The excitement in high tech is palpable- it seems like every time you read the news there’s another wild success story. Some of this is ‘media enhanced’ but there are some best practices you can take and apply to your own business, tech or otherwise. Here are four for starters:
Used to be you had a lot of ‘self love’ in the process of developing new ideas. Your idea was your baby and stuck with it to the end, bitter or sweet. Now the practice of ‘design thinking’ drives a lot of what the most successful companies are doing. Rather than just sticking to your hunch, design thinking requires that you go out and meet your users, acquire a high degree of empathy for them, and direct that empathy toward creative solutions.
Used to be you had to have a five year plan, even if you knew there were so many unknown’s you had better odds of winning the lottery than following the plan. This didn’t mean the business wasn’t a good proposition- it just meant you didn’t have quarter-level visibility into it out five years. Enter iterative management and the scientific method, recently popularized in The Lean Startup. Treat your new business or line of business like an experiment- organize the key assumptions (hypothesis) and then prove or disprove them with the quickest, cheapest possible experiments. Were you right? Great, scale up. Were you wrong? Update your idea and re-test.
Used to be startup’s aped the habits and personnel of big companies in hopes of becoming one. It turns out that’s just as crazy as you always thought it was. A startup is fundamentally different- it hasn’t yet identified a product/market fit. The work required to identify that fit requires small, hands-on teams working in an informal structure to validate the assumptions (hypothesis) above. This practice is called ‘customer development’. More structured, process-driven organizations are critical for scaling but they’re not the right thing for startup’s (whether that’s a new company or a new business within an existing company).
Used to be you moved in a ‘waterfall’ from requirements to design to implementation to verification and so forth. That was well suited to building well-understood products over long time scales- basically the opposite of what a startup needs to do. Startup’s increasingly use a technique called agile that emphasizes empathic inputs like personas and stories and collaborative discussion over a detailed written plans. Agile also works in small batches- you produce working product at the end of every 2-6 week ‘iteration’. The great things about this for the small business are that 1) it pushes you to use empathic inputs like personas and stories 2) it pushes you to work in small batches which is good for managing progress under uncertainty and 3) it presses you to consider on a regular (but not obsessive) basis whether you’re still moving in the right direction.
For more detail, check out the video on the right.
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