10 reasons your people are just like so over your scaling

We recently sent out a survey about scaling organisations and 83 of you responded. Thanks very much to all those who took part! This is a great response and it made us realise we really hit a nerve in our community with this question. If you missed out the first time, you still can still contribute to our results over here.

We asked:

Have you ever left an organisation because of the changes that have come with scaling?


  • 54% of people we asked answered yes.
  • 61.4% of people also said their preferred organisational size is different from the organisation they currently work in.

From this result, we have concluded that half of your employees may leave if your company scales. For example, if you have a company of 100 people that you want to grow to 200 people, you may need to hire ~150 people to get there. Perhaps you could invest that extra energy, time and money into building and supporting your company culture?

This week at Agile Manchester, Minimum Viable Book co-author Emily gave a buzzfeed-style lightening talk with 10 of the most commonly held responses to our survey.

We’ll be publishing the context and the full results of our survey in a new edition of the Minimum Viable Book soon, but in the mean time, here are 10 reasons why your people are like so over your scaling. I hope you enjoy them – and the painstakingly chosen gifs :).

1. They focused on managing spreadsheets rather than meaningful work


People dislike the overhead of meetings and bureaucracy, and these are common features of larger organisations. Most people hate spreadsheets. They just want to do meaningful work rather than waste time reporting on their work.

2. The organisation became more ‘corporate’ as it grew which didn’t suit me


People like the family feeling, knowing everyone and the ease of collaboration that comes with smaller organisations.

3. Lack of managerial experience leading to a lack of support


Fast-growing organisations were thought to have less support for their staff as management were also learning how to deal with the growth themselves. On the flip side, larger companies can offer better benefits to their people as they have more resources available.

4. Mediocre people were hired. It became a game of paying the bills, not taking risks


People felt growth sometimes led to rapid hiring and were frustrated that people they didn’t respect were hired. Money was seen as the focus instead of making interesting things. The flip side in the client services sector is that smaller organisations don’t have the clout to attract the bigger clients, which can lead to fewer options for personal career development.

5. People feeling like they are working against each other rather than with each other. Silos.


Smaller organisations generally have flatter structures and less hierarchy, which was seen as a bonus. Smaller, however, can also mean over-worked people.

6. Being pulled in two directions by two (back-stabbing) bosses


Smaller organisations were thought to have less politics. Although it was also suggested that a small conflict in a small company could affect the whole team more dramatically.

7. Big companies = generally more bureaucracy, sign-off points and politics which can make it harder to do something


HR functions were cited a few times as an indicator of bureaucracy and the inability to ‘just get things done’. HR did not get good press in the answers in general (sorry HR people).

8. Loss of focus and control


Smaller organisations were said to have a clearer shared vision. Larger companies find it harder to keep everyone aligned.

9. The loss of original culture, and a new obsession on the bottom line


Our survey tells us culture was a big factor as companies grew. People felt the culture changed in large-scaling companies and was not what they originally signed up for, while the focus shifted from people to money. In much smaller organisations however, our respondents felt they were likely to meet less people, so they had a higher probability of not liking the people they work with.

10. The company became less focused, more chaotic and lazy


If there isn’t good leadership and alignment, it appeared to be easier to hide. People said they get lazy and get away with it.

How our research has evolved

We have been researching the minimum viable book for a year now and in that time our approach has changed and evolved. We have changed too. Our research has fuelled our learning and being flexible has allowed us to explore avenues that we didn’t expect.

When we started on this journey we raised a fear about research, the fear was:

“It’s not researched enough / there’s not enough data”

And our mitigation was:

“We will conduct multiple workshops and surveys per chapter”

So we set about planning workshops in a number of locations: London, Bristol, Berlin and Austin Texas. We brainstormed some starter topics and asked our readers what they wanted to know most about. While we were away, we planned interviews with interesting people in the spare time around the workshops so we could dig a little deeper into our topics.

What we found was that while the workshops were a great way to meet people and set us going, the bit that has really got us excited were the interviews.

We threw our net quite wide. The criteria for people we wanted to talk to was simple: people who make things or get things done. This led us to meet hackers, coders, makers, curators, inventors, educators, business owners as well as agile and lean practitioners. We found that some of the most interesting conversations happened in the most unexpected places.

Our interview style has always been fairly laid back and this hasn’t changed, we find a quiet spot and let the conversation flow. Initially we used the interview chapters as a starting point, but now we usually kick-off by asking people for their back stories, then gently guide the conversation towards some of the common themes we have found throughout our journey.

