At the beginning of this year, after a nice and relaxed holiday period, we took the next step into our search into an organizational form that enables a more decentralized way of working, and encourages everyone to take ownership.

Why change?

Previously we were collaborating in a broader team structure in which subgroups would work on specific projects like creating the POD or building the Memri App.
We strive to be a democratic organization, and what often happened was that when major decisions needed to be made, we had the tendency to schedule a group meeting and discuss. In some cases even if the decision was actually only about one of the subprojects. We realized this was slowing us down and causing frustrations. So we acted on it.

Creating clarity on roles

The first step was to gain more clarity and insights on who's responsible for what. We did so by organizing a workshop on roles and responsibilities and map out who currently held what responsibilities. When possible we would group those responsibilities into roles.

For example:
Role: Pod Project Owner
Responsbilities:

  1. Build and maintain easy to use codebase (including tests) for the pod
  2. Write and maintain documentation and examples
  3. Achieve high code coverage of tests and integration tests
  4. Create an easy flow for calling integrators from other places
  5. Making it easy for other developers to create integrators

By defining this, it became easier for anyone to take matters into their own hand and decide how they wanted to come to decisions. No more need to discuss everything with everyone, but instead, reach out to those who will be affected by your decision and take their input into account. It proved to be a helpful step but we wanted to take things to the next level.

Introducing Micro-Enterprises (MEs)

In order to provide more clarity and give more autonomy to individuals and teams, we introduced a new organizational structure inspired from Haier. This organizational model encourages and tries to help everyone become an entrepreneur within their organization. We want to transform our organization into a network structure where Micro-Enterprises can collaborate on products easily, and replace hierarchical relationships with contractual relationships. Getting to a place where all of that is working will take much more time, but this January we already took a big first step towards that goal.

We did so by breaking the organization down into Micro-Enterprises (MEs), which are autonomous teams that basically need to run their own "shop". They need to find their own customers and get to a place where they start making revenue. This can be done by either finding customers internally by doing work for other MEs, or reaching out to the customers externally.

Eventually, each ME will get their own Profit & Loss statement allowing them to make decisions without having to get approval by anyone other than themselves. We started asking each ME to create their own business plan before they would receive funding to do their project. This process still needs more refinement and at the moment, all MEs knew they'd receive their funding anyway.

Business plans: First experiences

So the plan was for MEs to start creating their business plans, in order to better understand how that process went and was experienced, I asked Ruben Seggers, owner of the Consumer product ME to share his experiences:

"In order to work in the new ME structure, we created business plans for several MEs. I’m part of the consumer product ME, responsible for creating the final product Memri’s end users. To do so, we discussed our target market, the consumer’s problems, potential solutions, resources needed to get to those solutions and strategy for how to obtain those resources. Of course we have been working on the consumer product with the whole team for quite some time, and we gave all those topics deep thought already. However, within this new ME structure, we had to go over this again and really isolate these aspects for the consumer product only. Although it feels a bit selfish at times, it really helps to focus on the specific part you’re working on, and what’s needed to make that part succeed on its own."

"Before we switched to an ME structure, it was tempting to assume that everyone was aware of the reasoning behind all decisions, as we made the planning together. However, there were already different teams and aspects, and there are of course blind spots. Having to make a business plan from a certain ME perspective, and having to present that clearly enough to get backed up by others, forces us to better explain and document our decisions, which decreases the chances of miscommunication."

"At times it was difficult to create a business plan in this structure. It’s a new way of looking at our resources and it’s harder to formally ask others for certain resources, instead of simply suggesting what we as a group should do. Luckily we all experienced similar difficulties and were able to slowly ease into this new practice. I’m definitely looking forward to what dynamics will arise when we have to negotiate more between the various MEs as we grow."

Next steps

This was our first step and as Ruben mentioned as well, there are quite some things we learned already, and we're definitely not there yet. Learning and seeing what works and what not will be essential in order to make it work and will be the main focus in the coming months while we try to develop this way of working further. Some implementations we want to do to further mature this model would be introducing ways for MEs to negotiate and collaborate, introducing real Profit & Loss statements, and having an accounting system that helps us with that. We don't know what challenges we will find along the way, but the first experiences have been inviting enough for us to continue this process.