Dos and Don’ts of Lean Startup- Top Takeaways from The Lean Startup Conference 2014

Lean Startup Conference 2014

Lean Startup Conference 2014

Main Takeaway- Continuous Experimentation Well Beyond The Startup Stage

Contrary to the generally held belief that lean startup principles advice experiments in early stages of a startup; many speakers at the conference showed how they are experimenting continuously at all stages of their ventures.

Eric Ries in said that “Product market fit and experimentation is not a one time activity. It’s a continuous flow of activities. There are no discrete big jumps! Think of these steps in continuous flow that lend themselves to go back if an experiment fails”

Hiten Shah of Kissmetrics reiterated that a meaningful metric leads to a hypothesis and then to an experiment to validate it. Startups should always be A/B testing. Empirically 1 out of 5 tests succeed. Strive to win 1.67 out of 5.

A/B testing can help not only at different stages of a startup; but also for various activities including website traffic, app installs, welcome emails, Web/Mobile onboarding, E-mail digests, Triggered notifications, dormant/churned users.

Des Traynor also said that having continuous feedback is more valuable than one time event driven feedback.

Experiments helped even established brands like Rally, Google and Vox Media to validate hypotheses at later stages of their product lifecycle

  • Rally launched a dummy brand targeted towards developers to protect the parent brand from the impressions created by the experiments. Finally Rally decided to have both brands.
  • Google Adsenses team validated Partner Problems using Lean Startup Principles. Blair Beverly said that they faced problem with new projects scaling too early and failing as they lacked historical data to go by. He got coworkers at Google ad senses team to use the Lean Startup. They scheduled office time to read the book, being helpful and not pushy. They also gave them a reading guide with questions. In the end they identified three hypotheses; put together templates like the partner problem hypothesis. People felt good about invalidating their own hypotheses as it saved them work that would’ve been wasted.
  •  Vox Media launched in 9 weeks using analytics to guide customer validation. Melissa Bell got her co founders and others from Vox media in the same room to get everyone on the same page about her vision. Many editorial staff came from Washington Post whereas Vox was an agile technology company. They used card stacks for flexibility. They had problems with the way editors used card stacks, as it was difficult to navigate-hence they analytics were used to solve the problem. Now has 22m users. Delivering content to users where they are-on social channels such as Facebook or YouTube instead of own URL.

Lean Startup- Dos & Don’ts

Max Ventilla

  • Pivoting statistics- 80% of failures didn’t pivot, 65% of successes Pivoted but 85% of Huge Successes (>$1B exit) didn’t pivot. Those didn’t pivot felt that evolution is safer than betting on intelligent design.
  • You need to eat your own dog food. Use your product to solve your own problems. If not you are at an enormous disadvantage.
  • Invert the org chart :customers & customer facing team should be on top. They should be heard and not told what to do.
  • Force yourself to pretend at the earliest possible moment what you want to be- to learn whether its worth being what you want to be. Landing pages, Concierge or Wizard of Oz are ways to pretend.
  • Don’t speed up for the sake of it. For startups not going fast enough is not the main risk. False summit is the reality. Journey of a startup is slow like that of a mountaineer. A new goal appears once you have reached what seemed like the ultimate goal.

Grace Ng

  • According to Grace Ng success criterion for any experiment is the weakest outcome that will give you enough confidence to move forward.
  • Testing the riskiest assumption on buy side in a two-sided market place could be deceptive in a sellers’ market. Sellers may not automatically follow even if you find many buyers.
  • Validated hypothesis doesn’t necessarily lead to a viable business. Grace Ng tested a hypothesis whether birdwatchers will post photos to ask questions. The Hypothesis was valid but the problem turned out to be too small – not a big pain-point.
  • Don’t validate the solution before validating the problem. As in the case above; the problem was not big enough though the solution was right.

