Scaling Organizations - Scribing

In the process of growing a company there’s several hurdles based on the size of the company. What worked at 5 doesn’t work at 20, what works at 20 doesn’t work at 50, and what worked at 50 doesn’t work at 150. There’s a lot of talk about two pizza teams and scaling development teams out there. One thing I haven’t seen quite enough of is details around scribing and documenting things.

Planning

At teams of 2 and 3 you get everyone in a room. Perhaps 1 person says what you’re going to do and you all rally around it, or maybe it’s a day of debate and persuasion from all sides.

In the end though you all leave, get heads down, but all know what goal you’re working towards. At a larger company planning doesn’t scale quite this way. I’ve seen roadmapping and planning done a variety of ways as companies scale, but most times the thing they miss for far too long is documenting what comes out of it. Many may produce some level of artifact, but a cohesive wrap-up is often missed. Such an artifact should be easily digestible within a couple minutes, but also deep enough to answer many of the initial questions raised by the high level pieces.

Meetings

Meetings are a smaller level item than broader planning, and tend to go without thorough note taking than higher level planning. With growth you’ll have more meetings, trust me you will. The more meetings you have the more likely you may miss one or two you’re interested in. Or perhaps its as simple as some team members being out. Summer is especially hard around this. For a team of 10 it’s not uncommon that you may go all summer with at least 1 person not in the meeting and often two.

Keeping those that miss the meeting well informed of what happened at it is critical as you scale. This is slightly less important at an extremely large company, though still valuable, but critical as you scale to larger. As you’re scaling things are changing faster, and context can more easily get lost.

So how do you improve this?

Some practical tips:

  • Have a set of running notes with someone consistently scribing is a great standard to set. If you missed a meeting you know where to go for it.
  • Recording who was and was not at the meeting can be incredibly valuable. I’ve heard statements “I said X at Y meeting”, the only problem with that statement is I wasn’t at Y meeting.
  • Not only recording the meeting notes, but explicitly calling out who’s not there can help to know if that information should be explicitly passed along vs. just missed.
  • Within your long running document have a summary to wrap it up. While scribing is great it can lead to not seeing the forest for the trees at times.

And a few from others:

  • Meetings need a purpose and an agenda. If I don’t know why I’m having a meeting, or what will be covered, I won’t go. If I’m organizing a meeting and can’t spare the time to produce an agenda and goal, I shouldn’t waste other people’s time with the meeting – @jacobian
  • Any meeting over about 15-20 isn’t a meeting, it’s a presentation (which is OK too but make it clear that it’s a download, not a discussion). – @jacobian

Email

If you aren’t aware I’m a big fan of email. Email is almost guaranteed that someone will at least open it (at least if its to them or a clear enough list). If you have something you want someone to read – email it. You can have a canonical wiki, or Trello board, or a variety of tools, but email will get more eyeballs than any of these. At the same time don’t email things that are already documented elsewhere.

Emails are great for highlighting the things people absolutely need to know about. Short and concise emails will also help to improve reach. Be careful to make these emails have a high ratio of information size to value. If you have a lot of extra follow on content send them somewhere else to read.

Finally don’t overuse email. If you’re sending the same thing every week people will become numb to this. Monitoring if your emails are being opened/responded to can help to know if you’re over-broadcasting.