A little validation
We could all use a little validation.
Lean startup and design thinking seek to validate ideas on their way to becoming innovations as early and often as possible by focusing on a paying customer.
The lean startup strategy explicitly views paying customers as the litmus test of success. This makes sense for an actual startup which may number no more than a dozen people on staff – in general all the innovation will be directed outward.
But what if you are in a company that numbers in the hundreds or even thousands of staff? What if you never directly serve a paying customer? Who, then, is your customer?
What does the boss say?
Dog goes “woof”. Cat goes “meow”. Boss goes one of two ways.
Depending on your maturity, your role, her goals and approach, she could go “find your own metrics” or “hit this deliverable”. Either way, you now have a framework.
If it’s “hit this deliverable”, you can start your innovation efforts right away: study the problem, generate candidate solutions, try something, gather feedback, adjust, persist.
If it’s “find your own metrics” then you have a slightly more nebulous problem – that’s why you get the big bucks!
“Find your own metrics”
This is a bit of a head fake. Chances are she means “propose your metrics to me”.
It’s likely you are in a senior position to get this treatment. You should know your organization, it’s goals, your boss’ place in it and her goals – and if you don’t you are being trusted to find out. Once you settle on the goals, apply a little imagination to how you can support those goals and – most importantly – metrics that would demonstrate success.
Begin a dialog with your boss. Feel her out on whether she “gets” the idea of innovation – which is to say, is she okay with you approaching her with candidate ideas. If so, then the process is clear – you propose, gather feedback – and empathize with your manager as surely as a designer would with a customer.
In other words, apply design thinking to determining how to best support your boss’ goals.
If you feel like she isn’t on board with the “constantly in beta” mindset, then be sparing in how often you approach her for feedback. Do you feel like you are being seen as needy? Then back off a little. The feedback will come – just less often than you might like.
More than one boss
You might be in a cross-appointed position and have more than one boss.
It may be that there are people where you work who can influence your fate who aren’t even technically your boss. It’s possible that these people are bestowed with influence because of the importance of their contributions.
The word “politics” is often met with eye-rolling, but its basic definition is harmless enough:
“Politics is the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group.”
It is likely that – while you have a boss and she has a boss and the whole organization is laid out like a typical org chart – a less formal set of relationships are in place to prevent the oversights that come from relying on reporting relationships only.
This is usually a healthy thing. Or you could work in a nightmarish hornet nest of competing priorities and personalities. Either way, be alert to the possibility that you need to meet the needs of multiple constituents, not just your boss.
This means you need to propose, gather feedback, empathize with your manager – and these other influential constituents – as surely as a designer would with multiple customers.
The good news is that the less directly your boss makes her requirements known, the more broadly you can define your role. There’s plenty of work to be done in a large organization and benign neglect from your boss means that you can emphasize the parts you find impart the most value and minimize the parts you don’t.
Embrace the ambiguity!