Category Archives: Leadership

Leading Culture Change Means Changing Yourself Before Others

Leaders today are inundated with reasons to transform their organizations in search of better outcomes. New market entrants erode profit, competitors seem to be always moving ahead, all while customers seek higher quality and cheaper sources of service.

The pace and appetite for change is exhausting. Yet comparatively, it feels like your organization is sinking deeper into the mud. “We want to change but the culture here is too difficult to change”. It’s a frequent remark we have all heard and said but what does it mean?

Culture is the original business meme. Its meaning and usage are as abstract and intangible as the word itself. “If we just fix the culture we will be successful”. A statement full of positive intent yet lacking a clear directive or step to take.

A new culture is not a browser plugin. Leaders cannot simply select an extension, download and install it from the Web. Nor should, leaders expect the update to be applied only to others and not to themselves.

The prevailing thinking is the need to change people’s mindset. The belief being if we tell people to think differently, they will act differently. All hands meetings are called, PowerPoint decks are prepped and an executive tour is scheduled to rally the troops for the mission ahead. A one, maybe two day training session is delivered and the metamorphosis begins. But it does not.

Culture is our behaviors. It is the actions we perform. The way we talk, and treat one another. The way we behave reflects the values and expectations we have of ourselves, and of one another.

The single most important action of any leader is to role model the behaviors they wish to see others exhibit in the organization.

Actions are what matter. Not talk

Culture change does not lead with words, it leads with action. By changing the way we behave, our actions begin to change the way we observe, experience and eventually see the world. By seeing and experiencing the world differently, it changes the way we think about the world. People do not change their mental model of the world by speaking about it, they need to experience the change to believe and feel it.

John Shook: NUMMI

John Shook’s Change Model,

John Shook was the first American manager to be hired by Toyota. He moved to Japan without knowing a word of Japanese, just a desire to immerse himself in the organization for a prolonged period of time to learn the Toyota Production System by doing it.

What he observed was not a group of managers telling people what to think, or how to perform their work. Instead he experienced the deliberate practice of experimentation, reflection and improvement by all employees in the entire organization. Toyota had developed a set of behaviours that advocated continuous learning and adaptation to new circumstances.

What Toyota understood is that culture and circumstance is always unique and changing, and to manage change one has to be ready to learn, adapt, and apply new changes as they are happening.

A Journey for Leadership and Behavior.

Shook’s model highlighted that transformation starts from our behavior. Therefore, to start changing culture we need to change how people do their work.

In our experience a very effective first step for a major transformation is to start with a set of hand-picked initiatives that do things differently. We did this together with the engine manufacturing company Wärtsilä. Wärtsilä is over a century old manufacturing company that serves roughly half the ships in the world and has five billion dollar revenues – not a typical Silicon Valley startup.

To kickstart the transformation, leadership provided sponsorship and support to four cross-function teams to explore new ideas and ways of working. The purpose of these teams was to bump into and make visible the cultural glass walls that so often had stalled and hindered other initiatives.

Rather than have the four teams take courses or workshop ideas, the underlying idea was to have four teams experience a new way of working for real. This was ensured by selecting the top strategic innovation initiatives for the teams focus on.

The second step was to create an environment to cultivate the new ways of working. In other words, we made the workspace inspiring, different, and importantly, we let the team personalize it to make it their own. We provided guidance, tools and innovation frameworks for the people to leverage.

By embracing Shook’s philosophy, it was extremely important that the teams had a mandate to work differently and to really experiment with new ways of working, new behaviour. The mandate created a psychological safety net for them. Failure is expected when working creatively and trying out new ideas, and therefore, it was critical to enable safe failure and learning opportunities.

To further facilitate the cultural transformation, the teams broadcasted their intermediate results in demo sessions to the whole company. This turned out to be both popular and effective in further spreading the transformation by showing concrete results rather than talk of trying things differently.


In the demo sessions the audience gave scores to the teams, and the winning team always won quality craft beer. The happy winners of demo #1 from left: Shelley, Henri, Jan, and Martti of Wärtsilä.

