When I entered college as a freshman I remember attending a speech by the college’s president where he outlined the future strategy of the institution. During his talk he explained that our college was a small liberal arts college that had no intention of growing. At the time that struck me as odd that an institution has no desire to grow as I was operating under the assumption that the whole purpose of an organization was growth. Later and throughout my education I developed a greater understanding of why the leaders of the college had set this strategic direction and came to value the fact that the college continued to maintain a small student population.
If we try to explore this idea in the business world and specifically think about how small and medium sized organizations might approach this, I believe it would be fair to ask whether a growth strategy is the right type of strategy for ever SMB. As I think back to several of the organizations that I’ve worked for, observed, or consulting with I am struck by the fact that in every instance the organizations who would be classified as an SMB wanted to grow. That seemed to be the fundamental premise that everyone operated on as the concept of growth seems to be directly related to the ideas of success. In other word, senior executives within these organizations believed that if they were able to grow their organizations that meant that they were successful.
While I don’t generally see a problem with this line of thinking, I believe that we must add a disclaimer to it. Not all growth is good. If this growth comes with reduced profit margins, delivery of poor quality products, customer dissatisfaction, and negative employee morale, that means that the organization is far from successful. I’ve observed many instances where organizations were simply not able to handle the growth that they were forced to undergo. In such situations where the market demand for products and/or services is so great, some organizations capitalize on the conditions and grow, but only at the expense of one of the aforementioned issues. In other words, these organizations are not able to handle the growth in a positive manner. The growth turned into an avalanche that damaged the organization.
This is where the concept of managed growth comes it. It is a process that begins with the recognition that growth for the sake of growth is destructive. Managed growth requires that the organization develop a plan to increase its capacity and capability in a manner that follows market trends and demands. After all, what good would it be for the organization to secure business if it can not deliver. As part of managing growth, I believe there is an important role for project management to play in facilitating the effective implementation of such plans. As a result, building the PM capability may be one of the first actions needed to ensure that growth is managed and not one that turns into a dangerous trend that eats destroys the organization.