Eric Ries

  • When it takes too long to learn as end results take time, use proxy metric like number of likes or start a cohort.
  • Don’t depend on one experiment to determine the product market fit. Keep testing and validating along the way as you grow. Growing too fast by taking product-market fit for granted is dangerous.
  • Don’t get misled by corporate America’s habit to underinvest or overinvest. “All Hands On Deck” sounds great but surely is a sign of overenthusiasm.
  • Avoid handing off innovation between silos. Handoffs kill innovation. What is learnt in one silo can’t be handed off to another silo.
  • Don’t add features for the sake of it. Its better to err on the side of being too minimal to get early feedback and learning. Its easy to add a missing feature later.
  • Pay more attention to paid users’ feedback than free users’ feedback. Free users ask for more; paid users ask for better.
  • Don’t use vanity metrics- Eric’s law: At any time no matter how badly you are doing there is at least one Google analytic graph that’s up into the right

Joanne Molesky

  • As you go through build-measure-learn cycles for product the same way you should be going thru build-measure-learn cycles for process compliance.
  • Beware of developers’ tendency to focus on how to do things than on outcomes. Developers tend to ignore security as they are dazzled by technology, so they focus on doing things faster-not safer. Security testing, threat model and risk metrics should be included right from the beginning and not at the end.

Dan Milstein

  • Don’t take idle pleasantries as positive feedback. People tend to be polite and cordial even though they are least interested.
  • Don’t choose to see what fits in a narrative that sounds good and makes you look awesome. That is self-deception. Realize that a startup is a series of unpleasant encounters with reality.
  • Don’t own a plan. Own questions. Plans will change.

Hiten Shah

  • Test small changes- Google sign on and changes to verbiage improved acquisition by 314% for KissMetrics.

Brant Cooper

  • Don’t as two questions that kill breakthrough innovation – what is the roi? When do we get it? In order to answer these questions we have to look at existing markets which kills innovation -innovator’s dilemma. We need to build cultures or safety net for innovators.


Most of the takeaways and dos and don’ts are common sense for any practicing entrepreneur. According to Eric Ries The Lean Startup process is more widely practiced than talked about. Most entrepreneurs are agents of long term change. They don’t think The Lean Startup is a big deal. As with most profound thoughts- it seems obvious after its well thought through, well organized and well presented.

Top Takeaways from Nasscom Product Conclave 2014

Insights into startup ecosystems of the US and Israel

Technoratti of India descended to Bangalore for the annual Nasscom Product Conclave 2014 on 30th and 31st October. Here are some top takeaways from the conference with a few from the Pune Connect event that happened on 8th Nov.

New startups are being launched at a feverish pace in India. India has 3100 startups-taking it to # 3 ahead of Israel which has only 1000 . Technologies and infrastructure to build software products have become available and the domestic market has grown to become significant enough to take note. Devices at the edge and powerful technologies at the back end are throwing up unprecedented opportunities for startups to innovate. App to App communication is exceeding browsing traffic. John McIntyre and Zack Weisfeld presented the evolution of startup ecosystems in the Silicon Valley and Israel.

Startup EcosystemStartup Ecosystem

Startup Ecosystem

Strong universities which acted like feeders and presence of prominent MNCs provided the infrastructure needed for healthy startups in Israel. Few initial successes provided the much needed boost for the startup activity to take off. Military spending and a lenient tax regime by the Government helped. The Israel Government also promoted VCs and provided exit routes.

History of Silicon valley is similar in the role played by the US Government, world war II and electronic warfare research at MIT, Harvard and Stanford. John McIntyre said that Silicon Valley is a state of mind. “Free flow of people and ideas is natural. The team you build is more important than the idea itself. There is no stigma attached to failure- you have to fail and reinvent to finally succeed. Innovation happens when you address customer desire in a financially viable product that is technically feasible. Silicon valley is a melting pot where the magic happens because of diversity of people.”

India is following the footsteps of these countries by starting a Government funded innovation -the Aadhar card program. 700 million cards were issued in 4 years with a team of 20+ developers. Aadhar has developed an API for authentication and KYC (Know Your Customer) which is being consumed by about 500 independent developers. The Aadhar team showed some innovations that will drive the future roadmap. One of them developed at the MIT media labs was an app that does iris scans using 1.2 megapixel camera and retina display available in some mobile phones today. Soon Aadhar could make one click two factor authentication (like ApplePay) possible in rural India!

Like Appstore and Google Play there are many other platforms like Salesforce, Facebook, LinkedIn and Azure that have their own ecosystem of apps. Aadhar could become one such ecosystem.

Dhiraj Rajaram of Mu Sigma cautioned that we shouldn’t get carried away by the hype associated with product startups and seriously look at services. Services can dynamically provide solutions on the fly to problems as they arise whereas static products solve specific problems they are meant to solve. Tarken Maner also pointed our that out of $3.1 trillion global IT market only $1200 billion is accounted for by hardware and software products- balance $1.9 trillion is accounted for by services.