Throughout the eight week program the teams fully experienced working in new, interesting and unforeseen ways. Rather than just reading a book or taking a course on lean, agile and design thinking the teams had to apply the new methods and mindset while creating meaningful outcomes for the business. For the individuals participating in the program it was an extremely effective way to safely learn new ways of working, and perhaps more importantly, to learn the limitations of the former company culture.

Jump-starting the transformation today

What did we learn from running this, and similar programs?

First, jump-starting the cultural transformation with a couple of spearhead projects, the right people and leadership support is very effective. The projects will demonstrate that the company’s own people can achieve the desired results and business outcomes with new ways of working.

Second, the people who have experienced new ways of doing are transformed. Applying the new behavior into real projects transforms their thinking about innovation and the whole company, which makes them the key people in spreading the new culture.

Finally, choosing the people to the spearhead projects is critical as those people will become the ambassadors for a bigger cultural change in the organization. They will tell the stories others will listen. They will introduce the new ways of working to others, as they are the people who know best how the new thinking applies to your company. They are the first penguins to dive into the cold water, swim and survive.

However, none of this matters if you, the leader of change, don’t change as well. As the leader of this change you are penguin number zero: the very first person who has to change your behavior. You need to be transparent about your vision, words, and actions. You need to work according to the new culture you wish to see.

This post was co-authored by Risto Sarvas and I.

I’m partnering with Futurice to host executive roundtable sessions in London and Berlin, as well as an event in Helsinki, ‘Lean Rocks’, all during February. Futurice and I will be offering bespoke training and workshops with clients in Helsinki during February, if you’re interested in learning more about this please contact me or Timo Hyvaoja

Stop Typing. Start Testing.

dsc04714“If I knew where all the good songs came from, I’d go there more often”, so said Leonard Cohen when asked how he wrote classic hits like Suzanne and Hallelujah. Formulating the ideas behind timeless hits is not an easy task – serendipity, stimulation and skill all equally play their part.

Yet in large organizations, a lack of ideas is rarely the problem. Business leaders and executives are inundated with suppositions, proposals and pitches on how to increase, invent and imagine new revenue streams for their organization. Most often, the biggest challenge is not conjuring up the concept… it’s killing it as quickly and cheaply as possible.

In The Principles of Product Development Flow, Don Reinertsen’s research concluded that ~50% of total product development time is spent on the ‘fuzzy front end’ i.e. the pitching, planning and funding activities before an initiative starts formal development. In today’s fast paced digital economy the thought of spending half of the total time to market on meetings and executive lobbying with no working product to show isn’t just counterproductive and wasteful – it’s ludicrous.



Furthermore, the result of all this investment is often an externally-researched, expensive and beautifully illustrated 100-page document to endorse claims of certain success. The punch-line presented through slick slide transitions is “All we need is $10 million, two years, one hundred people and we’ll save the business!” Science fiction, theatre and fantasy rolled into one.

What is really needed is a systematic, evidence-based approach to managing the uncertainty that is inherent at the beginning of any innovation process. Our purpose when commencing new initiatives is to collect information to help us make better decisions while seeking to identify unmet customer needs and respond to them.

New business possibilities are explored by quickly testing and refining business hypotheses through rapid experimentation with real customers. Our goal is to perform this activity as early, quickly and cheaply as possible. Lengthy stakeholder consensus building, convoluted funding processes and hundreds of senior management sign off sessions is not.

Decisions to stop, continue or change course must be based on the ‘real world’ findings from the experiments we run, not subjective HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinions) statements supported of how they’ve “been in the business for thirty years and know better”.

Imagine a world without costly executive innovation retreats, and where the practice of pitching business cases at annual planning and/or budgeting cycle meetings is extinct. Instead, a similarly sized investment is assigned to small cross-functional teams to explore given problems, obstacles or opportunities throughout the course of a year. Over a short fixed time periods a team creates a prototyped solution to be tested with real customers to see if they find it valuable or not.

We are investing to reduce uncertainty and make better decisions. You are paying for information. The question is really how much do you want to invest to find out?

In his book, How To Measure Anything, Douglas Hubbard studied the variables that hold the most information value when making investment decision is software projects. The results showed two important insights, how much a project cost and how long a project is going to take held little significance in terms of understanding if a project would be successful or not. What really matter was (1) will the project be cancelled, and (2) will anyone actually use it.

