Scaling processes for a growing startup

Jnaapti completed 6 years this May. What started as a 1 person company in 2011, is now a growing business with more than a dozen people working on different aspects of the business. We have conducted training in over 35 organizations in over 30 technologies in the last 6 years.

Like many other tech startups, I started off writing the entire code for our main product, The Virtual Coach, single handedly. The first version of the product took me 2.5 months to build from concept to deployment.

We are now a team of 8-10 engineers working on different aspects of engineering. We now have multiple products in the education space and are targeting multiple customer segments.

When it was just one or two people, we didn’t need a formal project management process. It doesn’t mean a process didn’t exist; rather, the process was in the heads of the individuals who were part of the development team.

If 2 of us are programming, we can easily share tasks, arrive on deadlines and decide our commitments without requiring any elaborate processes as long as we trust each others’ commitments. We may resort to using simple tools like Spreadsheets or may even use pen and paper or a whiteboard.

However, as the organization grows, the number of cross-communication in the team increases. If every person communicates with every other, there is chaos and this soon starts reflecting in the overall efficiency of the organization. This is not a new problem and has been elaborately discussed in some excellent literature.

So what amount of processes is appropriate at different stages of an organization’s growth?
We need processes and tools to manage projects, tasks, issues and timelines. The tools we use should seamlessly work with our existing systems, and should provide enough visibility to the business about project timelines. Changes in business priority (which happens all the time in startups) should reflect upon project timelines.

We want to have “the right amount of” processes and the right tools to manage these processes (think agile) – no more, no less!

Also, when it comes to processes, it is not just engineering processes that need to be considered. As an organization grows, we now have to think about processes in every aspect of the business. We need tools to take care of client data (CRM) – lead information, contact information, all communication done, employee data – their presence in the office, their leaves, salaries, marketing information – different channels, their efficiencies, and in the case of jnaapti, training information – the technology radar, information about our experiments with new technologies, the content we built, information about advancements in education, learning, training, coaching etc.

We have been very comfortable as a team to not have elaborate processes in place (how many times have you heard of people saying that they like the startup environment because of lack of messed up processes), but we found ourselves crushing under our own weight. It was time for us to start looking for some tools to make our lives easier. However, we were not sure which one to use.

What is our requirement from the tooling?
Ultimately we want to know whether we are in the right path as an organization or are we spending way too much time on an aspect of the company where we shouldn’t have invested any effort in the first place.

At jnaapti, we believe that we need to introduce the right amount of processes to show a clear connect between the vision of the organization, the strategy and the day to day functioning in the organization. Everything from project management to CRM to employee management falls under this one big umbrella.

We need to be able to define whether our strategies are helping us validate the business model and whether we are making progress in the right direction and if not, which aspect of the canvas needs to be pivoted so that we steer in the right direction. These practices should start early and should evolve as the organization grows.

When we started looking for tools that help us answer this single question, “Are we succeeding as an organization”, we found that all the tools work in silos. There is a considerable amount of effort in making these systems interact with each other. The ones that do it, however remotely, have way too many features and are built for organizations with tens of departments and don’t serve the needs of a startup.

It is at this point that we envisioned building a framework that serves the needs of startups, jnaapti being the first one and this was how TAME was envisioned.

In the next blog post we will look at some of the issues with existing frameworks that we hope to solve with TAME.