Tips on business and marketing

Business applications want to abstract trust broking to aggregators of services like Ola Cabs or Flipkart . Promod Haque said that App to App communication is exceeding browsing traffic. As users are demanding mobile first ; some applications are moving to mobile only. Zomato scrapped their web interface,built a mobile only app and then moved to build desktop app after 6 months. Omnichannel seems to be catching up – it not only accounts for various form factors but integrates digital and physical channels of conducting business. Users get a seamless experience across multiple channels – they can start in a new channel from where they left in an old channel. Tarken Maner said that you can strategically use channel to differentiate just the way you traditionally used customer profile or product features to differentiate. B.V.Jagdeesh said as business applications are starting to look more like consumer apps;  B2B market provides more opportunities than B2C. Once you acquire 20 customers in the B2B market you are safe to start building your business on that foundation. Though B2C appears more attractive ; sustainable customer acquisition in large numbers makes it more difficult.

Dhaval Patel of Kissmetrics described how their company scaled its outbound marketing communication. He said that they focused on low cost channels like Twitter and stayed away from paid conversions. They focused on creating content that their customers loved. He advised startups to join professional groups on social media like LinkedIn to study others’ content including competitors’ content and add a new twist to put across a different point of view. Once the content is up the same can be pumped up first by e-mail and then by social media campaigns. Both e-mail and social media are complimentary tools and need to be used in conjunction.

Campaigns need to be measured by studying sharing and social engagement metrics . Qualaroo is a great tool to ask questions to visitors. Vanity metrics can kill ROI . Metrics become meaningful only when they reach high thousands. Kissmetrics published over 50 info graphics and received more than 20k comments. Info graphics get hundreds of shares on LinkedIn, FB  and Twitter.

Dhaval advised startups to ” Treat content creation as customer service. Measure and optimize your content. Do a/b testing , stick to a regular schedule to publish content. Images are very important for content to make people click. Create content that teaches. Blogs are cost effective e.g.Kissmetrics’ cost per sign up is as low as $7. Always position top content in left panel so that it’s easy to find.”

Product Tips

Aakrit Vaish  co-founder of Haptik Inc said that mobile first is not just a business strategy but it changes the way we build and use applications. He said that everyone at Haptik uses low bandwidth 2g connection so that they can live the user experience of an average user. He said one should use mobile web if the use case starts in the browser e.g. with Google search- this way the user can reach your application in 1 click instead of 6 needed to download and install an app. Building an app would make more sense if one were leveraging native capabilities like geo-location or push notification. He said users download and install a number of free apps which they eventually delete.

Omni-channel means unification of web, mobile and in store experience- any user switching channels starts where he left off. Lowe’s – essentially a brick and mortar company now offers omni-channel experience to its customers. Associates who walk the floors of Lowe’s stores can capture the conversations about all the products and share it so that information is not lost. Product locator kiosks placed at prominent locations in the stores give stock position. Lowes planned ahead for iOS-8 and launched touch Id. They armed their associates with 42000 mobile phones not only for better operations but for better connection with customers. With more than 500K products online Lowe’s is a good example of digital-physical blur. Tesla is another example of digital-physical blur. Its more software than car.

Ramesh Raskar of MIT Media Labs shared his advice on how to invent. He explained it with his idea hexagon with some examples. The hexagon has a question at the center – “Given X whats next?” and the 6 corners show ways of inventing based on current state X.

Idea Hexagon

Idea Hexagon

  1. Xd– Add a new dimension. E.g. if Flickr shared photos.Youtube shares videos.
  2. X+Y. Pair X with Y – more dissimilar Y would be better. E.g. Retina display for eye checkup
  3. Xv – Given a hammer get all nails. E.g. Use mobile phone as a camera.
  4. ~X- Do exactly the opposite. E.g. reverse auction, toll free calls.
  5. X++- Add an adjective like faster, cheaper, cooler, more democratic to X. E.g. Skype for cheaper international calls.
  6. X^- Given a nail get all hammers – E.g. LensBricks- appstore for cameras.