Now, let’s compare how investment decisions are made in the traditional and experimental worlds.

A traditional business case is a set of untested hypotheses and assumptions, backed up by subject matter experts, case studies and market research. In an experimental approach to innovation, real data is collected from working product prototypes that have been tested and informed by feedback from real customers. Which of these strategies do you believe will most effectively provide answers to Hubbard’s most valuable variables?

Similarly, what happens next? In a traditional world once a business case is signed off, detailed requirements are created and a project initiated to build, integrate, test and hopefully, release the entire recorded product requirement backlog – only once all the requirements have been captured, built and release will we find out if our customer will use any of it. With an experimental strategy, we already have validated or invalidated our early working product prototype upon which we can stop, pivot and/or immediately build new features and enhancements based on the customer feedback we collected through our early testing cycles.

Finally, and the most telling and critical piece, the most expensive way to find out if a product works is to build the entire product and then release it. The key to rapid experimentation is not to prove that all our ideas are winners, but to kill losing ideas early to cut out wasted effort, time and further poor investment.


Not all our ideas will have a positive impact on the business. By testing early and often with the real people we are designing for – our customers – we can use their feedback to make more informed and evidence-based investment decisions for the future success of our business.

Like Cohen said, “I think you work out something. I wouldn’t call them ideas. I think ideas are what you want to get rid of… [they].. dissolve into deeper convictions”.

Next time you have a new initiative in your organization remember these six principles:

  1. Stop typing documents. Start testing with real customers as soon as possible.
  2. Our mission is to discover as quickly and cheaply as possible the most valuable information to base further investment decisions on i.e. will the project get cancelled or will anyone use it. Optimize for this.
  3. Define success before you start experiments. You need to hold yourself accountable to the results of your experiments to make decisions to stop, change course or continue with your activities. Doing that after the fact isn’t an experiment. It’s “Experiment Theatre“.
  4. Form small cross-functional teams and equip them to explore problem domains at speed.
  5. When uncertainty is high favour shorter, faster feedback cycles to generate information to make the next decision.
  6. Remember true progress is as more about killing bad ideas early than proving you’ve discovered the next unicorn idea.


Leonard Cohen: ‘All I’ve got to put in a song is my own experience’

How To Measure Anything, Douglas Hubbard

The Principles of Product Development Flow, Don Reinertsen

Lean Enterprise named in Top 10 books on Digital Transformation for Business Leaders

The Enterprise Project scoured the internet to find the most highly-rated and recommended books on digital transformation. As we approach 2017, it’s time to set up your organization’s path forward in this ever-changing digital world.

We’re delighted that Lean Enterprise has been named by The Enterprise Project in the Top 10 books on Digital Transformation for Business Leaders.



As one Amazon review wrote, “[Lean Enterprise]… clearly explains how the disciplines of lean, agile, kata, lean startup, and design thinking are converging through the unifying principles of an adaptive learning organization.

The authors show how to grow organizations which can innovate rapidly in response to changing market conditions, customer needs, and emerging technologies.”

Get in touch to start your Lean Enterprise journey!

ExecCamp: Turn Enterprise Executives to Entrepreneurs

The acceleration of change impacts technology, consumer expectations and economic models. The lifespan of companies is tumbling, from a 67 year average in the 1920s to 15 years today.

Are you responding? How? Organization wide transformation programs that lose momentum and slowly die? Innovation Labs that never produce or deliver? Training courses to certify teams in the next great method? Talking a lot of theory, yet showing next to no action. It’s time to stop doing the same things and expecting a different result.

The problem with transformation is never a lack of ideas. It’s lack of behavior change.

The enterprises that will survive embrace the entrepreneurial mindset, culture and approach at all levels of their organization.

In this talk Barry, will share how he is helping Fortune 500 companies rekindle their innovative spirit to tackle uncertainty and win on his executive immersion program ExecCamp.

A Retrospective On Entrepreneurship

One year ago today I quit my job, leaving my comfort zone to start a new business. The thought had been circling in my mind for some time, but I’d always silenced it with self-doubt and a perceived sense of security from my regular paycheck. But last October I finally stepped into the unknown, thanked my fantastic colleagues for their inspiration and encouragement, and moved from London to San Francisco.

