As we near our 1st birthday (!) we've been working on balancing our client work with our own business development and 5-year vision - specifically, what will the structure and culture of This is Milk be like when we've evolved past our start up state to a fully operating business? To figure this out, we've taken into account what we know of business, the demands for innovation and change, adaptability, and the needs and wants of our current and future workforce. We’ve worked with Strathclyde University’s Business Clinic to work out an optimally designed company structure to complement our strategic aims, our culture and our mission.
So what do we want to achieve? As a business, we are committed to collaboration, continuous learning and an unadulterated focus on customers. We knew straight away that a traditional hierarchy didn't support these aims. On the other end of the spectrum, a holacracy wouldn't support the empowered, quick decision-making that enables nimble project delivery. Ultimately, our business is all about projects. Whatever way you look at it, that's what we do, and those projects need to deliver.
A matrix designed for purpose
The solution we've come to is a variation of a matrix structure. Everything we do in the business, either internally or for an external client, can be considered a project. Each project needs a purpose, and everyone on that project needs to be aligned in their objectives and working for the same purpose. The skills needed to deliver those projects can be varied and the individuals that make up the project teams could be any mix of This is Milk employees, suppliers, clients or temporary workforce. Regardless, aligning people to objectives and purposes ensures it doesn't matter who they work for or what their skill set is - they will all work towards a common goal. Too often, I've seen project teams waste time, energy and money working for contradictory purposes. The ‘department’ you work for shouldn't ever stop you delivering for a customer or be at odds with the assignment you have. We deliver collaboratively for customers - not hierarchically for individual gains.
Interdisciplinary working - creating skilled teams
I have a brain that struggles to compartmentalise. I haven't yet worked out if it's a gift or a curse, but I am forever connecting concepts and things rather than trying to define where they go in a schematic way. I struggle with defining job titles and understanding silos, because to my mind it is reductive. Yes, there are restrictions to what people can do based on what they have learned and it is harmful to put people in roles they are ill-equipped for, but there is also strength in empathy, in understanding where people are coming from and how skills can complement each other. To my mind, departments based on perceived skill sets reduce opportunities for learning and empathy and counter-productively create friction and discord.
What we aim to create is interdisciplinary teams where whether you're a technologist or a marketer, you are working together for that common goal. That doesn't just happen in ‘agile project worlds’ but in everything we do as a business. We pull teams together around a purpose and find the right mix of skills to deliver that project. Teams or departments don't send ‘representatives’ to the project - rather, the project is created to achieve objectives and purposes to be delivered by skilled people that make up the project team. Each project team will have a lead, ultimately responsible for delivery, resourcing, stakeholder management and all those things that keep a project on track. Project management, and therefore programme management, become critical roles in our future.
Removing Silos and Increasing Learning - The Hub of This is Milk
We have no departments in the future of This is Milk. This led us with the challenge of how to ensure that our people are supported in personal development, that they learn the latest, new ways of doing things. Where do you get the support of a mentor and who do you go for personal and career issues? In the future of This is Milk, you go to ‘The Hub’. The Hub is a business critical, interdisciplinary team made up of people who have the skills and experience to lead and mentor others in their profession. They are architects, responsible for continuously learning and disseminating new ways of doing things, thought leadership, and ensuring that they share information with their Hub peers, the directors, and those they mentor. As soon as anyone comes into This is Milk, they will be paired with a mentor from the Hub who will be their professional guide while they work with us.
Our future architects will also be the kick-starters for projects, responsible for defining the purpose, the scope, the methodology, and the required skills to deliver the project. This ensures their project and delivery skills are always kept fresh and they don't fall foul of management roles that remove them from what they were good at it in the first place. They become champions within and outwith that project, taking learnings from the project and feeding them back to the rest of the Hub and sharing the Hub’s wider learnings with their mentees and their projects. This way, This is Milk will always remain at the forefront of thought leadership, always embedding the latest thinking and experimentation in the work we deliver. This also makes sure that we always improve from lessons learned, from mistakes and from each other. We will seek to prevent power based on knowledge hoarding, and instead incentivise the sharing of information for the growth of the organisation as a whole and the delivery of projects to customers.
Without hierarchy, how do we offer personal and career progression? We have three routes. An individual can move from a project role, to a project management position, to the Hub or horizontally to other disciplines. As our projects are interdisciplinary, we will learn from each other, opening up opportunities for people to move from one discipline to another. We also continually challenge our people and offer them development by the project nature of our work. This month, you could be delivering a process improvement project for a client and next month your project could be implementing a new procedure into This is Milk, meaning continual challenge and motivating work.
Maintaining the Vision and Governing Change
Lastly, there is our Board of Directors and CEO, who as I see it, are there as custodians and champions of our Vision, our Mission and our Values. This board sets shared objectives, governs our own business and makes sure that we keep changing, learning and improving, and that we support our workforce in delivering for our customers.
That’s our vision. We have a long way to go to get there, but we’ve got our eye on the ball. It may be idealistic, but the world was built by idealists.