Most of my client work over the past decade has been centered around helping software companies scale up to become bigger companies.
My work helps clients create surges in market demand and then adapt to sell to and service those new customers. (This is the topic of my book Extreme Revenue Growth .)
While the concepts to do this are simple, pulling it off in the real world is very complicated. The key is to find the constraints in the systems and remove them.
If you have a surge in qualified leads but aren’t closing them, you know the constraint in the overall system lies in the sales team. Maybe you don’t have enough salespeople. Maybe you have enough, but they aren’t effective. You work the problem until you alleviate the point of greatest constraint in the system.
Here’s the thing.
Once you remove one constraint, a new one immediately emerges in its place. Once the greatest point of constraint is alleviated, what was formerly the second greatest constraint now becomes the new point of greatest constraint.
When I advise the CEOs I work with as an independent board member or executive coach, I’m always looking for the next two to three points of greatest constraint. I have them work on the point of greatest constraint and the next two.
This is the only way to sustain over 100% revenue growth year over year. It’s also the key factor in why half a dozen of my clients have made the Inc. 500 list over the past decade.
Now as I look at the global response to COVID-19, it becomes so glaringly clear to me we have a scalability problem on an epic scale.
Here in the United States, we had and continue to have a major problem in scaling up the production of coronavirus test kits. Then we ran into capacity constraints at the labs that run the test, which resulted in five-day delays to get back test results.
Now we have a major constraint with respect to not having enough life-saving ventilator devices to treat the surge of patients.
You don’t “win” at the game of scalability by addressing constraints as they come up. You win by anticipating the next few constraints and starting to work on them now before they become the biggest constraint.
Let me give you two examples (one of which I’m personally involved with).
As you may know, the long-term solution for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to create a vaccine. Currently, there are seven promising vaccines in the early stages of clinical trials. This is the current point of greatest constraint.
We need to find the right vaccine that will 1) effectively inoculate against the coronavirus; and 2) be safe. Neither outcome is guaranteed and that’s why the clinical trials are necessary.
However, once the right vaccine is developed, it still has to be manufactured in extremely large quantities and safely. It’s not easy to manufacture five billion units of anything, let alone a unique vaccine that has never been made before.
It is obvious that vaccine manufacturing will be the second biggest constraint that follows vaccine clinical trials.
Interestingly enough, I was watching an interview with Bill Gates last night. His foundation has decided to provide the financing to build seven vaccine manufacturing factories — one for each of the seven most promising vaccines currently in clinical trials.
He fully expects that only two of the vaccine candidates will make sense to manufacture and the other five won’t.
As a result, he intends to “throw away” five of the factories while “wasting” several billion dollars in the process.
Needless to say, Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and one of the richest people in the world, clearly understands scalability.
This is exactly the right move.
Speed to scale always has a price. I see this in my clients' and portfolio companies' budgets. (Albeit, the numbers I see have a lot fewer zeros in the numbers than the budgets Bill Gates is seeing.)
To paraphrase Bill Gates, if we wait until we know which two vaccines are the right ones and then start to build the correct factory, it will cost us another 6-12 months and many more lives lost.
I’m very glad Bill Gates is working on this issue.
Here’s another example of removing constraints.
As you have likely heard, there is a global shortage of ventilators. These are the machines that help COVID-19 patients breathe while their bodies fight off the coronavirus.
By most estimates, the global hospitals need around one million additional ventilators over the next three to six months to treat COVID-19 patients.
As a point of comparison, Philips Healthcare, one of the largest ventilator manufacturers in the world, only produces 1,000 ventilators a week. Hamilton, another large manufacturer, only produces 300 units a week.
Between existing companies doubling internal manufacturing capacity and forming joint ventures with large manufacturers in other industries like General Motors, Ford, and Tesla, the race is on to dramatically scale up ventilator production.
Now, let’s think about this for a moment.
What happens after one million ventilators are produced over the next few months?
There’s a growing concern around having enough medical staff available who know how to operate a ventilator. After all, an incremental one million machines aren’t going to operate themselves.
To make matters worse, health care providers face a global shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) such as N95 masks, gloves, gowns, and face shields. As a result, doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists are getting sick, dying, or quarantined and are unable to work.
From my (and a number of other people’s) perspective, we’re going to have a worldwide ventilator staffing shortage too.
One of the COVID-19 projects I’ve been working on is an ambitious effort to use distance learning technologies to cross-train one million medical professionals to operate ventilators.
One of my colleagues and friends runs an online medical continuing education company that provides continuing education classes to doctors in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
He has graciously decided to provide his courses related to ventilator use for free online to any medical professional willing to learn how to use them.
We are working together to solve this problem with a global initiative called:
The COVID-19 One Million Ventilator Staffing Challenge
The time to cross-train medical staff is now, before we hit the entirely predictable staffing constraint.
I would ask you to help me with this project by forwarding the next few lines to all of your friends:
The COVID-19 One Million Ventilator Staffing Challenge
Help us save lives by cross-training one million medical professionals on how to use a ventilator. The life you save might just be your own.