Entrepreneurship (and in fact any new venture) is never really what you expect. In many ways that’s the point. It’s a voyage of personal and professional discovery — about yourself, your customers and your business model. There isn’t a linear trajectory toward success or failure. It’s an experiment, and a challenging one at that.

I spent today at Ryōan-ji in Kyoto, a Zen temple with a famous rock garden where only fourteen of the fifteen stones are visible at any one time. It is said that only through attaining enlightenment can one view all fifteen stones at once. I thought it was the perfect place to run my own personal retrospective of the last year. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Clarity of vision matters.

A clear vision sets the context for all the other pieces of the venture to fall into place. How well I communicate my vision matters — and maybe it even matters the most. Being able to clearly articulate my vision helps people connect with it, and if people can connect with it they can buy into it. My vision also informs what matters most and helps me to prioritize what and where I invest my most valuable commodity — time.

I constantly ask myself, ‘Is this helping me move towards my vision or not?’. If it is, do it. If not, don’t.

Define success over multiple time horizons and perspectives, and review it regularly.

In conditions of extreme uncertainty I need a mechanism to make difficult decisions. Without anything to be accountable to, it’s easy to continually spin wheels, burn time and convince myself that I’m making progress.

Every well executed experiment begins with defining success before it starts. I have a regular cadence to set and evaluate target conditions over multiple time horizons (one week, one month, three months, six months, two years) and perspectives (personal, business, customer, market). This designs rigor, discipline and good governance into my operation rhythm.

If business partner(s) aren’t  100% committed, don’t continue together.

If the team has misaligned expectations or if someone discovers that the reality isn’t what they thought it would be, it’s best to accept the situation, part company and move on. Team members who aren’t fully committed can cause friction, poor decision making and negatively impact others.

Entrepreneurship is a learning experience, most of which you’ll only discover once you start doing it.

Just as no business plan survives first contact with customers, the same goes for personal assumptions and entrepreneurship. They’re hypotheses that only get exercised when tested. Failing fast, cheaply and early is as successful and validating that you’ve found a willing team.

Work hard to be self-aware.

I’ve learnt to understand what I like and don’t like. Where do I need help? What are my gaps, and how can I plug them? No one excels at all aspects of life or business. The trick is to enhance strengths and manage weaknesses. If you struggle with accounting, get an accountant. If your enjoy writing blogs, write them. Don’t ignore what needs to be done because you don’t like or understand it, it will come back to bite you – it’s only a matter of time.

Accept self-doubt and trust yourself.

I constantly ask myself questions like ‘Why me?’, ‘Do I have what it takes to make this work?’, ‘Should I have left my job, friends and city?’ or ‘Was this a bad idea?’ These thoughts run through more people’s minds than you would think. Questioning yourself can be healthy, but over-analyzing less so.

I remember that the reason I decided to get out of my comfort zone was because that’s where the real magic happens. I remember to trust myself, the decision I make and my ability to get there. I’ve never met anyone who said they wouldn’t hire me because I tried to start my own company, regardless of whether it worked out or not. Actually they admire it, often sharing how they wished they had tried it but never did. Remember that.

Entrepreneurship is about embracing uncertainty as a lifestyle.

There will always be ups and downs. To deal with this I have what I call an emotional control chart. I celebrate the wins, but don’t get too drunk on them. Similarly, when failures happen I don’t get down, but gather the lessons learnt and keep working. Persistence is what breeds success.

Entrepreneurs Lean Enteprise

From Kryo Beshay Jul-31-2015 It’s in my office to constantly remind me and keep me focused on what matters. Thanks Kryo!

Not many other jobs offer the same level of experiential and exponential growth.

I moved to a new country, started a business, immersed myself in a new work culture and learned a new tax system along they way! I’ve done aspects of business I’ve never had to do before – digital marketing, accounting, business operations, procurement processing, company legislation and healthcare policies. The list is endless, but so has been the growth.

I’ve learnt new skills, and learnt by doing. I’ve discovered new things about myself I never knew existed (good and bad) but it’s been great. I’m more self-aware, confident and humble. No other job has offered me this level of experience. That alone has been worth the investment.

