Use these two tools to Lean on learning to get your teams ready to execute better each time they work
I’ve seen my fair share of companies.
As a former director of strategy for the incubator Cofound Harlem and a product strategist for the agency Philosophie, I’ve had the experience of keeping track of the strategy of various types of companies.
I’ve had to understand their past, present and future.
And in my last role, as the director of product for Informed, I moved from advising companies to building our own process. I had to ensure we execute whatever strategy the leadership and I come up with.
It isn’t enough for me to execute; the team has to, as well. As much as I can work on controlling myself, at the director level, it stops being about me. It’s about the folks I have the pleasure of leading.
You need a process to cover the gaps of your team’s capabilities, so you can make company strategy exist on more than Google Docs.
How can you do that?
This article gives you two tools to ensure you are moving forward with your team and growing a long-term strategy — not just standing still.
Let’s start with a mental model; I think Lean works well here.
Lean methodology is a mental model that uses the term “Build-Measure-Learn” to create a feedback loop.
Although it is generally used for product development, I’ve found it useful as a starting point for building processes in tech companies.
Why? Lean is a known quantity in many product teams, and it’s always easier to build on a foundation that exists. There is one part of the methodology on which teams under-index. Read on.
Now we have a mental model. What’s next?
Life in product management is about priority, so let’s pick what we want to prioritize. It is my experience that there is one of the three parts of the feedback loop you need to focus on to help build a team that is better at executing on strategy in the long term.
That is learning, which is under-indexed at most companies. That is a shame.
The strategy isn’t just about the next sprint. I believe a good strategy helps grow the team, as they try to hit the goal. That is why tools, such as OKRs, when properly done, force your team to stretch.
Executing strategy well makes your team better, and over-indexing on learning will leave your team better than when you arrived.
What happens otherwise?
My experience in dealing with other companies has led me to see what happens if you “Lean” too hard on the first two words of the phrase in working with teams to execute. You’ll miss the boat. Here is why:
Building teams constantly execute
Execution is excellent, except when you find yourself six months into a vision with nothing to show for it.
Let’s make it real with a marketing example:
A visible sign this is happening is in New York City subways. Nothing says a fresh round of funding like a subway ad campaign that just “exists.”
You know what I mean when you see them. The ads have some quirky saying, whisked from the mind of a newly minted top-15 MBA ready to show the world how smart they are.
This approach could work if you’re Coca-Cola, as you already have trust and influence. If you are Series-A Whatchamacallit, who cares, other than the team, when they get on the subway? I’ve been inside companies like this, and what happens is: They are given a strategy, and they are cranking things out.
Here is a quick way of finding out if you are in this situation with your strategy: Ask yourself if you’ve ever just stopped.
The remedy? Retro (retrospective) now and forever. You need to see if what you are doing is working, because my bet here is: The customer never gets a chance to make a promise, because your team is building too much to give them a chance.
That means you miss the boat.
Measure-focused organizations may be worse
Instead of working on things, they are making sure they get the right KPIs. This comes in the form of triple checking and quadruple checking. In organizations, this looks like another focus group, another listening session or yet another internal iteration.
No one executes on anything, because they are worried about covering their asses (CYA). CYA tells me you aren’t there yet. CYA tells me you will measure forever. CYA means you won’t put work out in the world when it needs the feedback it deserves.
Our work doesn’t count until someone who isn’t paid by the organization can see it in the wild. We don’t know how this thing works, because we haven’t given it a shot.
Ask yourself this: When is the last time we launched?
The remedy? MVPs. We’re hitting the go button on X date. We are putting something out in the next 2 weeks. We’re getting data.
Your team never made a promise to the customer, because you are too scared to give them a chance.
You can’t go on a journey if you never get off the dock.
What about learning-focused organizations?
It is my opinion that, if you are focused on learning, the rest handles itself. Learning-focused organizations never seem to have the need to call in help. Learning-focused organizations focus on two things: reflection and iteration.
Reflection: Ask yourself this question: Have you had a retrospective lately? Also known as “retro,” this gives you the place to pause and reflect on what has happened and how you plan to avoid it next time. It’s a balancing act. Great retros, when running well, have the participants ready to move forward while feeling their grievances have been addressed.
Iteration: What is the next step? Iteration is all about getting to the next step and executing it. How do we take what we’ve built and measured, take its flaws (hello retro), and build it into the next step? Iterating while executing makes sure your team gets aligned with the strategy.
Promises made lead to learning
There is a push-pull with building and measuring that leads to learning. The right metrics and getting product out are both critical, but unless we sit down to discuss what we’ve learned, and how far away it is from where we need to go, we’re not maximizing our teams.
Ask yourself: When is the last time you “learned” anything with your team, and when was the last time you took that learning and put it into the product?
If you can’t come up with an answer, it’s time to get back to the basics. You are building too much or measuring too much, and my guess is the strategy is bad.
What happens isn’t about measuring 10 times before you cut or cutting 10 times before you measure. It’s about executing the long-term strategy, so you can make things happen.
Lean on learning, and adapt the other two for a better process, and execute a better strategy today.
Disclaimer: This content was originally posted on Medium. You can find all my writing from this website here. Want to see all my writing on Team Organization? Click here.