We see the value in remaining flexible and allowing for emerging ideas and topics – it’s really helped us along the way. Even as we approach our Beta deadline in a few months, we aren’t expecting our approach to stay the same. And we’ll welcome all those changes.
As Eve from Make ATX said in one of our interviews:

“Accept what you are doing might not always turn out the way you want it to, but who knows, it might turn into something better.”

Emily & Amy

Photo by: marcwathieu

Austin Adventures

Our Austin Texas adventure started when we waved goodbye to a rainy London on Saturday morning, only to be greeted the craziest thunderstorms and flooding on Saturday evening and a fantastic temporary home in Hyde Park.

Austin was all about the food and the people.

Over the course of a very fast week, we indulged in some amazing food including: PoutineBiscuits and Gravy (we were randomly filmed by The Food Network’s Eat Street while we were eating this!) and a LOT of tacos.

The people in Austin were amazing – so willing to give up their time to share their stories. We talked to a fascinating range of folks with very different experiences and insights. We were lucky enough to collect stories of fun, failure, and JUST GET STARTED from hardware makers to art curators to game designers to laser cutters to agile practitioners… and more!

Thanks so much to our willing interviewees:

John Kestner from Supermechanical, Brooke Davis of Makeshift, Scott Bellware from Lean Software Austin, Jo Lammert from White Whale Games, Marshall Vaughan and Martin Bogomolni from Hackerspace, Veronica Roberts from the Blanton, Matt Roberts from Agile Austin, James Adam from Exciting, Kristen & Eve from Make, Mike Langford from Local PourSilona Bonewald, Kami Wilt from Austin Tinkering School and Janelle Klein from New Iron.

Your generous stories expanded our minds and of course, our book :).

As usual, we also hosted a workshop with a small group of Austinites to dive into our Minimum Viable Book topics as voted by you. More on that coming very soon.

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Workshop: Bristol #2

Last Thursday we held the second Minimum Viable Book workshop in the very wonderful Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. Many thanks to our lovely hosts, Clare, Hannah, Verity and Tom.

We learnt a lot from our first workshop thanks to the wonderful feedback we received from the London participants. Having a bunch of improvement suggestions meant we could iterate our format in the following ways:

  • We ran over-time in our last session, so this time we asked everyone to vote and prioritise the topics so we could cover the things they were most interested in first – we planned to run out of time again. Interestingly, the group chose to cover two of the same topics as London: UX and Design and What can go Wrong.
  • We received some feedback from a few London participants who said they were most interested in discovering stories of Agile that were both real & scenario-based. So for Bristol, we changed the format of our exercise ‘The Three Cs’ (loosely based on ‘The Four C’s’ from every workshopper’s bible, Gamestorming) so that the output from the exercise was a story of adversity with an outcome. It morphed into a fun exercise that was much easier to explain to the group.
  • There were too many up-front post-it ideas generated for a few of the exercises in London, so we limited the amount of ideas we asked people to generate in Bristol. This meant we could get further through a few set issues and delve into juicer conversations during the exercise. This, combined with breaking into two groups meant ‘The Squid’ exercise was much deeper and raised some interesting insights.

Topic votes

Again, we felt we had a great mix of people ranging from those working in digital inclusion, architecture (physical world!), web development and health. These varied backgrounds helped create some really interesting discussions and scenarios like ‘how do you create a hackable radio that someone with visual impairment can assemble’?

Workshop attendees

Thanks to Libby MillerLaura ChilcottSteve MaslinPete BrittenTom AbbaKevin O’Malley, Annie Taylor, Dave Martin and Kerry Bradshaw.

Thanks everyone for coming along and making it a great event, we’ll definitely be back to Bristol to see you all soon.

Now that we’ve collected two workshops worth of information & ideas, we’re starting to get an emerging picture of how we might best structure the book.

Next stop: Berlin!

Workshop: London #1

Last Tuesday we spent a few hours on a very warm evening in the offices of Go Free Range London, for our first Workshop.

The group were a diverse bunch covering crafts from beer brewing, theatre production, content strategy and software development and each attendee had a wide range of experience with making things happen.


The goal of the workshop was to gather insights, stories and opinions on our top chapter themes: What can go wrong and when not to use Agile; Agile UX and design; and Agile at scale, Planning, tracking and reporting.

And well, we certainly gathered a lot of info. Everyone was keen to share their experiences with each other and we weren’t short of points on post-it notes. Due to time constraints and the (often very interesting and helpful) tangents of conversation in the group, we decided to drop a topic mid-way through the workshop. We’d like to tackle the topic we missed – agile at scale – via one-on-one interviews with people who are trying it out (if that’s you, please get in touch). We’re considering tackling less topics next time so we can plan for these useful meandering threads of conversation.