Do everything manually, then decide what to automate.

When I was a developer I learned the hard lesson of automating too early. Automating removes you from the process and prevents you from learning more from it. When you experience how each aspect of a business operates you understand how it works. By feeling the pain you develop context to make better decisions on what to outsource, automate, or stop doing altogether.

Doing expenses still sucks but I have a much better insight into where expenses come from and go to. Doing things manually helps me to build that context and understand the process. Then I can decide how to handle it going forward.

Find a mentor, or even better find a few.

I’ll never have all the answers. No one does. Mentors won’t either, but the best ones know that. Their role isn’t to provide me with answers, it’s to help me ask better questions – of myself, my direction and business purpose.

I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great people share words of encouragement and advice with me over the last year – my late cousin Philip J. Moore specifically. Thank you to everyone who made time to help me. The list is long. I hope it continues to grow and I give a little back in return.

Entrepreneurship can be a lonely existence. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for support and advice. And try to share what you’ve learned with someone you know who is starting out. Mentoring other people is as powerful, if not more, than receiving guidance from others.

Have a small trusted group of people for collaboration, discussion and support.

Having a group of people I respect and admire to test crazy ideas, hypotheses and thoughts with has been invaluable. Their social, emotional and operational support is essential. My group started with a few people in a Slack group. We help and encourage one another, and collaborate on all sort of initiatives. It’s a community I never would have discovered without changing my circumstances, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

Your network is a great source of business opportunity and growth.

My personal network is a source of hidden strength and has rescued me at least twice. Building and nurturing that network is one of the best investments I’ve made. Seek out interesting people, with a growth mindset and appetite for learning. The future belongs to folks like that.

The people I’ve enjoyed working with are the people I want to continue to work with in the future. Value great working relationships when you find them because they are difficult to find.

There isn’t just one shot, there are many.

Many people mistakenly believe that you only have one shot at success. That introduction, that meeting, that deal. There’s nothing further from the truth.

Entrepreneurship is about life, and life is about growth through learning experiences. Sometimes things I’ve tried have worked, other times they haven’t. The trick is to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and ready yourself for your next shot when it comes around, because it will come around.

As my cousin Philip always said, “If you are still breathing, you haven’t failed. Make sure you learn something for the next spin. Take the night off, send your special someone some roses and go out and see something to inspire you.

Today, I found myself at a rock garden in Kyoto. Tomorrow I’ll start year two.

Talks At Google: How ExecCamp is tackling Business Transformation

I was recently invited to Google to share my experiences of working with executives from leading global organizations who have taken part in ExecCamp.

ExecCamp is an ‘intervention program’ where executives leave their regular roles for 4-8 weeks with the goal of launching new businesses to disrupt their existing organizations.

The purpose of ExecCamp is to provide executives with a deeply immersive experience in which they can develop new skills and capabilities to transform themselves and their organizations.

By embracing Lean Enterprise principles and learning by doing, ExecCamp helps business leaders explore the intersection of business model innovation, product development, organizational design and culture transformation.

10 Principles Of Business Transformation

Transforming organizations, teams or even yourself is challenging. There’s no one-size fits all method to achieve success. It’s a combination of hard work, persistence and patience.

The most successful enterprises are continually experimenting to learn what works and what doesn’t. They focus on meeting customer needs by clarifying goals, shortening feedback loops and measuring performance based on outcomes, rather than outputs.

To become a high performance organization you must develop the capability to continually adapt, adjust and innovate. This requires a deliberate practice of experimentation and learning.

But experimentation alone is not the answer. To enable and empower decision-making at scale, team members need a framework of reference to align their actions to the organization’s mission. The mission is the statement of purpose for what your organization stands for. The principles help individuals and teams to make independent decisions at speed that are aligned to the organization’s mission, valued behaviours and desired culture. It is not a set of explicit rules or command-and-control statements of how people should operate.  

Based on my own experiences I’ve distilled a set of 10 Principles Of Business Transformation to help businesses on their journey to become high performance organizations.

Think BIG, learn fast, start now

Every great mission needs a compelling and aspirational vision. The clarity with which you communicate the vision gives people purpose, direction and constraints as to why the initiative they are taking part in matters. Thinking BIG means challenging assumptions of we believe may even be possible.

