Bureaucracy vs. GTD (Getting Things Done)
I’ve worked at a variety of companies ranging from large 20,000 employee behemoths to small 15 person startups. One of the things that’s always come across my mind is the direct correlation between company size and bureaucracy. It really bothers me that as a company grows, its bureaucracy increases and a subsequent lack of productivity follows. This inevitably leads to the company being overtaken by a smaller, faster competitor.
Everyone says that the increase in bureaucracy isn’t a choice, but rather a byproduct of a growing organization. But why is this the case? Is it because of conflicting personalities, too many cooks in the kitchen or just laziness? At my first engineering job, my boss used to say “in a given 8 hour day, you only really work for 4 hours.” I thought it was just him that thought that way, but I’ve seen the same thing occur at every place I’ve worked at since then. I actually think that it’s a function of company size. In fact, I made up this graph to illustrate the phenomenon using completely made up data.
Google is the first company I’ve seen that’s really tried defying this, as they realize that once they become big and slow that someone else will beat them at their own game. They’ve done this by keeping teams small and isolated on their own projects. It also helps that it feels like a nerd version of Disneyland when you walk around the campus, but the small teams is the real reason.
One such example is the team of a Google product that I use every day, Google Reader. It’s composed of 9 people. That’s a pretty small team for a product like that, but it’s a great product and they get things done.
In the same vein, I’ve been working on my own for a couple months now, and the amount that I’ve been able to get done in that time is leaps and bounds more than I’ve been able to get done at any company, even the smaller outfits. With the absence of meetings, conference calls and commuting, I’ve been able to work half as many hours with twice the productivity and the freedom to travel all over the world. It even improves the quality of my work because I can work when I want and where I want, which does wonders for an engineer’s mind.
All of this makes me wonder why organizations hire so many more people than they need. However, if companies only hired as many people as they needed to function, we’d probably have insanely high unemployment rates. In all honesty, I think the real solution would be to find some sort of new management paradigm that allows for growth without loss of productivity. You’d think that with all this grand new technology that facilitates better, more open communication that we could reduce some of the headaches and optimize things, right? Perhaps it’s the people that are the problem.