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How Advancing Their Lean Startup Practice Helps Intrapreneurs Bust Organizational Roadblocks

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Starting an innovation project is exciting.
Finally…work that could have a real, tangible, positive impact not only for your company, but for your customers (and let’s be honest – for your career prospects) as well.

And then? It happens. Progress begins to slow down, and you’re not sure why. Your landing page test failed. Sales won’t let you do discovery with current customers. And all your big ideas seem to be getting eaten alive by silos, policies, and systems built to support the successes of the past – not the future.

That’s why the Advanced Lean Startup workshop exists. Developed by Tristan Kromer (Kromatic) and hosted by Rob Aalders from Startup Spirit, it’s designed to show you how to effectively bust through roadblocks and manage your project’s needs, goals and priorities in a large organization.

We sat down with Rob to find out what obstacles innovators often face, how to know what you’re doing right (and wrong), and what innovation managers need to be doing in order to move their teams in the right direction; and, of course, how the workshop helps with all of it.

First things first – who is this workshop for? Who will get the most out of it?
The Advanced Lean Startup workshop is meant for those who have, at least, been through one cycle, one lean startup process or innovation process. This is because the workshop focuses on experience and the practice of innovation – not on theory, what comes from the books and talks and all that. We want people who have been in the trenches and have experienced the innovation process, and some of the organizational and process obstacles that come along with it.

We also have a learning platform with carefully curated content for people to access before they get to the workshop. It ensures they have a good basic knowledge when they enter the workshop – so we don’t end up discussing what a pivot is, for example. We skip all of that and go right into the real hard work.

When you’re doing a lean startup process, there are times where things aren’t going well, and you wonder: is the method not working, or am I doing it wrong, or is this just not going to work?
Often, these people have been questioning themselves on their speed: Am I moving fast enough? How much time should this experiment take, and is the time it took for me right? Am I spending too much time on this, or not enough? They also question their experimentation and velocity: am I doing enough experiments? The outcome metric of the experiment itself…is it right?

But in this workshop, we begin with the questions themselves.

“Am I asking the right questions? Are we talking about the right assumptions? The assumptions that we have, are they prioritized in the right way? Are we focused on the right things?”

So your assumptions, and the experiments you run based on those assumptions, are a key starting point for team members as well as for innovation managers.

Some other things that are very important, and that people really love to talk about, is how to find the right tactics to work around obstacles in their organization. When you’re running an innovation project you’re not in a cocoon; you’re part of the traditional corporate ecosystem, and you have to work with colleagues in other departments who are functioning more traditionally in their day-to-day. This can, and often does, result in conflicts and obstacles that can hamper your experimentation.

So finding tactics to work around these obstacles, or better yet solve them, is a large part of the Advanced Lean Startup workshop.

It can be hard to understand why, when an experiment was good in the sense that you did it correctly, it didn’t lead to a desired outcome. How do you know what went wrong?
It’s a tough question to answer. And that’s one of the things we try to teach, because every experiment and every industry is, of course, different. That’s why people can bring their own project into the workshop, so that we can look and evaluate what they’ve put in there.

But there is a framework, or things that you could learn, that signal you that your experiment is wrong, or your validation is wrong, or your metrics are all wrong.

And of course some common issues come up, like validating your idea based on one, two, or three interviews, which is, in virtually all cases, very weird. I mean the only case where that might work is in a market that is very very small: let’s say we’re a nuclear plant builder and we need these specific nuclear machines. There’s only maybe two or three companies in the world building that, very few clients. For most markets there’s a whole bunch of clients, so validating based on a handful of interviews is not sufficient.

You’ve got the experiment itself, but you also have to consider the sequence of experiments and selecting the assumptions you are testing upfront. It’s a matter of prioritizing correctly.

You need to know: what is the impact of this assumption on my business? How big is that impact? But you should also ask: how complex, or how complicated, is the experiment itself? How much time and resources do I need to run this experiment? Because you also want to keep things simple.

And then from there, and this is where the two-by-two framework comes in, you need to figure out what you’re testing. Are we focusing on the product? Are we testing the market? And then you must decide if you’re running a generative experiment, which gives you more qualitative data, or an evaluative experiment where you get more hard data. So you need to be very aware of what experiment fits into what box. This is all basic stuff that you can teach but, of course, practice is always different.

What about innovation managers? Are the obstacles they face different from, say, the obstacles their team faces? How would this workshop help them?
We tend to see innovation managers in two roles: the innovation manager, and the innovation lead coach.