For example thinking BIG at SpaceX is, “SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.

However a vision is a theory, a set of beliefs and untested hypotheses that must rumble with reality.

In the information-age the organization that can most effectively accumulate new knowledge, and leverage that insight to make better decisions wins. Organizations with the highest quality information make the best quality decisions. To accumulate new knowledge we must experiment. By experimenting we learn. Whoever learns the fastest wins.

Be uncompromising with the BIG vision, but develop methods to learn fast what works and what doesn’t. Start testing the BIG idea with real customers and users as quickly as possible – even when it’s feels early and uncomfortable.  

Secure mandate, sponsorship and support

You will only be as successful as the level of leadership in your organization that gets behind the initiative. If there’s no support in the team, the leadership or executive group, then forget it. That said, making innovation only the CEO’s job isn’t going to cut it either.

If you want to be a leader of change it’s your responsibility to create the space, support and sponsorship to enable experimentation to happen.

Do this by focus on outcomes not outputs. Define constraints, limit investment, or risk thresholds to create safe-to-fail experiments. This creates a sandbox for learning and will result in demonstrable evidence of progress. It allows teams to explore uncertainty within the bounds of recoverable situations, reducing learning anxiety and paralysis from the fear of failure.

“If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve the ship, they would keep it in port forever.” – Thomas Aquinas

Right people in the right place

Putting change-averse people into a high change environment won’t break the system, it will break the people.

Similar to Geoffrey Moore’s model for technology adoption, there are all types of mindset in an organization towards change, from innovators to laggards.

Geoffrey Moore: Crossing The Chasm

Geoffrey Moore: Crossing The Chasm

Be aware of people’s natural bias when it comes to building teams capable of dealing with extreme uncertainty and frequent iteration. High performance teams start small with a cross-functional representation of business, technology and design. This is the nucleus to build a team around.  Be deliberate about how you form the team and the type of work – be it highly exploratory or otherwise – they focus on.

Act your way to a new culture

John Shook was the first American to be hired by Toyota. He moved to Japan in the mid-70s without knowing a single word of Japanese, only a curiosity to learn about the Toyota Production System. What he observed contradicted everything he had seen and heard in Western organizations. The Western belief was if you told people to think differently they would suddenly act differently.

What Shook actually experienced at Toyota was that changing the system of work is what led to a change in the way people behaved. People didn’t think their way to a new culture, they acted their way to a new culture. This is what SCRUM, XP and many other agile methodologies actually try to enforce – a change in the system of work using iteration, ceremonies, reflection and cross-functional teams to change how people interact and ultimately behave.

John Shook: NUMMI

Sadly many organizations still believe that sending staff on a one or two day certification course can suddenly make them agile, adaptive and aware. Often the result is people blindly following a methodology of what to do without ever understanding why they are doing actually it.  

Build the right thing, then build it the right way

Working software is an experiment, just a really expensive one.  

Unfortunately building the entire solution and only then testing it with customers is still the prevailing model of operation for most organizations.

One of the key components of the Lean Startup movement championed by Eric Ries is to encourage teams to test their business hypothesis as quickly and cheaply as possible. This is achieved by creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) – a basic early working example, prototype or experiment to test the area of greatest uncertainty related to the hypothesis.


Diagram inspired by Jussi Pasanen, with acknowledgments to Aarron Walter, Ben Tollady, Ben Rowe, Lexi Thorn, and Senthil Kugalur

A MVP approach enables you to fail fast and cheaply, while also gathering valuable data from the experiment. As you prove or reject different hypotheses, you build confidence that the problem/solution fit is on the desired path. You can then invest more to improve the fidelity of the solution, widen the marketing reach and/or enhancing the solution based on the data gathered — essentially increasing your exposure to risk in a controlled manner.

Deliver small, fast and frequently to build momentum

One of the most important aspects of agile and lean methodologies is working in small batches. Reducing the size of work batches enables us to optimize for end-to-end throughput of our system of work. This allows use to gather data against the outcomes we achieve and compare them to our initial expectations of success.