Tips on culture

 Employees are demanding enterprises to provide more freedom. InMobi has given this freedom to bring about a cultural change in their company. They have stopped using traditional way of hiring – now they follow Hiring 2.0 to hire the best teams in hackathons conducted by them. Employees built their office to suit their liking instead of the standard cubicles.

Naveen Tewari said that “You can get 100X the valuation if you get the culture right. Culture is proving to be the disruptive differentiator.” He defined culture as experiences that the company gives to its customers and employees. Change, innovation, fast failure and learning ,fast iterative growth are difficult to implement without the right culture. InMobi has implemented an open door policy for employees who could leave to do their own startup and come back if they failed. They focused on growing instead of managing people. They did away with the performance appraisal system. Connecting with families including grandparents and also with ex-employees built the company’s soul.

Jim Ehrhart repeated what was said in an earlier post – boundaries of enterprises are blurring as we move from workforce to crowdsourcing. IT barely have the tight grip on what people do as they used to have. Employees want to use apps for everything they do. Many enterprises are planning to build their own enterprise appstore.

Social Physics Applied to Hiring

In this blog I will explore how the fundamentals of social physics  authored by Alex Pentland  can be applied to hiring. We will explore how these fundamentals help you  not only to target the right candidates but also  to reward and motivate recruiters.

Evaluating Candidates’ Social Media Presence


Candidates who have more connections and are members of more groups are more likely to explore and acquire new ideas. Idea flow happens in diverse networks. Idea flow happens more by overhearing surrounding conversations than by 1:1 communication. Even though some one is not actively posting messages on a social network s/he is learning a lot by eavesdropping on the conversations that are happening.

Harvesting Groups for Potential Candidates


We need to exercise judgment while selecting groups to harvest for potential candidates. Social groups that have more frequent short conversations are better places to look for innovative ideas flowing than groups that are having long but less frequent communication. Also groups where people with diverse backgrounds participate in these short interactions are better than groups where a handful of people lead and drive most conversations – some of them tend to become monologues or an echo chamber.

Like organizations ; each groups has a culture. Some are marketing facades for promoting commercial interest of the group administrators at the other end there are lively groups where valuable ideas are flowing in engaging conversations about topics of common interest. As talent scouts we need to zero down and harvest prospective candidates from groups that have the right culture.

Reaching Out to Potential Candidates

Once you have identified the group worth harvesting; you need to start reaching out to individual candidates within the group. You might use your own network to find common contacts to get introduced. You must exercise judgment while selecting the contact through whom you are approaching the candidate. Not all connections are “trusted”. Each person has only a few “trusted” connections. Look at recommendations and other conversations for determining such a “trusted” connection.

Social Incentive for Recruiters

One of the important findings of social experiments conducted by Alex Pentland was that change of behavior can be brought about by frequent recommendations from “trusted” connections in a short period.

Depending on level of interaction between the influencing buddy and the influenced target Social network incentive scheme works almost four to eight times more efficiently than traditional individual incentive approach . If we can provide social incentives specially designed for a group for a limited time; the same can act to provide positive reinforcement needed for individuals to accept new ideas and change their behavior.

You can use tools like InMaps for LinkedIn to visualize your connections as groups of sub-networks of connections who are well connected with other connections. You can devise a social incentive especially for a sub-network and run a campaign for a limited time. This will create the required buzz and positive reinforcement at a high frequency.

Ranking Game for Recruiters

Social incentives combined with monetary incentives work better than purely monetary incentives to reward recruiters for sourcing the right candidate.  In an experiment (Red Balloon Experiment) better teamwork and quicker hiring happened for teams that were encouraged to share monetary incentives than teams where individuals were rewarded only for their effort. You not only get monetary reward but a social reward when you share your monetary incentive with your friends. That way you can get more friends involved in your mission.

We saw in my last blog posting how limiting the shortlist to top 3 candidates helps to make the hiring process more effective and efficient. We devised a mobile game and invited recruiters in our company to play it. This game shows short summary of 2 candidates on the mobile screen and asks the player to vote for one. The game goes on till you have played for all possible pairs. In the back end a sorting program bubbles up the top 3 candidates based on players’ votes. The recruiter who sourced the successful candidate shares his/her reward with others who voted for the candidate. And all the players share their scores indicating “successful votes” with their social networks. (Peer See Approach )


  • Recruiters act as collaborators instead of adversaries
  • Those who consistently vote for successful candidates receive respect and recognition further motivating them to improve their selection skills.
  • Introduces playfulness that is an inherent component of creative teams.
  • Newbies learn from their mistakes by seeing how everyone else is voting.


