Before I jump into my topic, I think I should give you a quick background on my experience. Prior to joining Mindset two and a half years ago, I spent my entire career (approximately 14 years) in large IT organizations within large companies. Within those companies, there is an established process to execute projects. This ensures financial responsibility and visibility to project progress and helps to align initiatives to overall company goals. Unfortunately, I think it frequently also slows things down, increases costs, and stifles innovation.
Suffice it to say that I had to learn a different way of operating when I joined a small company with core values centered around speed and innovation. What’s been really cool (for me, at least), is that I’ve now been able to merge my Big IT experience with the startup culture to find ways to inject speed and innovation into traditional processes, resulting in a great mix of speed and accountability. Here are a few key themes:
Don’t try to boil the ocean with your first attempt to disrupt. Find a small project that could have a big impact. This could be something that’s been deprioritized multiple times or has an important audience. Address an issue for a squeaky wheel within your organization. Pick something that can be addressed in less than 2 or 3 weeks, and that you can execute primarily with resources under your control.
Iterate, Demonstrate, Prioritize
To simplify, take an agile approach. Once you get that project defined, it’s extremely important to show progress. Demonstrate that progress to key stakeholders and potential allies. From there, take feedback and prioritize the next set of features based on the results of that demo. You’ll be amazed at how appreciative your customers will be of showing progress quickly and immediately factoring their feedback into the product.
This is the element of working within a small company/startup that’s probably still the most difficult for me, but also what I’ve realized is one of the most important things. You need to get out and tell your story. Set up a roadshow, write a blog post on the company intranet, hijack an all-team meeting…do whatever you can to be sure people have not only seen that your project was a success, but also that the way in which you executed the project was different and directly contributed to that success.
Find a Partner
This may sound self-serving, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true: in many cases finding an external partner to help inject disruption can be what makes all the difference in making your project a success. In many cases, that partner may be internal – if you’re in IT, find an innovative business leader that’s frustrated with how solutions are delivered. If you’re in the business, find an IT partner who has shown that they can get stuff done.
Ultimately, demonstrating a successful project on a small scale is the best way to build a business case for more, larger projects that can be executed in a similar fashion. It becomes a flywheel that powers a drastic improvement in the way that you operate within your organization. As a side benefit, running your project in this way can be a lot more fun than the traditional method…what’s not to love about that?