Secondly, the data we collect becomes inputs for reflection, decision-making and adapting strategies. How are we moving toward the desired outcome? Should we adapt the objective of our original mission? It’s how doing and learning enables better top-level decision making, not just in the execution of a given solution. The longer we wait to collect data to inform our next steps – especially when operating in extreme uncertainty – the higher the level of risk we are exposed to.

The best way to build trust with stakeholders is with frequent demonstrable progress. Showcasing small, completed pieces of work fast and frequently creates feedback mechanisms, trust and belief that team members can deliver.

Build in feedback loops with customers and users

Customer testing should be for breakfast, not dessert. If you’re not testing with customers as soon as possible to understand if their problem really exists and that your solution addresses it, then you’re wasting valuable time, effort and resources.

The best people to provide feedback on your hypothesis are real customers – not your boss, or colleagues, or even team members. Regular and direct customer feedback is your  guide towards fit, purpose and success. Make sure you design a system of work that gives the team frequent opportunities to test and incorporate customer and user feedback.

Following a recent ExecCamp, one of the participating executives sent me the following note:

“One of the team came to me today to ask to review the new designs for a system we’ve been developing. After ExecCamp the response was obvious to me… “I’m not the person you need to be testing with. The real people you need to talk to is our customers. Go find a few of them and get their feedback for what works and what doesn’t.”

Adapt your approach based on validated learning

Lean and agile aren’t just about experiments to create new knowledge, they’re about using that knowledge to make better and more informed decisions on what to do next.

Many experiments will ‘fail’, but even these will result in validated learning. Validated learning means that we test — to the necessary degree of precision and no further — the key assumptions behind the hypothesis to understand whether or not it will succeed, and then make the decision to persevere, pivot, or stop.


By defining and communicating what success looks like before we start we create an accountability loops to decide  if and when our initiatives are getting traction based the outcomes achieved.

Organizations that fail to define success before experimenting get caught in Plan->Do cycles, only validating outputs. Their success is on time, on budget, on scope without any learning mechanism to ask the questions; Did we achieve the outcome we expected? Are we getting better?

Demonstrate evidence for future investment decisions

Writing a well-crafted business case may secure initial funding, but it has little impact on whether your initiative actually succeeds or fails. As Douglas Hubbard documented in his book How to Measure Anything, the two biggest risks to any new initiative are not how much it costs and when will we deliver it but reducing the concern that the initiative will get cancelled and will our customers or anyone use it?

What’s important when making investment decisions is to take an evidence-based approach to ongoing funding by creating an evaluation framework to manage and prioritise future investments.

The cadence of iteration and review should match the level of uncertainty. For example, in financial markets traders get continuous and virtually real-time feedback on how the market is adapting in order to make further investment decisions and improve their probability of success. In contrast, an organization with an annual planning cycle and quarterly review process has only four iterations or feedback loops a year. In my experience, when working in a highly complex and adaptive environment four learning cycles per year is rarely sufficient.

You can minimize risk, uncover options, and get the best return on your efforts by using techniques such as customer testing, pre-defining measures of success and setting investment boundaries around time, effort and scope. This builds in regular feedback loops for course correction or close.

As I’ve said previously in blogs and talks on agility in financial management – It’s time to blow up the business case.

Scale lessons learnt to cross the chasm

Scaling agile practices or frameworks doesn’t work – scaling learning does.

Teams learn best from the lessons of their peers. What challenges did they face? How did they address them? What would they do differently?


People remember stories and take inspiration from the experiences of others. Start by encouraging teams to showcase their experiments, discoveries and next steps. Make it easier for everyone to learn from one another, build momentum and drive change.

As a leader, your responsibility is to enable organizational learning by reducing collaboration friction between teams and designing systems of work with in-built learning mechanisms. The purpose of a learning organization is to help others make better mistakes, not the same mistakes.

Thanks to Qiu Yi Khut and Jonny Schneider for their feedback on initial drafts.

For more on these topics and theme read my book, Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate At Scale, or follow my blog or Twitter


Lessons from deploying Lean Enterprise At Scale

How can you accelerate your journey in becoming a Lean Enterprise?

In this talk I share my lessons learnt from client engagements. I showcase how I’ve helped enterprises rekindle their capability to explore, experiment and embrace continuous improvement.

