Can your processes scale to keep up with your growth?

We moved into our current home in Frisco, Texas about 16 years ago.  It was a fairly new neighborhood.  There are sidewalks around the perimeter of the community with a hedge row that provides a barrier between the road and the homes.  This is where we have walked for many years.

When we first moved in, there were several feet between the hedge and the edge of the sidewalk.  As you can see from the picture above, that is not the case any longer.  When they designed and poured the walkway, there was plenty of room between the sidewalk and the street.  They could have easily moved it several feet closer to the street, but they did not think about the future.

The same thing happened when I planted a Bradford Pear tree outside of my office in the backyard.  At the time eight feet seemed like plenty of distance between the tree and the house.  Not the case anymore as the branches must be trimmed every year to avoid hitting the house.

What is true in these two examples is also true in many companies.  Processes and systems are designed to meet the needs at the time of startup, but if things go as hoped and the business grows, these processes can no longer support the volume of business being conducted.

I realize that there are often limits of how much you can spend when in a start up mode and sometimes you have to deal with what you can afford, but there are other times when some forward thinking might prevent a “hedge from encroaching on your sidewalk.”

Business processes such as manufacturing a piece of equipment or something as simple as catering food for a large event could benefit from some advanced planning.  A process that works well when producing 100 items a month or serving dinner for 200 people may not be practical when you need to manufacture 1000 units a month or serve 1000 people at a convention.

When designing a process, use the following steps to build something that is scalable.

  1. Create a simple flow chart that documents each step in the process.
  2. For each step, identify the following items:
  • Systems needed.  What computer systems are required?  If there is a limit on how fast something can be processed, what is it?
  • Personnel involved.  How many people in each job category are required to complete the work?
  • Raw Materials needed.  What parts are required to make your product?  Is there a limit on your supply chain and how fast your suppliers can provide what you need?
  • Other resources required.  This could be something such as the amount floor space needed for assembly of a product, or the number of tables and dishes required to serve a meal to a large group.
For each step and resource, answer the following:

What would be required if the volume of business using this process doubled?

What would be required if you were doing 10x the business?

What step in the process is most likely to be your bottleneck, or limiting factor preventing you from handling the increased volume of business?

  1. What would the costs in personnel, systems, or other resources required to sustain each level of increased business?
  2. What investments up front would be much more cost effective than having to expand at a later date?  For example, when a city builds a short bridge over a creek, would it be smarter to go ahead and add an extra lane when doing the initial construction when you fully expect the traffic to increase and an additional lane will be needed within a few years?

Some time spent planning for the future can pay big dividends in the years ahead.  Even if you are unable to go live with the higher amount of resources, you will be ready to respond quickly and know the cost of growth when it happens.