Lean Hiring- An Experience Report

In an earlier post we saw how organizations can create an ecosystem to attract top notch talent. But that is a long term vision which will take time to implement. How do we address more immediate hiring needs? In this post I will try to apply the learning from Lean and Agile principles and practices like Kanban to the process of hiring.


Let us first compare hiring with software development to find out similarities between the two

Similar Problems- Comparison Between Software Development and Hiring

  • We are not sure about the outcome when we start: Software evolves as new information comes in. Similarly job requirements change to accommodate new needs or bar is lowered for reasons of non-availability and urgency. Sometimes a professional is internally transferred from another project and the need to hire simply goes away.
  • Large Batch Sizes (A.K.A. Waterfall model of development): If you think of software development and hiring as workflows; often managers try to maximize utilization of resources at each step of the workflow by handing over work in large batch sizes. Its not unusual for an HR manager to source more resumes to improve the chances of finding the right candidate. This results in pile up of half done WIP before the bottleneck, which is wasteful. Theory Of Constraints  and Kanban address this problem by putting a WIP Limit on the size of the batch to be handed over at each step of the workflow. Using Kanban to manage hiring is not new.
  •  Delayed Feedback : Large batch sizes also result in longer iterations and delayed feedback resulting in wasted cycles of recruiters and developers working on what they think is needed which often turns out to be different. We load the hiring managers by arranging many interviews without asking feedback about the interviews that have already happened. We need to ask,learn from the feedback and use that learning to improve the quality of candidates in subsequent cycles.
  • Ambiguous requirements: Its not unusual to start developing a software product with some high level idea and a few whiteboard sketches. Similarly we often hear managers giving high level directives to hire “smart developers” or “kick-ass salesmen”.
  • Dynamic marketplace: Both software product and hiring opportunities are not permanent. They go away with changes due to technology, competition, new ideas and realization.
  • Waste resulting from unused code or resumes sourced: We often write more code than required. We often build more features thinking we are adding value. Similarly we often source too many resumes and interview too many candidates to improve our chances of finding the best match. Unused code and resumes represent the waste we should be attempting to minimize.
  • Vague acceptance criteria and definition of done: Software development and hiring can go on in perpetual loops because the end states are not well defined. Both software development and hiring reach states where doing more work would cost more than the value you get out of it. That’s when you should stop. There is no definition of 100% completion. But the good part is you can start using the software even if all its features are not yet implemented. Similarly you can start using a team that is not yet completely staffed. Best value is derived by prioritizing must have features in software or must have skills while hiring.

Here are some useful tips to make hiring process quicker and more efficient.  In the spirit of continuous experimentation we tried adopting the proven and well tested lean and agile practices to streamline hiring in my company.

Agile and Lean Principles Applied to Hiring

In an earlier post we had seen how doing painful things more frequently reduces the pain. We tried to make the hiring process less painful by doing the following –

  • Short iterations with quick feedback :  Long and “hyped up resumes” were consuming a lot of our recruiter’s and hiring manager’s time. We overcame this problem by using a 500 character micro-resume covering important facts including relevant skills, project experience, notice period and expected compensation. This semi-automatically generated micro-resume was made actionable with “detailed resume”, “accept”, “reject” and “call” links. Hiring managers were encouraged to view these on their mobile phones to provide quick feedback. The printed version of this micro resume also helped us populate the Kanban board.
  • Using the learning from the feedback : The recruiters asked the hiring managers to give a good idea of “must have” and “good to have” skills. Based on this information the recruiters shortlisted top 3 candidates whose micro-resumes were shared with the hiring managers via email and text message. We waited for the hiring manager’s response before sharing any more micro-resumes. One such iteration ideally got over within a day. At the end of the day we either had a shortlist of selected candidates or valuable learning that improved the next iteration. Due to the “anytime anywhere” nature of mobile phones; iterations were quicker where the hiring manager was more mobile savvy.
  • Small batch size: Instead of inundating the hiring manager with a number of resumes ; we put a limit of 3 as stated above– which forced the recruiters to do a lot of groundwork to select the top 3 resumes from a couple of dozen that would satisfy the selection criteria. Smaller batch size also forced the recruiter to do a lot of groundwork and research before ranking a candidate. As seen in an earlier post ; instead of relying only on the information in the applicant’s resume we leveraged additional information available in social media platforms such as LinkedIn, StackOverflow and GitHub to determine the ranks. This motivated the hiring managers to be more responsive as it reduced the number of pending cases needing their attention. They were also more willing to provide quick feedback to enable the recruiter to learn from it and provide better choice in the subsequent cycles. In fact in some cases the feedback came immediately as the hiring manager disagreed with the ranking given by the recruiter.
  •  Prioritization of requirements: While understanding the requirements we decided to check the most difficult constraints first. In the diagram below ; you can see the order in which we evaluated the constraints. This made the job of selecting top 3 resumes out of all the resumes relatively easy. This Job requirements matrix was filled in presence of the hiring manager. Limited space provided forced the hiring manager to think really hard before writing down the requirements in the appropriate space provided.


