Looking back over the last few years, if I had to distill my experiences into five bedrock practices that have the most potential to secure success these would be the ones I would choose. All of them are supported by substantial bodies of expertise, so much that some are approaching cliche status, yet they are still the cause of failures or poor results.
Here's the list: I'll discuss each one at more length in a series of following posts.
1) Lean and agile:
I favor project management and process improvement using lean and agile methods. Visual management – simple ways for everyone to see “what should be happening” and “what is actually happening” so that anyone can contribute where most required. Agile methods like Scrum are crossing over into mainstream practice, but along the way businesses are having a hard time letting go of their existing waterfall practices and roles. The waterfall-agile hybrids can be ugly.
2) Customer listening:
We have to be intensely curious about our customer and love their needs more than our own ideas. Technologists still have a tendency to focus on features rather than user objective and associated benefits. Storyboards and 3D business cases can uncover needs in a way that excites, disturbs and reassures customers and creates demand. Net Promoter System measures if we’re getting it right at scale. Unfortunately we still sometimes confuse our measurement of performance with the customers' perception and end up convincing ourselves that they should be satisfied rather than setting our goal for what they care about. Other issues include survey fatigue among customers and employees who are tired of the survey being used as a stick to beat them.
Nearly everyone has absorbed the messages of The Startup Owner's Manual and The Lean Startup. One thing delivered is better than six at 95% complete; one solution with great fit is better than one trying to be too many things; two countries launched and profitable are better than six competing for resources. Prove hypotheses thoroughly before scaling. This ought to be natural in companies that have embraced agile methods, but often a business has an agile development process but not an agile business process. The siren song of grabbing share or growth tempts us to try to address many subsegments with a single product or to scale without being clear on the difference between early adopters and mainstream market.
4) Help customers to change:
Adoption is more than training and can be hampered by workflow impacts and cultural effects. That compromises benefits and slows down scale. Change management accelerates growth. However, change management at the point of adoption still seems rare. Especially in B2B settings, there's a sense that people will do what they are told and work with what they are given. If the change has an impact on behavior or micro-culture, you may get there eventually, but more effective partnering with customers to advise how to reinforce the introduction process could be the secret advantage that fosters faster scale.
5) Be more human:
Valuing individuals and interactions means caring for psychological safety and enabling people to work effectively as a collective. Practical facilitation skills backed by frameworks such as Collective Leadership and Bigger Game help synergize team members into more than the sum of the parts. In the marketplace, company culture seems to be at extremes, with many toxic Silicon Valley examples emerging in the press while at the same time many new and old businesses are putting an authentic and open workplace at the heart of their strategy.
A business that had these five practices in harmonious combination would be a powerhouse indeed.