Scaling Past 50 People: What Breaks And How Do You Fix It?

by | Oct 7, 2020

Adding more people changes an agency – often in crazy and unexpected ways. Jim Bowes, CEO of Manifesto, has the t-shirt. Manifesto services clients with experience design, technology solutions and transformation strategy.

Jim suggests that typically when an agency gets to around 30 people, they will start to build a bigger leadership team that should, in theory, facilitate their growth upward to around 50 people.

‘As we neared 50, we found that every meeting we had as a company caused problems with bottlenecks. For example, we had one Production Manager responsible for all resourcing. There would frequently be days where he just couldn’t get through the work, or had so much on that he couldn’t think in strategic ways anymore. Alternatively, we had another situation where we needed to onboard 14 people at once, but this was the job of the very same Production Manager alongside his other roles. We had reached the limits of our leadership team.

After noticing the issues with bottlenecking in the company, Jim decided to run an experiment with one of his UX and Project Management teams. He told them that they now ran themselves and had to do their own resourcing. ‘We chose a part of the company who had stable clients and who focussed on one of the agencies’ capabilities.’ This experiment lasted for around a year and the team were to report back to the wider company about the successes or failures of the trial.

‘The team loved it. Everyone was much more considerate of eachother and clients.’ Jim found that ‘if there is a big team of around six or seven Project Managers, they are more likely to stitch someone within the team up than they are within a team of three. We did notice a discrepancy in the culture within the little pod, and that of the wider company. They created their own visions, almost an agency within their own right.’ Looking forward, Jim has tried to ‘recreate the efficiency and focus he saw within that small team, whilst ensuring everyone feels part of one big team.’

‘Creating pods of around eight people meant that there were times when certain people didn’t have enough work to be doing, but creating pods of around fifteen people and incentivising them with utilisation metrics can be really successful.’

Manifesto is now divided into four delivery teams with different specialisms. ‘During leadership meetings we look at them individually. We note how they are doing, how the teams are feeling, what the utilisation is within that team. Each team has a delivery lead and a business lead. As you map the pipeline to these teams you can now easily match pitching teams to clients because you know who the delivery team will end up being.’

When asked about consistency of delivery and processes, Jim explains that Manifesto bought in oversight groups that make connections between the pods, these groups all have meetings with one another to maintain a consistent portfolio. Jim does note that this part of the change is the most recent and is still being developed.

Moving forward, Jim suggests that he is always open to integrating new teams into Manifesto and the pod system makes that process a little easier. To improve their current processes, Jim wants to work on the meetings between pods which he feels are currently too big and thus sometimes ineffective at decision making.

Jim explains how being part of a group that began as a start-up can also have its challenges. The group itself had no previously defined processes, whereas Manifesto, as an established company, did. Integrating these processes and pods can be a challenge but does make for a much more efficient agency.