  • Planning /prioritizing interviews: We always had the most suitable candidate in the backlog the next to be interviewed. Often its hard to get suitable time slots from good candidates, and recruiters end up scheduling a less suitable candidate ahead of more suitable one. We made it clear to the recruiters that Its not necessary to use all the time made available by the interviewers. Interviewer’s time is a scarce resource which needs to be utilized more judiciously. Moreover if the interviewer rejects the candidate; learning from rejection of a stronger candidate is more valuable than that from rejection of a weaker one. We always played our best card.
  • Timeboxing: Whatever happens one has to conclude the process at some point. Many times you don’t get exactly what you want but you must staff the position for business to carry on. Prioritizing and having a backup candidate in case the best candidate doesn’t show up are some of the precautionary measures one has to resort to under time pressure. Like a truly agile process we kept some of the unmet requirements for the next round of hiring and had a retrospective to formalize the learning from the previous round.
  • WIP Limit: Having too many candidates interviewed  results in a longer hiring cycle. It also results in inefficient use of interviewer’s time. The number in bracket under each step (as shown in the diagram at the top) on the Kanban board is the WIP Limit. E.g. we can’t have more than 3 candidates waiting for preliminary interview. We“pulled” a candidate from shortlist only after one of the three interviews happened and we got the feedback. This enabled us to learn from the feedback and to apply that learning to decide the next candidate .

Modern Corporate Structures and Skills Needed- Takeaways from Agile India 2014

Modern Organization Structures

Modern Organization Structures

In my last blog post we took a fresh look at hiring in the context of changing organizational structures. In this blog we will see how these changes are demanding new skills and strategies. Most of the content here is based on various presentations at Agile India 2014, held in Bangalore in February and March.

Organizations Powered by Cross-Functional Collaboration

Organizations are progressively moving towards less structured , more collaborative forms from Agile to Holacracy to Lattice to NoManager. Here are some of the thoughts on leadership presented by Tathagat Varma –

1)   Adult Supervision- Management is a service available on demand for employees if and when needed. Otherwise employees are work independently without any management oversight.

2) Horses for Courses – Use networks for innovation agility and speed. Use hierarchies for efficiency, predictability and scale.

3)   Distributed and Rotating Leadership – Shared decision-making across the board. No permanency or carry over of roles. 37 Signals and Valve use rotating leadership model.

In these flat organizations; individuals don’t rise up but move laterally in multifunctional teams. The skills required are T shaped with depth in one or two areas accompanied by breadth in many areas. Open allocation is a concept where employees choose what they want to do.  Valve, GitHub and TreeHouse are some of the well-known companies using open allocation. Holacracy focuses on structures that establish lines of communication to get work done. Holacracy does not focus on roles and designations of individuals. In 1855 an organization chart for NY Railroad was drawn on the basis of how work happened. Not surprisingly it resembled the rail network and traffic patterns and not the hierarchy.

Innovative Culture Nourishes Learning Minds

Social exchanges and idea flow facilitated by an open organizational culture help individuals to innovate as per Alex Pentland. We are better off creating the right culture than importing innovation by hiring innovative individuals. Idea flow between individuals is more important than individual creativity.  True innovation happens when people are allowed to experiment and tinker without the fear of failure. In Etsy the developer who breaks the build is rewarded a sweater with 3 arms – thus providing feedback in a sportive manner.

