We'll speed up by splitting off a team to handle tickets, now we're slower

We’ve all seen the professional juggler at the carnival who asks to be thrown more balls. With each additional one, she just tries to juggle faster and faster before gravity eventually wins.

I’ve seen this over and over with the Ops teams at portfolio companies.

I like to work with the Ops teams to improve the engineering function in organizations. They are a high leverage point as much of the work in the organization traverses their infrastructure or processes. When the company is young, requests are handled. As the company matures, requests require tickets. When they get to be the size of a portfolio company, there have been a few acquisitions and hundreds of engineers have been hired. More and more tickets are coming in so we need to hire more and more Ops engineers. Right?

Don’t tread, swim

The problem with this approach is that companies are trying to figure out ways to put more and more work through the same system instead of stopping and re-examining the system. Invariably the first attempt is to split off a team to handle the tickets so that the rest of the team can do the “high-value” work. Because very few teams are actually good at closing the loop that translates what this team does into “high-value” work, I often call this the “thousand paper cuts team”.

But we can’t keep scaling the teams as the organization scales, as a matter of fact, that will scale sublinearly until the system breaks. Ops need to provide a platform. They don’t want to just keep trying to handle more work, they need to build something. They need to provide a well-engineered easy-button for teams to be able to accomplish many common tasks themselves quickly and safely. This is the essence of the phrase “Shift Left”.


When we move the work to the edge ( dev teams) in a way that empowers work to be done quickly and safely, they are able to deliver more work with higher quality. This enables those teams to innovate instead of waiting for Ops to figure out how to handle an endless stream of tasks that just take longer and longer to do. When dozens of dev teams are innovating, the company grows faster and achieves their objectives and it’s a whole new ball game.

Don’t keep trying to accomplish more work with more process and more people, change the game.