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How to Build a Minimum Viable Bureaucracy

How to Build a Minimum Viable Bureaucracy

How to Build a Minimum Viable Bureaucracy

‘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. 



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Steve Glaveski

Steve Glaveski is the CEO and Co-Founder of Collective Campus which he established to help companies and their employees to create a more meaningful impact in the world in an age of rapid change and increasing uncertainty. Steve also founded Lemonade Stand - a children's entrepreneurship program, author of Wiley book, Employee to Entrepreneur: How to Earn Your Freedom and do Work That Matters, Harvard Business Review contributor, author of the Innovation Manager's Handbook vol 1 and 2, host of the Future Squared podcast, and keynote speaker. He previously founded HOTDESK, an office sharing platform and has worked for the likes of Westpac, Dun & Bradstreet, the Victorian Auditor General's Office, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Macquarie Bank. Follow him at @steveglaveski

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