Operational Minimalism

The answer is never more information, a better strategy, a new tool, or some secret hack.

It’s always doing simple things with higher intensity for longer periods of time.

But like entropy, complexity is a natural force that will always increase unless you actively fight it.

If you’re not careful, you will quickly find yourself using 23 different tools to keep your business running and your data plus team communications will be spread across 5 different platforms. You org chart will look like a bowl of spaghetti.

This seems perfectly fine and reasonable as you’re putting things together.

Operational maximalism is what most businesses opt for.

Any tool, process, or line of communication is added if there’s even just a minuscle chance that it might help.

But as soon as things break or you want to make changes, you will quickly realize how bad things have gotten.

You will spend hours figuring out how a single automation works. There are 20 different ways to set up an automation in ClickUp alone. And wait, didn’t we also do something with Zapier here? But how then are we posting this in Slack? ClickUp and Zapier do not work well together after all. Right, there is this webhook that triggers a Pythons script on our server.

A shitton of time is lost every day tracking down information and navigating processes that seemed perfectly reasonable when you set them up.

Where is that meeting link again? We’re using Google Meet right? Oh wait it’s actually a huddle.

This will not only slow down everyones work but also make it almost impossible to make changes.

But where operational maximalism actaully has its worst impact, is on your team’s ability to collaborate efficiently.

If you’re not careful and mindlessly let your org chart grow more and more complex, you will end up with a team that is barely functional. No will be sure who is responsible for what and there are so many lines of communication that hardly anything gets through without being lost in translation.

That’s what happened to us.

So recently I’ve been on a mission to radically simplify everything.

People have this natural urge to add more and more Slack channels but I’ve been fighting hard to keep our team communication centralized in a single channel.

We used to do a ton of different things for clients with all kinds of different success metrics. Now we have exactly one and our complete fulfillment process is built around it.

Business books recommend to track dozens of KPIs. That sounds great in theory. After all you want get a grip on your business right? And building dashboards is of course super fun.

However maintaining dashboards and making sure all numbers are correct and up to date is a full time job in itself.

So now we have exactly one metric for each of the four parts of our machine.

Instead of juggling responsibilites, we now have always one person 100% responsible for each client.

We have one sales process, one client onboarding process, and exactly one core process to deliver results.

A nice side effect of embracing operational minimalism is that it makes our own sales efforts much easier.

If the information you’re sharing with leads is spread across 5+ different platforms, there will be inevitable conflicting information. The link in the TextExpander is no longer working and the pricing info in the ClickUp doc is outdated.

This signals directly to prospects that you don’t have your shit together.

And confused people don’t buy.

With that said, my quest for operational minimalism is far from finished and never will be.

Just this week I reluctantly agreed that we add another tool to our stack.

Instead of keeping our emails centralized in Missive, we’re now testing Close for some of the sales stuff.

It’s definitely better suited to keep track of our sales pipeline.

At the same time it’s adding a lot of complexity. Now we have to hunt down information and maintain data in yet another place.

So time will tell if it’s actually worth it. Usually the answer is no and you’ll have to go through the painful process of reverting all changes.

Removing a tool from your stack is usually twice as hard as adding it.

But at the same time, it’s completely normal and important to experiment with new tools or processes.

So there you have it.

Operational maximalism will always sing its siren song. However, the quest for simplicity is a battle worth fighting.

It’s a constant endeavor of trial, error and fine-tuning, but every step towards operational minimalism is a win in my book.

Strip down, simplify, clarify. Your team, your customers, and your sanity will thank you for it.

Written on July 23, 2023

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