What are the key aspects to consider when you start? What are the tools and techniques to use? How do you organize to make a meaningful business impact?

I highlight the key issues holding organizations back from unleashing innovation, and demonstrating the countermeasures to achieve high performance at scale.

Email info at for the slides and 3 free chapters of my book, Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate At Scale

The most important metric you’ll ever need

How fast do you learn? How fast does your team learn? What about your organization’s speed of learning? Is it faster than your competitors?

Jack Welch famously said “if the rate of change outside your organization is faster than the rate of change inside you’re already dead”. But I would argue that this statement needs revision.

If the rate of learning outside your organization is faster than the rate of learning inside you’re already dead.

In the information-age the organization that can most effectively accumulate new knowledge, and leverage that insight to make better decisions wins.

OECD data from 2015 (reproduced in the Harvard Business Review) shows the difference between productivity levels of high performing organizations. In the services industry, this gap is almost double!


What enables these “frontier firms” to tear ahead is an ability to quickly discover better solutions to address customer needs, product gaps or process improvements. They make it economical to run multiple small experiments and to work in small batches.

When you experiment, you learn.

The more frequent, faster and cheaper your organization can run experiments, the more and quicker it too will learn.

In his 2011 talk “Velocity Culture, The Unmet Challenge in Ops”, Jon Jenkins, former Amazon engineering lead for eight years, shared that Amazon was performing 1,079 software deployments an hour. That’s 1,079 opportunities per hour to learn; what works, what does not, how should we adapt our approach based on this new information?, and that speed was in back 2011.

If your organization is only deploying software once a month, you’re only creating 12 opportunities each year to learn in the market. And because deployments are so difficult to perform and loaded so many features it is impossible to link effort to outcome (signal to noise). If numbers go up, everyone claims the victory. If numbers go down, no one claims defeat. Similarly discovering issues is a myriad of time and effort.

Amazon posted their latest profit statement, and effectively pronounced Jeff Bezos as the third richest person in the world. The Amazon Web Services business now accounts for 28% of Amazon’s profit. Not only are they orders of magnitude ahead of Google and Microsoft in the cloud race, they’re making more sophisticated and complex mistakes too!

So What?

The good news is that you do have options even if you don’t have a capability of Continuous Delivery in your organization. You can start improve your rate of learning straight away by getting out of your seat and talking to the customers and users of your products, services and processes. New insight is only a few quick questions away.

Secondly, ask your team what their rate of learning is. Nine out of ten? Six out of ten? Lower?

Could you set an aspirational target condition for the rate of learning for the team? Ask yourselves how you could to achieve it? What would be the first step? Introducing early customer testing with prototypes? Implementing Continuous Delivery to deploy software more frequently and faster? Engaging business stakeholders more regularly to showcase your work for feedback and improvement throughout development? It’s your team – develop your own experiments and start learning today.

Finally, make the economic argument to your CFO, CEO or Board of Directors as to why working in smaller batches is a quicker, less risky and more effective way to deliver. Show how it will create new knowledge, improve decision-making and lead to better overall investments. If they ask for more evidence point them to the economics, growth speeds, and mathematics (and because Donald G. Reinertsen said so).

The goal of business experimentation is to make new discoveries quickly, cheaply and to improve decision-making. By increasing the rate of testing we increase the knowledge we create. We can then leverage that knowledge to capitalise on positive signals or change course to mitigate poor investments.

Knowledge is the currency of the information-age. In the race to thrive or survive, whoever can create knowledge the quickest, most cheaply and to the best fidelity will win.

So make your personal, team and organization’s rate of learning the one metric to rule them all.

Overcome creative destruction by anticipating the future

The acceleration of change impacts technology, consumer expectations and economic models. The lifespan of companies is tumbling, from a 67 year average in the 1920s to 15 years today.

Are you responding? How? Innovation Labs that never produce or deliver? Training courses to certify teams in the next great method? Talking a lot of theory, yet showing next to no action. It’s time to stop doing the same things and expecting a different result.

Are you ready to challenge your ideas and embrace uncertainty to win? If so, ExecCamp is the experience for you. Founder and CEO, Barry O’Reilly explains why.

Discover more at ExecCamp.