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Maynard Webb offers advice on how to scale without losing agility

Scale equals success, and startups need to figure out how to be innovative AND operationally excellent.

Maynard Webb offers advice on how to scale without losing agility
[Images: Olena Poliakevych/iStock; LoveTheWind/IStock]
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Editor’s Note: Each week Maynard Webb, former CEO of LiveOps and the former COO of eBay, will offer candid, practical, and sometimes surprising advice to entrepreneurs and founders. To submit a question, write to Webb at dearfounder@fastcompany.com.

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Q. We are scaling, fast, which is good, but I’m nervous about what becoming a big company means. How do we stay agile? How do we avoid the problems that plague big companies? 

—Founder of a fast-growing startup

Dear Founder,

Challenges get harder as you become more successful. The more you grow, the more friction you introduce. Onboarding a new employee at a small startup is a lot of work, but what happens when there are 50 new people? Two hundred and fifty? Or, what about when you add your first international branches, and to date every employee has lived and worked in a single geography?

All of those changes are good things, but they are hard to do well. If you have a problem that didn’t get fixed last quarter, it could get in the way of what’s happening this quarter. You have to be relentless at getting better and better.

For a company to be successful, it must be growing and scaling. I always find it fascinating how people find “innovation” to be exciting (despite how routinely it fails to pay off) but react to terms such as “operational excellence” or “rigor” (which almost always correlate with better outcomes) with yawns. If you can figure out operational excellence, it will be massively great for your career and company. It’s far easier than you think—if you focus on it.

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There are many tools and methodologies to help you see what “great” looks like and help you get there. We used to tout kanban, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and Objective and Key Results (OKRs). In programming, Agile methodology has largely replaced the once-popular waterfall development approach.

I personally use the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), and Salesforce employs Marc Benioff’s proprietary V2MOM methodology. What matters is not which tool you use, but that you implement a process to help you look at the company, see where you are, and determine where you need to be.