Many businesses thrive on completing projects. I think they're making a big mistake.

It may seem counterintuitive, but completing projects isn't necessarily the best thing for a business to be doing. What is far better, in my experience, is turning those projects into processes.

I was recently chatting with Vinay Patankar--the CEO of Process St, a process documentation software company--about this exact topic. He opened my eyes to Uber's Global Expansion Playbook, which may just be the perfect example of why businesses should focus on processes instead of projects. Here's what you need to know.

Uber doesn't work on projects

In the beginning, each city that Uber encountered was an entirely new battle. There were unprecedented legal issues to deal with (or ignore), governments to lobby, drivers to hire, insurance questions to answer... But above all, there was a market that needed to be monopolized. And that is no simple task.

Because of all these unknowns, Uber treated each city as an individual project. They would investigate what needed to be done on a case-by-case basis, and it involved a whole lot of manpower. If they truly wanted to reach every major city in the world, they had to take all of the projects they'd completed and refine them into one simple process that could work everywhere. So they did.

Uber's global expansion playbook

Uber was able to dominate the global car service industry because it ditched projects in the beginning. Instead, they developed a bombproof process based on the lessons learned from their initial projects. Here's the six-step method:

  1. They secretly entered a new market by recruiting drivers and offering first-time customers free rides to develop a strong customer base.
  2. They ignored--or evaded--threats of legal action because, with a strong customer base, the city's residents already want them to be there.
  3. They ignored government sting operations by covering any legal costs their drivers might encounter.

  4. They lobbied state governments while creating a positive public image in the local area.

  5. They monopolized the market by hiring more drivers and manufacturing PR stunts.

  6. They undermined the competition by disrupting competing services.

This is the overarching process, and there are obviously a multitude of smaller processes within each of the six steps. But here's why it's important: this process is how Uber increased its valuation from $3.7 to $41.2 billion in just 15 months. And Uber created it by simply combining the learning points from their initial projects and creating a foolproof, refined process.

Process vs. project: what's the difference?

That's what Uber did. But what can you do? First, it's important to take a look at the core differences between a process and a project. Here's my favorite no-nonsense explanation, courtesy of Patankar.

"Projects enhance your company in some way, but if they go wrong your company will still survive. If processes aren't working properly, your business will BREAK."

We all understand the major differences. Projects are a unique, one-time occurrence while processes tend to happen on a recurring basis. Projects usually have some element of discovery. The method of getting from start to finish isn't known, so you need to figure out how you're going to get there--with a process that is spelled out (or it should be).

But there's also the not-so-obvious... When you're working on a project, you need to track costs (because projects have budgets). Projects also need a project manager to keep track of all the moving parts and personnel. Projects can often have too many or too little people involved, because no one knows exactly what kind of work will be involved from start to finish. Projects may not approach certain tasks as efficiently as possible because, again, there is this element of discovery. There is a certain "unknown" with any new project.

With a process, the budget and cost tracking are already done--you know what each individual portion of the process will cost because you've done it before. You already know exactly who needs to be involved, and those people already know exactly what they need to do. (Or, if they don't, it's spelled out very clearly for them.)

The lesson from Uber? Completing lots of projects in your business may not be a great thing. Your business can never scale if you're completing projects on a case-by-case basis. The key to creating a scalable business is to lay the groundwork by converting your projects into processes.

So, what projects can you convert into processes? How can you create your own global expansion playbook?

Published on: Feb 5, 2019
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