Jay’s 1 / 3 / 10 / 30 rule of scaling a project or organisation

1 / 3 / 10 / 30 rule of scaling a startup, project or organisation

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Been working on an EPIC spreadsheet this week. I’ve been working with a data extract from a well known card payments processor. It’s amazing how many middlemen tools there are that you can buy off the shelf to work with data like this rather than wrestling with it yourself. And of course, there’s tools that the processor themselves provide if you upgrade to a premium service or whatever.  

It’s kind of shocking how much ‘rent’ extraction there is all over the place in the tech industry. For all its bluster about disruption it has really just created an endless set of terraces between you and your data in the database at the top of the hill. At each level people can set up shop and sting you for 6 dollars per month per user.

I know for many freelancers and individuals 6 dollars sounds alright, but if you have a small team of people it can be a shock when the person in charge of the cash is suddenly looking at 3 grand a year you need to fork out to turn ‘pro’ in certain software when a team has outgrown the free version.

The 1 / 3 / 10 / 30 rule of scaling an organisation.

I can’t actually remember where I first heard this rule. I suspect it might have been from my old boss who is the best project / program manager I’ve ever had. She’s a senior director at a huge organisation somewhere or other now – which is unsurprising. Her influence on my professional life can’t be underestimated. Fantastic boss.


There’s a simple rule of thumb I always explain to clients/startups when I’m working with them. It doesn’t matter if they are looking to scale or just get more organised. Its the following:

Let’s take each one in turn:



If you one person freelancing. You’ll need to think about how you interact with 3 other people with minimal effort as part of your day to day goings on.

Shared documents, shared folders etc. Maybe even a shared calendar for keeping track of deadlines and basic project management.
Many of you reading this will (and probably do) instinctively reach for Dropbox or your Google account.

I pay every month for G-suite so I can assure clients that all the shit they add me to is well away from my personal life etc. Plus it’s psychologically healthier for me to have work stuff ‘over there’ and not in my personal inbox.


If you are working regularly with three collaborators – perhaps you are a musician, a producer, a start up etc. You really need to be cognisant of how you would work alongside 10 people if things unexpectedly got bigger. These people don’t even necessarily need to be on ‘your side’ of the fence. It might be the three of you who are added to a project that has 7 other people who are moving parts. How are you going to accommodate that?

A project of three people needs to have the foundations in place. What I call a loose “minimum viable bureaucracy” to support 10 people.

A project of 3 people is very different beast from a project with 10. And things can grow very quickly and unexpectedly whatever type of project you are working on. That means project management apps like Trello start to creep in at the free team level and become far more important to the efficient running of the project.

3 people using trello to organise their project is great. But then suddenly you are 10 people and you really need to automate a few things, make use of all the features that come with the pro version and so on. One power up per board just doesn’t cut it anymore.

But, if you didn’t think about this as a team of 3 up front and plan it in your budget – Upgrading to pro when you hit 10 can be a hard bullet to bite and swallow.

Fore example: If you pay up front to make use of the discount. It’ll cost you $1198.8 a year. If that’s too much all in one go because cashflow is choppy or whatever. you’ll end up forking out $125 a month or $1500 a year for the team. This is a significant cost to add to your P&L and cashflow planning either way you cut it.

It seems silly but I can’t stress enough that the 3 person project to 10 person project change is literally one of the hardest jumps an organisation will ever take. Literally a growing pain.


You probably get the picture by now. If you are a project of 10 people you need to start thinking about being a project of 30 people sooner rather than later. This means more minimum bureaucracy.

An internal wiki or knowledge base (if you don’t already have one). You also need to start to think about ‘people’ planning, on boarding, HR tools for managing holidays (more $X dollars per month per user) the whole shebang.

Whilst the 3 to 10 jump is the Hardest. It’s the 10 to 30 that breaks most start ups.

This is where a company culture starts to fray as the group of previously very tight and collegiate set of people gets larger. People start to get teams, direct reports etc and argue and complete for things like budget.

It’s around now that you should start to actually formalise your company culture and values. If you haven’t done it by the time you get to 30people its too late. Only companies run by charismatic psychopaths get over 30 people without formalised company values document, and things will inevitably turn toxic fast.

