The Missing Startup Design Pattern

Earlier this week, I chatted with a friend of mine who has founded an incredibly successful business, which he and his co-founder have been scaling impressively. I asked him about his biggest learning over the past few years. He said before having started his company and having built the team, he perceived management as a Band-Aid, as a fix for something wrong in the organizational design, communication or day-to-day operations of the company. Over time, he has come to believe that manangement is the only way of growing his startup.

But it’s what he said next that really resonated with me. “Management has Design Patterns.” In engineering, there are an infinite number of ways of solving a problem. Some are quite clearly better than others. The best ways are codified into Design Patterns.

Engineers employ design patterns to accelerate development by leveraging the work and insight of others. In addition, design patterns improve team communication because the codebase adheres to standard way of doing things, making the code is easy to understand. For these reasons, most engineers study design patterns both in college and independently. Many keep a copy on their desks for reference.

Just like engineers, managers have created a set of design patterns which are called best practices. When managing a team, there are an infinite number of ways to guide and influence, motivate and reward that team. But some ways are clearly better than others.

For those who come from engineering backgrounds, it’s rare for us to have learned about these management best practices. I first began to hear about them at Google when I was an Associate PM. Each APM spoke with a management coach twice a week and I was fortunate to have a seasoned and effective coach. She gave me frameworks for delivering difficult feedback, structuring groups, motivating teams, and obtaining team committment to drive success.

Just having a mental model for how to speak with team members gave me confidence. I wasn’t a very good manager, but the best practices help me become a little bit better.

The most effective engineering teams leverage all the learning and tools available to them to build high quality software efficiently. Similarly, the most successful startups use both engineering design patterns and management best practices to build high quality, well-functioning teams to grow the business.

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