lower delegations of authority so decentralised command can reign and bottlenecks decrease

·  Eliminate or mitigate silo’s so bottlenecks decrease and collaboration becomes more fluid

·  Focus on building the proverbial ‘4 button remote control’ that does the job, instead of the 100 button remote control that is far surplus to requirements

·  Work with external partners to complement and speed up your efforts

·  Decrease the frequency of effort or action (for example, frequency of reporting or meetings)

·  Use data to inform decision-making, instead of professional judgment alone

· Stop doing things that aren’t adding much, if any, value

By embodying the principles that underpin a minimum viable bureaucracy, you will get beyond the victimising ‘we need more resources’ mindset, and move towards one that empowers your organisation and its people to be their very best. 

Workflow Podcast

The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.

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To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.

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Steve Glaveski

Steve Glaveski is the co-founder of Collective Campus, author of Time Rich, Employee to Entrepreneur and host of the Future Squared podcast. He’s a chronic autodidact, and he’s into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and do standup comedy.

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