The innovation lead coach often works very closely with teams, and they also use this workshop as a Train The Trainer. If you want to teach people lean startup it’s helpful if you have wider, deeper knowledge beyond just things you’re currently working and focusing on, and more advanced skills and knowledge in your pocket. It makes you a better trainer and you’ll be able to get your own people to a higher level. So innovation managers who want to train their teams, to make their innovators coaches within their organizations, use this workshop to train them and help grow the innovation crowd within their business.

The innovation manager is more concerned with the kinds of things I mentioned earlier: is our speed right? Are the experiments right? When you’re a manager, people come to you and ask: we’re running this experiment, is this is okay? Do you have any feedback? Can you help me out here? So for them, it’s beneficial to have not just some experience but also knowledge, frameworks, toolboxes to draw from so they’re capable of evaluating experiments as well. When you’re growing the number of experiments and growing the number of innovation initiatives, things get much more complicated. You need to find ways to measure and track the experiments that you are running, and to help teams evaluate if they’re doing it right, if they’re doing the right stuff. The frameworks, knowledge and experience Tristan brings to the workshop is very helpful here.

The first and the morning of the second day of the workshop we really dig into the tools, methods, and tactics of running the innovation project itself. On the second day, in the afternoon, we discuss what Tristan calls ecosystem design: how to operate as an innovator in your organization and how to overcome obstacles in that process. I see this as a key role for innovation managers, to remove organizational obstacles or find ways around them. The innovation manager should be able to find the right people and get the right decisions to help their teams work better and faster. In ecosystem design, we draw up a picture of the organization and identify who the decision makers are in your organizations, and also the different types of decision makers you might need. We add to that some tactics, all based on wide experience, for overcoming obstacles in a positive way. Managers tend to find this very helpful.

So why go through a workshop like this, as opposed to reading a book or watching some talks and then just going for it?
That’s exactly what our participants have figured out; at some point, books and talks are not enough. What we see and hear back from a lot of people is that they realized there is so much more to learn. Everyone comes in open, with a lot of questions about stuff they’re doing – even people from organizations that we regard as leaders in innovation. Their innovators have brought issues to the team table and actually found out that, okay, everyone here thinks we’re doing Lean Startup, and some of us are, but there’s a whole bunch of us that are doing it wrong, or at least could be doing it much, much better than we are.

I often compare it to learning to play football. We can go out on the street. You can kick the ball and we can say: ok, you can kick the ball so you can play soccer. Technically, sure.

“But then why do people go to football training every week, or twice a week? Or to play professionally, even more than that? Because playing football is about much more than just knowing how to kick a ball.”

This is also true for innovation. You have to practice. You have to build your skills. You have to learn, always be learning. This is what happens in the advanced workshop. From the feedback, people say they’ve really learned a lot and that they can really improve the way they work in their teams, or train their teams way better. It really adds to what they’re already doing.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very much in favor of learning on the job, of doing practical stuff and learning from it right there.

“But it’s also true that if you’re working in a corporate, you can get a bit of tunnel vision whether you want to or mean to or not.”

A workshop like this one opens your mind. You get to review and reflect on what you do. You see all the different types of tools, you’ve got the frameworks. You start working with things you’ve never worked with before, in ways you’ve never worked before. Gradually you become better and better at innovation.

I like to compare innovation sometimes with marketing. In the 70s it was totally new and people couldn’t explain exactly what it was. And today, it’s just a normal function in the organization.

Could you imagine a company without a marketing department? And this is also where innovation is heading. And this, this learning, this practice, is part of the process.

Interview with Rob Aalders
Founder/CEO of Startup Spirit & Lean Startup Workshop
This blog was originally posted on Innov8rs.co and written by Tracy Bradley

Dutch agency Startup Spirit closes partnership deal with French innovation giant

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The Dutch agency Startup Spirit has closed a partnership deal with French innovation and startup giant NUMA. Startup Spirit will develop an Advanced Lean Startup Training, together with innovation expert Tristan Kromer. Startup Spirit is an agency that focuses on developing innovation projects within corporate and startup organizations. It offers training programmes and workshops, organizes events and offers a global network of innovation and startup experts to corporates. Startup Spirit is based in Heerlen, in the South of The Netherlands, nearby German cities Aachen, Cologne and Düsseldorf and the Belgian capital Brussels.

 

NUMA is a leading and worldwide organization, when it comes to stimulating innovation within corporates and championing startup culture. NUMA offers workshop and training programmes, supports startups in developing businesses and creates programmes that lead to new products and businesses. Amongst NUMA’s clients are large companies, such as General Electric, Pernod Ricard, World Bank Group and Total. The company has French roots, but is now situated at 8 locations across 4 continents.

