Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lean Startup For Change: Bootstrapping an Enterprise Kanban Transformation with Lean Startup Methods

By now many are familiar with the concept of the LeanStartup, and the methods pioneered by Eric Ries and others. In a nutshell the LeanStartup approach helps human institutions create value in a sustainable way in highly volatile/uncertain environments. This technique has become the de facto standard for young, savvy technically minded entrepreneurs working in innovative new organizations.

But thinking that the LeanStartup method just applies to the folks in Silicon Valley misses the point of how powerful these techniques are.

Increasingly all manner of organizations, institutions and enterprises are being forced to compete in highly uncertain markets. This means that LeanStartup applies to a wide variety of domains. One such domain is large-scale enterprise transformations.

I have spent the last several years of my career dedicated to IT transformations, helping clients to improve the performance of knowledge workers dedicated to building business applications. I have specialized in using agile and lean techniques, lately putting a real focus on capital K. Kanban, invented and made famous by David J Anderson.

Recently, our team has elected to enhance our transformation approach with LeanStartup. While this is still an evolving approach, I’d like to share our current progress.

Breaking down Change into Increments of Learning
Most change management approaches rely on making a huge number of assumptions about the organization, and impact of specific changes. Kanban provides a more incremental approach to these changes, but still contains a number of assumptions around how people react to certain components of the framework.

The LeanStartup approach recommends breaking product delivery into a set of Minimum Viable Products (MVP). Each MVP is built for purpose to support learning. The really interesting part of the MVP approach, is that you often don’t have to build anything to learn something about the viability of your product.

In our approach we are breaking up all of the assumptions in our transformation into a set of Minimum Viable Changes, in effect we have decomposed our transformation into the smallest possible units, laid out our underlying assumptions, and then backed up each assumption with a hypothesis and a set of graduated metrics to support that hypothesis.

Defining Target Behaviors Using Measurable Hypotheses
Components of the transformation have to either lead to improved performance (value hypotheses) or facilitate adoption (growth hypotheses). Again rather than relying on assumptions, the transformation vision is decomposed into specific strategies, and the strategies are further broken up into behavioral hypotheses. These hypotheses are tested through the creation and implementation of various MVCs. This approach is allowing us to gather data around whether to change our tactics, while continuing to pursue our overall strategy, or whether to make a major pivot, and make major changes to our overall strategy.

Measuring Specific Hypotheses
MVCs test specific behavioral hypotheses, in our approach we are using classic cohort testing recommended by the LeanStartup approach. Targeting a single MVC against multiple cohorts, or split testing against different cohorts.

We have structured Kanban, and other lean components into a set of graduated behaviors. And then designed appropriate MVC to test these behaviors. We are also currently in the process of extending this framework to cover other agile process components as well.

Here is a sampling of hypothesis with some ideas on how we plan to measure  the accuracy of our assumptions. These metrics are refined depending on the MVC we design to test the hypothesis.

We are only a couple of months into the process, but some interesting observations have already come to light...

  • we are adapting ALOT faster, no pivots necessary yet, but we are incrementally adjusting our tactics every couple of days
  • our MVCs are getting much smaller, and we are just getting ready to rip down our transformation Kanban board to better reflect the MVC approach as we get more comfortable with it
  • cohort testing is revealing a competitive streak with our coaches, causing us to really maximize client participation (one of our key metrics), we are in effect gamifying the transformation
Stay tuned, we will continue to share our progress...


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