December 14

Leadership hack 026 – balancing delivery and discovery

As a leader you want your team to deliver and meet their objectives.   However, there is a problem with just blindly following a plan – the real world.

In WW2 a group of soldiers got separated from their unit and ended up lost in the Alps.  Far away from friendly forces and in danger from the cold and exposure they desperately needed to find their way to safety.  The group argued about what to do and which direction to go until one of the soldiers found he had a map.  The soldiers used the map to successfully navigate their way to safety.  Once they were safe, an Officer checked the map and found that the map was for the Pyrenees, not the Alps.  The lesson many take from this is that having any sort of plan is better than no plan.

Plans are very helpful, they reduce uncertainty, they allow coordination and use of resources.  But there are also problems with plans.  Plans and process can become the goal, rather than the destination, and when things change, plans are often useless.   Plans are also based on assumptions, which get tested on when you start to execute.  Often the feedback you get shows that your assumptions were false.

There are several things you can do to ensure that you balance the execution of your plan, with the ability to discover if your plan is achieving your aims, and also discover other alternative approaches.

Tips for balancing delivery and discovery:

  • Separate the goal from the steps that could you move towards the goal.  Remain firm on the goal, but be flexible in the steps
  • Be clear on your target customer at the company level and at the product level, this will allow you to focus your research and analysis
  • Monitor usage of your existing products and features
    • Is usage what you expected?
    • Is there a drop off at a specific stage?
  • Research how your customers use your existing products and features
    • Are the products and features being used as you expected? Or are they being used differently?
    • What are the roadblocks they face?
  • Make sure those building the product and experiences, are the experts in the customers that use those products and experience.  Teams cannot outsource customer insight to an R&D or marketing function
  • Build a research function which should:
    • Provide generalist industry research
    • Look at the general trends impact your existing and target customers
    • Support the teams doing research into their
  • If you are doing something radically new, consider separating the team from the rest of the organisation (like Steve Jobs did with the Mac).   If you do not, the team will struggle to get time and resources, other teams may see these new ideas, and middle managers will see the idea as a threat or attempt to re-mould the project into something more familiar (and thus lose what you were trying to achieve in the first place)

How do you support discovery, insight, adapting and change in your organisation?