The most basic entrepreneurship only has three people: someone to make promises, someone to keep those promises, and someone to make sure the enterprise is profitable.
Young entrepreneurs make big promises, which is exactly how it should be in the first instance. But their long-term success is predicated on their finding and retaining great delivery cornerstones.
Fortunately the Internet is largely populated by such people, such as those who provide its content. Everyone who has had a successful career being self-employed has learnt basic delivery skills, including how to deliver projects on time to an agreed specification.
These people are cherished by companies of all sizes who need a safe pair of hands, often on a causal basis, to do everything from unblocking a sink to ghost writing a blog for a successful entrepreneur.
Sometimes, these self-employed people take a backwards leap and return to full employment. This can be to find a safe haven in tough economic conditions or because they feel the company they are joining has long-term prospects, such as a trade sale or public flotation.
Smart companies are also scouring the employment market for fresh graduates who show signs of gumption. Their actual degree might be irrelevant, so they look for other factors, such as a proven ability to run a student society or run club nights. These demonstrate their ability and willingness to deliver on time under difficult conditions.
As the company grows, the lines of communication become more difficult, and it is common to find successful companies suddenly struggling to deliver. This is often because the entrepreneur’s ability to make promises has escalated to the point of insanity.
Every mid-size company remembers the specific time and place where the team explained to the entrepreneur in words of one syllable that they should never, ever again promise a delivery date without consulting them first.
Licking their wounds, wise entrepreneurs send themselves on a project management course and then hire the best, grown-up, professional project managers they can afford.
Someone who knows about the key elements of delivering a project on time is Graeme Shaw, an ex-Royal Navy officer who is now head of station upgrades for London Underground.
It is not a surprise to find an former military man in this role. Such people are used to delivering difficult tasks under extreme political pressure, with the daily concern of making sure nobody in their team gets killed.
As the project size increases, you might assume that processes becomes more formal and better understood. Actually, the complete opposite is the case, according to Graeme Shaw, head of station upgrades for London Underground.
He told me that whole rainforests have been sacrificed to produce the safety and operational manuals required for even the most modest London Underground station refurbishment. So while I spend much of my time desperately trying to make entrepreneurs follow any kind of process, he has the opposite problem.
Many of the written down processes are irrelevant and arcane, while the unwritten rules are impossible to formally challenge.
Shaw’s first task with any new team is to ask them to look at the processes and abandon those that are pointless or which duplicate effort. He is a strong believer in psychometric testing, a very useful tool in building the high-performance teams that he needs to deliver complex projects on time.
I encourage all entrepreneurs to step up to this challenge; one of delivery, not promises.