 

Last year, Startup Spirit and NUMA already successfully partnered for the organization of a Advanced Lean Startup workshop. “We are very proud of this partnership with NUMA”, says Startup Spirit founder Rob Aalders. “NUMA is a big, international player, with locations in Paris, Barcelona, Moscow and Bangalore. They have an impressive track record in the world of innovation and startup culture. We will now work for the second time with NUMA on this Advanced Lean Startup training, which feels as the ultimate recognition for Startup Spirit and everything we stand for.”

 

The Advanced Lean Startup Training will take place on October 11 and 12, in Paris, France. The training gives corporate organizations the chance to learn how to integrate the lean startup philosophy in their daily business. Focus lies on creating lasting value from working with the lean startup method and creating more impact of innovation in the company. Tristan Kromer will lead the training. He is a very experienced Silicon Valley ‘veteran’, with a long and successful track-record in helping companies innovate their businesses and products. Kromer has worked for clients like Disney, Fujitsu, Stanford Business School and Swisscom.

 

Find more info on NUMA here.

 

Why Lean Startup?

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Nobody has the ability to read customers’ minds, but the Lean Startup method is about as close as you can get. Every entrepreneur’s nightmare is committing vast amounts of passion, time and energy to a product which will ultimately fail to sell. The Lean Startup method overturns the classic way of starting a new business – going straight from a business plan to the completed product – and involves the customer in the process from the get-go. So you will minimize risk, save time and create something people can’t wait to get their hands on.

Let’s face it – when you’re creating a new product or service, you’re gazing into a crystal ball. No matter how much research you’ve done, ultimately you’re making an educated guess about what people will want. Whether you’re launching a startup or an initiative within a large corporation, the classic formula dictates you start with a business plan. This document describes the size of an opportunity, the problem to be solved and in what way the product will solve it. It usually involves predicting how the venture will perform financially in the coming five years, even if the product doesn’t exist yet. A classic business plan is written in solitude, backed by research but lacking any input from customers. You proceed to pitch the plan to investors, assemble a team and build the product. Then you introduce it into the market and hope for the best.

75% of all startups fail, so an educated guess most likely won’t be enough to make it as a business. You need to stand out from the crowd by knowing what your prospective customer is looking for and adapting to this at a fast pace. When done right, the Lean Startup method teaches you how to grow a business with maximum acceleration.

How does it work?
The Lean Startup method was introduced by entrepreneur, blogger and author Eric Ries. When two of his past ventures failed, he realized he lost a large amount of money and time building products, without ever verifying if they solved a real problem. They didn’t and the products naturally flopped. Ries knew he needed to build his business in a way that would cut back the risk of this happening again.

As the founder of a lean startup, you don’t start by writing a business plan, but by searching for a business model. Instead of writing a detailed plan based on assumptions, you use a framework called the business model canvas to summarize your hypotheses. The business model canvas is dynamic and changes over time. Founders of lean startups test their hypotheses and learn from their own misconceptions and failures. You will fail, but believe it or not, this is the best thing that can happen to your business.

Success through failure
Failure, in the right circumstances, is what makes a startup thrive. It’s important to realize that failing quickly means winning in the long run. A lean startup will most likely get it wrong multiple times before finding the ideal approach. The Lean Startup method uses a minimum viable product (MVP), which is an extremely basic version of your product, and introduces this to customers early on in the process. An MVP is not a costly, labor-intensive prototype, but rather a rudimentary version with just enough features to be able to gather feedback from customers. This way of developing eliminates wasted time and resources. An MVP is minimalistic, but helps you to learn what’s working, what isn’t and in which direction to steer the business. You can use this information to quickly change your product or business model to meet consumer needs. If an idea doesn’t work out in the real world, it’s best to find out fast and adapt. Sometimes you need to make small adjustments (iterations) to your idea and other times the collected input might call for more substantial ones (pivot).

And you don’t ask for customers’ opinions once – you keep interacting with real-life buyers throughout the whole creative process. There will be many development cycles, each giving the product a better chance of surviving and even thriving in your market of choice. Building the final product will come at a later stage, when feedback has been implemented time after time, ideas have shifted, MVP’s have been tested and you know you’re creating something of real value. If you think that sounds like a lot of work – think about the amount of labor wasted when you create a fully functioning product just to find out no one is interested in buying it.

Why Lean Startup?
Every entrepreneur knows that launching a startup can be wildly thrilling, but is not without personal and financial risk. The Lean Startup method helps minimize risk by implementing the build-measure-learn feedback loop, which is at the core of the Lean Startup methodology. Build your MVP, listen to the input of customers and learn from it. The Lean Startup method is a process that will allow you to create a made-to-measure solution to a problem that exists in the real world, while doing this fast and cost-effectively. If you want to create a sustainable business with minimal waste of both time and money, the Lean Startup method is for you.