A while back when we first started our company, we had a very typical hierarchical management structure. However, our organization was fairly flat with me as the CEO, and project managers beneath me. You could say we managed our business using waterfall. Decisions coming from the top, analyzing requirements, and then developing the plan, executing it, etc. I was determined to work myself out of a job, so that I was not needed. What happened if I got run over by a beer truck? I’m going to invent a term here, agile business management, which is the opposite of a hierarchical top down structured management.
In a technical and knowledge sense, it turned out to be very similar. We had one or two guys that were at the top of the hierarchy and had the most knowledge about the products we tested for our clients. Everyone one of the other team members had a question, they would goto John, and ask John how to solve their problem. John was helpful. He would do his best to help them and usually was able to.
At the same time, I was reading a book by Al Barabasi called Linked. One of the themes of his book was that the internet was composed on nodes and that some nodes had more links going into them than others such as Google and Yahoo. With more links these nodes began to become more important and gain more knowledge from the nodes connected to them. These super nodes (google and yahoo) became hubs in the network. In a network with thousands of nodes, there may be 50 hubs. In other words, a very small ratio. Therefore, if you take out one node, at random, the network continues to grow and prosper, as the probability of that node (that was removed) being a hub is very low. If however, you take out a hub, or a few of the hubs, the network would come to a halt. Now, if you have 50 hubs, and you take out 2-3, no big deal. But if you have 3 hubs, and take out 1, that is a big deal.
As I thought about this, I realized that our own organization was the same way. This one guy, John, who was answering others’ questions, continued to acquire links from the others, and kept getting smarter and smarter in the process. That was good for John, but as a hub, if he decided to quit, he would take out the network! So we had an opportunity upon hiring about 4 new people, I purposely made 2 new people report to a mentor other than John, thus having 2 mentors. My theory was that the mentors would in turn be forced to help the newbies solve their problems and in the process get smarter. And it worked. John continued to be a hub, but when he later decided to quit, we had a few other hubs in the network that could handle the load, and keep the network up and running.
I think that this term, agile business management, can be applied to many things in life. Perhaps it should be called network business management too, who knows. The point is reduce your risk, create knowledge hubs.