Friday, May 6, 2011

Patterns in Business

For many years as an engineer, I have used patterns – which loosely defined are common approaches to solving common problems. For example the MVC (model-view-controller) pattern is commonly used when trying to solve the problem of separating data from functionality and the view of the data (whether this is the best approach is questionable, but it is one common approach).
Patterns appear in an organizational context in for example “Organizational Patterns of Agile Software Development” by James O. Coplien and Neil B. Harrison. In this book, they set out common problems that occur within software development teams and present common patterns for solving these organizational problems.
When starting a business, we are often confronted with a series of problems to solve. What business model should we adopt ? When should we look for premises, how and when should we grow etc ? One way of tackling these issues is to look at how others have done the same in the past and formulate a series of patterns that we can follow.
For example, how should I sell my new server software ? I might look at JBOSS and realize that they obtained success by making their software open source and carefully tracking users and following up with support services and other added-value offers, or I might look at Microsoft and decide to develop a sales team and sell the software on a license basis. Each of these patterns has it’s pro’s and it’s cons.
In many cases the patterns we need to move our start-up forward are out there, so there is often no sense in re-inventing the wheel. In other instances we may need to use a combination of existing patterns to create a somewhat new pattern.
Very, very seldom do we need to innovate to such an extent that we create an entirely new pattern. Most business even more simply copies existing ways (patterns) of doing things (see for example GEM report on entrepreneurship).
My advice would be, before you leap, have a look around at what similar organizations have done and are doing. Always look for patterns that you might be able to follow or adapt to your situation.

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