Quick successive experiments is a continuous and ongoing process in such organizations. No amount of classroom training or attempts to implement a tool /process to innovate can replace the iterative , trial and error nature of innovation. Growth often hinders innovation as processes are brought in to lay down rules to bring discipline and make things more predictable.  The sheer complexity of a growing organization impedes the performance of high performing innovators who relish the messiness of creativity and dislike processes.  Complexity often leads to unknown consequences- taking the same action in the same situation doesn’t yield the same results. HP Laserjet business is an example of an organization where the average time spent on innovation increased from 5% to 40% in 3 years. This was a result of continuous improvement effected by daily use of practices like “Improvement Kata”. Change has to be continuous ; hence we need to establish a sense of urgency.

To give latitude and independence of implementation; define the end state but not the implementation. Let the team decide how it wants to reach the desired end state. For software development the project paradigm needs to change.  Building software is quite different from building a bridge where the end state is known. Enormous amount of time and money is spent on defining end state or scope of a software which is essentially undefinable. Jez Humble says that 50% of efforts are spent on this fuzzy front end.  The “project” simply doesn’t start till we have some semblance of scope defined. Also the software is not really used till its “ready” for release. This leads to what Jez calls as the Water-Scrum-Fall model. Unlike bridges or dams; software can start yielding value much before its completely “ready”.

Skills 2.0 – New Age Skills Common Goals – Independent Strategies

Self organizing teams not only have the freedom to implement their chosen tactic for a given end state but also have the latitude to decide the strategies to achieve stated long term mission. Many collaborating teams work on a common mission that guides the whole organization but have their own strategy. Phil Abernathy presented how agile method can be applied to the process of strategy formulation and execution. Strategies of other collaborating teams decide its goals. Each team in turn formulates its own strategy to meet its goals. This exercise of goal setting and strategy formulation is done on a what is popularly called “Fedex Day”- strategies are shipped on the same day. Teams work to get a buy-in by all their members thus making their strategies inclusive and based on shared understanding. While executing the strategy no command and control is required as all members work in unison. Frequent feedback is taken by comparing progress against goals and timely course correction is applied.

Tacit Knowledge

Crossfunctional, self organizing teams depend a lot on idea exchanges that happen in close knit teams that are socially and functionally integrated. These idea exchanges happen over coffee or at the water cooler or in a chat session. The knowledge or social intelligence of the group gets build over a long period of time and this “Tacit Knowledge” is what differentiates and experienced team member from a newbie.  Dave Thomas says that only usable knowledge is “Tacit Knowledge”.  Pilots don’t refer to manuals or guides while flying. Most of their actions are reflex actions directed by “Tacit Knowledge” . Any number or detailed manuals or video demonstrations can’t capture all that a pilot knows. Human intuition is far more deep seated than big number crunching and analysis. Experts often can tell the outcome of a situation based on their intuition. They already know the answer which they rationalize later. The “Fast Thinking” powered by “Tacit knowledge” is hard to explain . Michael Polyani in his book the “Tacit Dimension” says we know more than we can tell. This is the unknown known says Dave Thomas . Most stimuli like gravity are subconscious. Its hard to explain the visual signals that help you accurately recognize someone from distance. Explicit knowledge that is shared in classrooms and conferences only becomes useful when one fully internalizes it by experience.  Ideal mentors don’t teach what they were taught but inspire people with what they have learned.

Versatile Experts

One of the requirements of a flat , crossfunctional , self organizing team is the ability of team members to rotate roles they play. This results in innovation when some one takes a fresh look at a problem.  This mandates the  team members to have “T” shaped skills – where they have breadth covering many subjects and in depth knowledge of one subject. Polyglot programmers. are language agnostic and so versatile that they can program in any new language with minimum learning curve. Polyglot programmers believe that just like an artisan they need a different tool for every job. They master many languages including JavaScript, Scala, Groovy, JRuby, Jython and Clojure. All these are JVM based languages. Polyglot teams map each sub domain of a problem to a tool and decide on a set of tools that they need to use. Many of these tools are new to the team. In their search for tools they underrate their current skills. The right tools are selected keeping in mind that tools are good only in certain contexts. The rotation of developers in the team helps one overcome resistance in the team – this balances the comfort zone and new learning equally in all members.