Coffee Space


Rapid Growth

Preview Image

This is a discussion about rapid growth of either a settlement or organization in the UK. I repeatedly see the same mistakes being made and it doesn’t appear anybody is learning from them - it is rather frustrating.

Organisations and settlements are rather similar in many aspects, there are people there, those people provide and make use of resource and services. Some of these resources and services scale linearly, some become more efficient at scale, and others less efficient at scale.

Increased Efficiency

Typically resources or services that tend to increase in efficiency are those that were under-utilized previously. For example, in my small local village, a shop that served a few thousand villagers did not expand beyond hiring a few more staff to provide their services to a village that doubled in size. These resources and services cannot scale indefinitely though, and in this small village the shop utilization is quite high and they feel pressure to expand.

Another example could be road infrastructure, where under utilized remote roads become more utilized, and therefore more efficient. Of course, this only scales so far, as you begin to see issues with traffic. If the infrastructure is setup in such a way that expansion is impossible, you’ve now created an unfixable problem.

Some more examples would include water, gas, electric, roads and shops.

Decreased Efficiency

Some things do not scale quite as well, almost irrespectively of their infrastructure.

In local government for example, the local Council will have more staff to deal with waste pick-up. This once upon a time may have been one person, managing themselves and their vehicle. As this village expands, you need multiple trucks, multiple people per truck, managers to organise, mechanics to fix trucks, HR to manage employee issues, etc.

These tend to be Pyramid-like structures. As the ‘foundations’ increase (key service workers), the Pyramid also increases in height (managers, managers of managers, etc). What’s worse is that these are not one-off investments either, they are a permanent overhead.

Recent Observation

I have to be a little light on exact details here, but I made an amusing (and annoying) observation recently where people who should have known better have befallen typical traps.

An organization recently rapidly increased their customer base. This customer base has to visit their location regularly in order to utilize their service, and many customers often choose to relocate to use this service and live locally. There appeared to be little to no planning, and so far I have observed the following:

  1. Lack of staff to interface with customers - The first failing was that there is a lack of staff to actually handle the customers. The management teams appear to have been given very little warning, and desperately had to hire many new people that are from skilled professions. These people are well sought after, so they either had to choose quality or quantity.
  2. Lack of management to properly plan - In any case, you now have additional staff, but a lack of management to run them. Existing management is pushed to the breaking point, and basic well known problems and procedures become unmanaged, either because the existing management has no time to address them or the new management has no idea of them.
  3. Local property market flooded with additional customers - As I said, many customers choose to relocate to the area, and given a sudden increase in demand, there is insufficient supply. Prices increase as a result and still leave customers without a local place to live. As a result, customers move further away for cheaper and more available properties, and then commute in.
  4. Transport system collapses under pressure - Recently the transport system began to struggle, as they were given no warning and can not instantly scale to the required level. The transport requires more staff to operate it, and these people take time to train. This leaves customers somewhat stranded away from the local area, unable to utilize the service they paid for effectively.

All of this was highly predictable, and those responsible for the recent expansion of the customer base should be held responsible for its failings. It’s well known that if you increase the number of people in a given place, resources and services must also be considered, as they will come under grater strain.

The problem we really have now is that they are unlikely to return to pre-expansion customers (these customers stay for years at a time), and their ability to handle resources and services is clearly lacking. The only thing that appears to be holding the organization together currently are the long-time staff members that know how it should be run.

There is yet another problem they are yet to consider, though: Many of these long-term staff members are either approaching retirement, or technically have retired. If the organization begins to fall apart, there is no motivation for them to man the ship. Suddenly they will be left with medium-term and short-term staff, which together are not enough to keep the organisation quality high.

So either now, or later, the decision needs to be made for quality or quantity. You cannot rapidly choose either without sacrificing the other, preparations have to be made.