Scaling Pattern

The first step while developing a product is to find the right problem to solve for the user and the customer. The second step is to find a solution which is desirable, viable and feasible. Once the solution has been found the next step should be to explore the execution and scaling potential of the solution. I term this 3rd step ‘scaling pattern’.

Christopher Alexander introduced a concept called ‘pattern language’ in the 1970s. It revolutionized the world of computing and design. After finding a good solution to the problem, the founder(s) should try to explore the pattern language of their potential solution. Scaling pattern is thus the pattern language that has been found for the potential solution.

A scaling pattern helps in finalizing the path a startup should take to solve the problem. Many times like in the case of apps or food the same problem can be solved in multiple ways. The founder(s) need to choose a clearly visible path to focus on. To learn and experiment they can create internal prototypes to enhance their understanding. A big blunder many startups do is to focus on multiple paths with fewer available resources. A startup needs to concentrate on the chosen path after exploring all possible options.

The scaling pattern helps in expediting execution a lot. I used to be always starved of design resources in my startup in 2015. Then I read about pattern languages. I started using this concept and for a change, my small team was sitting idle for 10% of the time because they improved their productivity multiple times.

To understand the concept of pattern language I will give you a few examples in the real world.

English can be used to write millions of blogs but it contains only 26 alphabets. 26  alphabets can be combined in various ways into words. Words can be combined to form sentences. Sentences can be combined to form paragraphs. Paragraphs can combine to form blogs.

Thus individual parts can form a bigger pattern which again can again be combined with such bigger patterns. Thus patterns can be formed at various levels.

See anything in the real world, you will find such pattern languages everywhere. The pattern language of our body is that it is composed of cells which form tissues which form organs which form the body.

Pattern languages provide a way of creating great variety with a few simple low-level structures. For example, DNA combines its building blocks in multiple ways to create a great variety of life. The concept of a pattern language is used extensively in design, computer programming, governance, etc.

Take for example a startup that wants to solve the problem of obesity due to consumer preference for fast food. Assume the startup has searched the problem domain and found 2 healthy fast food options as potential solutions. The first option is ‘Healthy Burger’ (wheat or multigrain bun with fresh vegetables as a filling). The second option is the South India dish, ‘Idli Sambar’.

Finding a scaling pattern will involve exploring the pattern language of Healthy Burger and Idli Sambar. Both the solutions are very different. Our startup can focus on any one of them and create a suite of products around the solution.

If the startup wants to focus on the healthy burger then it can create a menu with different kinds of healthy burgers. It can create burgers with local vegetables to suit local tastes and expand globally. It can also have multiple varieties of buns. Thus constraining the solution to just healthy burgers gives the startup the required efficiency in execution and focus. Thinking of the healthy burger as a pattern allows the startup to create a suite of healthy burgers to suit all kinds of locales and tastes globally. The healthy burger can be customized at various levels. It can be customized at the level of the bun or the fillings or the spices or the packaging. 

Similarly, if the startup chooses the ‘idli sambar’ pattern it can experiment with different kinds of doughs for creating idli to suit different locales. Also, it can experiment with different kinds of chutneys (Indian sauces) to compliment idlis to suit all kinds of tastes.

A blunder any startup can do is to think that it can give 10 different types of products to consumers as a solution. If the startup provides healthy burgers and idli sambar in the same shop the logistics of providing both will make it difficult to achieve economies of scale and also create challenges in the making of standard operating procedures (SOPs). Providing 5 types of burgers or 5 types of idlis is easier than providing 5 different dishes simultaneously.

Thus focus on one solution and its multiple variations can bring efficiency in execution and simultaneously fulfill consumer choice. When startup founder(s) find a scaling pattern that has the following properties:

  • Scalable
  • Practical: Relatively easy to execute
  • Flexible: Can create multiple desirable, viable and feasible solutions

We can say that the startup has achieved ‘problem solution fit’. This stage is very important in the lifecycle of a startup. At this stage, we can say that the startup has completed its search for a solution to the users/customers problem.

Author: Saurabh Jain (Follow him on Twitter : @skjsaurabh)


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