Friday, February 10, 2012

Build an adaptive culture that will invest in process only when it is needed

I just watched a great video with Eric Ries, entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School and author of the book The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

Within the video he examines the technique of the "5 whys." In short, those involved in a lean startup will for each problem they must tackle (1) ask "why" at least 5 times digging further into a  problem with each "why" questions. (2) Next they are to find the human problem behind every seemingly technical issue. And finally, (3) make a proportional investment in each of the 5 "why answer" layers. This will build an adaptive culture that will invest in process only when it is needed and not expend valuable resources.

For example, let us suppose you are part of startup X and one of the startup's main partners asked a software developer, "Why didn't we get that last feature into the release to show to the investors?" That was why number 1. The software developer answers, "Because I did not have enough time." The partner then asked, "Why didn't you have enough time?" Again, why number 2. "Because I can only add features to the application on week-day nights." "Why only on weekday nights?" Why number 3. I think you are getting this by now. "Because I have a full-time developer job that I work during the week and I want to spend time with my family on the weekend." "Why did we not consider your time limitation when prioritizing features and do the more important features first?" "Not sure, I was told to add the features in this order." "Why who was it that told you those features?" "The project manager."

We see the human factor here is both the developer resource limitation as well as with the program manager on how the priorities of the software program's features were determined.

Proportional investments into the first three layers could be addressed by adding development resources. The last two layers could be remedied by the full team collaborating on what the startup's software should feature. Simple and elegant. 

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