Author Robert Cringely writes in his book Accidental Empires
that there are three types of people required at different points in the life cycle of an organization or project: commandos, infantry, and police.
Commandos are the first troops to see battle, whether invading countries or markets.
A startup’s advantage is speed, and that’s what commandos live for. Commandos work hard, fast, cheap, and often with a low level of professionalism. But this is often acceptable, “because professionalism is expensive.”
As Cringely puts it: “Their job is to do lots of damage with surprise and teamwork, establishing a beachhead before the enemy is even aware that they exist.”
In a company, commandos are best suited to roles that defy convention and established practices, such as rapid prototyping. Ideally, this prototype is for a product “that is so creative, so exactly correct for its purpose that by its very existence it leads to the destruction of other products.”
As the commandos do their work, the infantry is gathering offshore.
These second-wave troops “take the prototype, test it, refine it, make it manufacturable, write the manuals, market it, and ideally produce a profit.”
Because the infantry troops are so numerous and their duties are so varied, they need processes and rules for getting things done – “all the stuff that commandos hate.”
Once the commandos and infantry have finished their work and head off to conquer new territories, the third wave of troops arrives: the police.
The police hate change: “They want to fuel growth not by planning more invasions and landing on more beaches but by adding people and building economies and empires of scale.”
AT&T, IBM, and other established companies are third-wave enterprises. For example, engineers in these companies work on just part of a product. They view their work as a job rather than an adventure.
Problems arise when there’s a mismatch between the type of person and the work that needs to get done.
For example, if you put a commando person in a police role (e.g., compliance officer, project manager), they’ll probably rebel and create havoc.
Similarly, if you put a police person in a commando role (e.g., building prototypes, creative deliverables), they’ll likely freeze up and stall.