I like to sit down right up front with teams of about 3-5 people and take them though the holistic management context workshopping process. This includes things like stakeholder mapping of all kinds, quality of life statements etc.

Note: Usually it turns out that someones wife/husband/partner will be an important stakeholder in a business even if they don’t work there. I once had a head of a department say to me that post workshop, being able to explain in a senior management team why they oppose a risky investment or project was freeing. Because they felt totally open about being able to say that they felt whatever it was might impact or harm quality of life they have with their family.


Yup a company of 30 people needs to already be thinking about what it looks like when its 100 people.

Planning this in advance with key stakeholders is vital, when and where teams will split in two, at what headcount etc (this is loose of course as priorities change as a company evolves). It should however be clear. It feels a bit unnatural to do this sometimes when everything is on fire and there are immediate issues to tackle. But thinking 6 months a year in the future beyond the next quarter or sprint is very healthy for a company to do.

Also, finding space and office moves become a problem round about now. Above 30 people and you are kinda too big for a wework but probably can’t afford a big office of your own. There’s nothing worse than 50 people working out of an office aquired for 30. And besides. There won’t ever be enough meeting rooms… Trust me.

Around the same size. Your weekly al ahnds before beers on a friday afternoon is getting expensive. Does everyone really need to be there? When you work it out its may be costing you like 10 grand to have X number of people at the all weekly hands.

Also around this time services that you were happy to pay 9 bucks a month for per head when you were 3-10 people start to look very expensive on the P&L / Cash Flow sheets.

I’ve seen startups that were 10-30 people grow to 100 people in a matter of months. Due to investment and scaling up their engineering or sales teams etc. Because they weren’t thinking about getting more people and processes in-place. Employee number 100’s first day at work is still as chaotic and haphazard as employee number 29, this is very bad for moral.


Companies over 100 people scaling up to 300 people should look at getting a proper bizops team and treating them seriously. Not as just a bunch of ex project/program managers (like me) who are seen as the COOs lackeys.

NOTE: I thought I might add that if you are interested in working with me in any capacity please don’t hesitate to
contact me here

Permanently Moved

Organisational Memory


Seeing Like A Stack, Remembering Like An Organisation

A Big Little Idea Called Legibility: https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2010/07/26/a-big-little-idea-called-legibility/
Colonising the Clouds: https://medium.com/stacktivism/colonising-the-clouds-4405d2d590b5

Permanently moved is a personal podcast 301 seconds in length, written and recorded in one hour by @thejaymo

Website: https://www.thejaymo.net/
Podcast: http://permanentlymoved.online
Zine: http://startselectreset.com

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The spreadsheet thing i mentioned above is PROJECT NOVA related. I was doxxed again on the teams instagram story but no one mentioned it this week. 

I’m doing #nanowrimo still. As I mentioned last week, and in this weeks podcast – I’m writing a lot about corporations. You can probably tell by today’s blog post and the podcast themes what’s on my mind. I’m planning on doing a big edit of what I get written during the month of November and getting a big ZINE issue 2 out in Dec. It might work better as an ebook? I may experiment with that. Not sure.


I read the very recent Saint Celestine 40k Novel this week.

It’s interesting as it’s a book that does way more than a traditional 40k novel. The book strikes a nice balance between traditional divine intervention grimdark war novel and Dantes Inferno. Andy Clarke I think took a chance on this novel and pulled it off really well.

I hope black library commissions more experimental novels like this. I’d love to write a Decameron novel about 40k pilgrims on their way to terra.


My cousin has a very er …. Lush ‘chord indulgent’ new single out this week. I’m seeing him on Sunday, that will be my review.
His wife has a great new podcast out. More on that soon.

Remember kids:

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One response to “Jay’s 1 / 3 / 10 / 30 rule of scaling a project or organisation”

  1. CW avatar

    Interesting. This sequence of numbers is (approx) linearly spaced on a logarithmic scale. (3 is “half way” to 10 on a log scale, etc.) So they are sensible regular milestones for exponential growth.

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