Next steps for us will be to write up, filter and distill these insights into a format that will help us compare the London workshop data with our future workshop data.

The next workshop will be held in Bristol and we are keen to hear from you if you want to get involved.


HUGE thanks to our workshop participants: Tom StuartJohanna KollmanSarah Butcher, Jesy WittebortStuart CullumChris RoosNeil HinchleyElizabeth McGuaneAanand PrasadMat Munro and Elvia Vasconcelos who all bared their souls and shared their own stories of making things and getting things done.

Drumroll… Minimum Viable Book Workshops

Hi folks. This week we’re excited to announce our our first Minimum Viable Book Workshop plans.

Before we tell you all about it, here’s a quick note about how we’re selecting the workshop attendees.

We’ve had a great response and we’ve received lots of names and messages via our contact form – thank you! This is really encouraging. We will be shortlisting people who have registered their interest to attend our workshops so we can cover a range of skillsets and industries. If you’re not selected for a workshop, don’t worry. There will be plenty of opportunities to input & share stories via our surveys and one-on-one interviews. Stories from you are going to be a big part of this. Please keep in touch.


We will be conducting 4 workshops on 4 topics in 4 locations, with roughly 10 people. The details are as follows:

1. London, United Kingdom – 9th July (done)
What better place to start than in our home town? Hopefully this will give us a chance to hone the format a little in front of a home crowd. Thanks very much to Go Free Range for lending us your lovely Shoreditchy office space for the occasion.

2. Bristol, United Kingdom – 1st August
We’re on the look out for a suitable location, but we have our Minimum Viable Book mate Libby on hand with tips. Stay tuned for more deets. If you’re in Bristol, please get in touch.

3. Berlin, Germany – mid to late August TBC
This is where things get a bit more fuzzy. In true agile style, we’re focusing our planning attention on the nearer tasks. If you’re in Berlin, please get in touch.

4. Austin Texas, USA – September TBC
Again, very fuzzy details. Stay tuned. If you’re in Austin, please get in touch.

So as you can see, the real work is about to commence. As always, we’ll keep you posted.

The Results of our first Chapter theme Poll

Thanks so much to everyone who took time to fill in our poll about chapters, we had over 50 of you respond.

The poll is now closed and the top four themes, as voted by you, are:

  1. What can go wrong and when not to use Agile: The warning signs and when Agile doesn’t fit.
  2. Agile UX and design: How can UX and design fit with agile development? It does, we promise.
  3. Agile at scale: Implementing Agile to manage a chunky programme, portfolio or organisation.
  4. Planning, tracking and reporting: Waterfall isn’t the only way to get the governance processes your Stakeholders need. We’ll explore what you can do to measure progress, gauge insights and how to constantly learn as you go.

For us, this means that our first workshops will focus on the top 4 themes.

That doesn’t mean we won’t include other themes, but these are what you (the users) have told us are the most important.

The full results are as follows:

I don’t want to read this I don’t mind either way I’d like to read this I’d really like to read this I’d really, really like to read this Average
What can go wrong 0 2 9 20 19 4.12
Agile UX and design 0 4 9 21 15 3.96
Agile at scale 1 8 9 12 19 3.82
Planning, tracking and reporting 0 3 14 20 10 3.79
How to sell agile 4 8 8 11 20 3.69
Agile characters 2 8 15 18 5 3.33
Agile Everywhere 5 12 10 14 9 3.2
Getting started with agile 5 7 18 14 6 3.18
All the methodologies 3 11 16 14 4 3.1
Why people do agile? 1 13 20 9 5 3.08


In our next post we will announce the workshops.

Polling Station image by STML

Project Drivers, Hopes / Fears / Mitigations and Roles

OMG! We’re writing a book!

As promised, we intend to blog about our process of writing the Minimum Viable Book and this is the first of many posts to come. It felt right to kick off our process with an activity to understand why we want to do this project, so today’s post explains how we captured these insights.

The first workshop

The first activity from our agile toolbox was a post-up brainstorming session which we completed together in Amy’s kitchen. We agreed on a few topics to cover that would help us understand why we want to do this project and what we hope (& fear) the outcomes will be.

The topics we selected:

Continue reading Project Drivers, Hopes / Fears / Mitigations and Roles

Hello world

What’s all this about then?

Amy Wagner and Emily Webber are planning to write a book about agile practices (read more over here)

What’s it going to contain?

We have an idea, but we don’t know for sure yet. We’ll be using agile techniques to plan and write it, asking for input from others and testing it with users along the way. Sign up to the mailing list to keep up to date.