Chefs use mise en place to reduce future complexity. Founders and leaders in scaling businesses can do the same.

Chefs know a lot goes into making consistently good restaurant food.

Each dish is a detailed, time-critical project with high quality thresholds. Dishes need to be synched with the rest of the food for the same table. And the kitchen needs to be delivering food for multiple tables at the same.

It's a challenge. And it's tough.

One of the ways chefs deal with this is "mise en place". This means having everything in place before making the dish.

Ingredients are measured out in advance. Vegetables are prepared and cut to size. Elements of each dish, like sauces or finishing decorations, are cooked ahead of time. Pans and utensils are laid out so they are there when they're needed.

When service starts, the complexity has been reduced as much as possible.

The parallels with the complexity of growth businesses are interesting.

Founders and leaders can reduce the complexity of scaling by using the mise en place approach. What can you prepare now that'll make your life easier in three, six or twelve months time?

Looking ahead

Preparing food in a professional kitchen involves following a recipe that's developed ahead of time.

Recipes help replicate the same dish over and over, regardless of who's working in the kitchen that day. Diners expect dishes to remain consistent.

But in growing businesses that's not always the case. The dishes have to change pretty frequently.

What works well now might not be right in six months time. Things change. None of us can see around corners.

But we can often have a pretty good guess what some challenges might be ahead in the growth journey. There are stages and patterns in growth that are common.

New teams need to form. New processes are necessary. New skills are needed. Sales and recruitment become high volume activities. Change becomes harder.

Plus the business will be hit by things you don't know about yet.

Accepting a state of not knowing about the future in the increasing uncertain and volatile world matters to help on the growth journey.

Growing and selling a digital agency taught me the value of acknowledging uncertainty. I built techniques into the day-to-day cadence to the business to surface the fact we didn't know as much as we thought we did about the future. An agile mindset and culture was important.

How each business responds to known and unknown challenges is unique to the business.

But how good they are at anticipating them, embracing the uncertainty and having as much in place as they can to help solve future problems are good indicators of scaling success.

Three questions to consider

  1. What are the current signs of tensions in your organisation that indicate a need for change?
  2. What could you learn now to better deal with what's ahead?
  3. How does your team work with uncertainties?

Get deeper into this

1. I love Stowe Boyd's thinking and writing. This article talks about working in uncertainty and pre-mortems - a great tool for practical planning in the face of plenty of unknowns.

Constructive Uncertainty - Sunsama Blog
The world is complex, and we must find a balance between taking action and accepting uncertainty. Our natural impulse toward quick decisions misses out on a powerful tool: negative planning.

2. Understanding the scaling journeys of other businesses is a useful way to think about your own. In Upscale James Silver tells some fascinating stories of UK scale-ups and the challenges they overcame.

Upscale: the book - Learn what it takes to scale a startup - Tech Nation
Upscale covers the most pressing, practical and often painful issues founders face when scaling their business. Hear from some of the UK’s leading technology entrepreneurs and investors who between them have built or backed companies worth billions. Buy the book on pre-order, now.

3. Felix Velarde's book Scale at Speed has a useful tool called the strategy map that helps anticipate the scaling challenges ahead.

How to scale up fast: 2Y3X Growth Acceleration Programme
How to grow a business systematically: the leading specialist growth acceleration consultants for scale-ups that have hit feast and famine or business plateau
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