Updated: Apr 26
Startups seem almost counterintuitive. We create novel solutions and products, but the way we develop those ideas is in a state of chaos. It’s common for a startup to operate with the mentality of, “There’s a million things to do and only ten pairs of hands on deck!” That mentality shifts into an explanation of your short-comings. It's why your metrics are falling short. There's too much to do, so you miss deadlines. You always “feel” busy, but can't explain your objective accomplishments.
This state of disorganization can cost your startup upwards of $11,000 a year in lost time.
(Pssst! That doesn't include the cost of lost sales, customer dissatisfaction, and delayed product developments.)
That’s where a business operating system might come into play.
Your business operating system is a set of practices, processes, and methods for your startup to operate in a predictable way.
It is both intentional and collaborative. Those who use it have a shared toolset and knowledge base for addressing any challenge.
Here are some signs that you might be needing the structure of an operating system:
You realize your “flat” organizational structure is no longer flat.
What was once an all-hands collaborative environment is now broken down into departments. Work and knowledge share stay within those departments.
Decision-making is more complicated than it has been in the past.
You’re always putting out fires, rather than thinking about the future of your business.
When asked about the company mission, you get different answers depending on who you ask.
Tasks will "slip through the cracks," and you’re never sure who’s at fault.
If you’re not intentional about how you want your business to run, then a structure will be chosen for you.
Don’t let that happen.
You need to institutionalize knowledge and develop repeatable, scalable practices for running your business.
Here are the questions you should be able to answer as an organization, department, and individual.
What are the values, mission, and culture of the organization?
What is our goal-setting framework (e.g. OKRs/KPIs)? Do I know what actions to take to meet those objectives?
How do we measure success?
What do I have to communicate and to whom before I do something?
When do we have meetings? With whom?
Now that we recognize the problem, how do we go about fixing it? Here are the first few steps you can take to build an efficient operating system.
Create a single source of truth.
Define your startup’s mission and goals.
Identify and document processes.
Create a Single Source of Truth
If your employees have a question, will they know how to find the answer? And if they do, will they get the same answer every time? A Single Source of Truth (SSOT) ensures everyone in your organization has the same data. A SSOT is usually referenced in database management, but applies to all processes in your organization. It ranges from employee onboarding, account management, business development, and more.
Here are some simple ways to get started.
Use a Content Management System (CMS).
Put contact information into a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM).
Write a business wiki to store common knowledge about your company. This includes your company’s mission statement, departmental goals, and other crucial data.
Define Your Startup’s Mission and Goals
What is your startup’s vision for the future? To achieve your mission, everyone should see the same destination. This might seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised how your employees and clients might respond. Meet with members of your team and talk to your customers.
Discover their why.
Why work with your company? Why buy your product?
Now you can use metrics to measure your success. Some common frameworks for goal-setting could include OKRs/KPIs, MBO, 360-degree feedback, and others. I’ll soon be writing on how to choose the best structure for you, so stay tuned!
Identify and Document Processes
You defined your organization’s mission and goals. Now, you can craft your processes to ensure those goals are being met. Let’s say you hire a brand new Customer Success Associate. How would you train them? Does the process look more like whisper down the lane? Not everything you do in your startup has to be “creative” and “cutting edge.” In other words, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Have a pipeline for sales prospecting.
Create a timeline for publishing social media content.
Have an internal form for team members to put in IT requests.
Create an FAQ for your website.
Creating intentional processes will avoid wasted time on reteaching. You have a system of accountability. Most importantly, you can measure how successful those processes are in producing their intended results.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It’s an introduction to thinking about the management of your organization. Take the first steps to transform your group project into a functioning company. Take the time to intentionally and collaboratively build your operating system. It will save you time, frustration, money, and other limited resources down the line.