When “together alone” has two meanings
The term “together alone” is used to refer to parts of group exercises where people will work quietly to prepare their own ideas or research to be shared with the rest of the group later.
I recently held a growth sprint for small businesses owners. They were “together alone” in another sense. While they were together at the table, they all were seeking answers for their own businesses.
The original growth sprint format is built to help a team develop useful growth experiments. The assumption is that everybody at the table is working for the same company. I had to modify the growth sprint format a little to make sure that every participant came away with something actionable to work on for their business.
The steps that follow worked well with six participants. I think if the number of participants was higher than that I would break it up into more than one table, otherwise the number of ideas to be considered would become unwieldy. I’d recommend four to six people per table.
There was a couple in this workshop that were there to get ideas for a business they shared. They both helped come up with ideas for the others, but the rest of us only came up with ideas for them as a single business. The process still worked for them, I think, but if I had a larger group I would have split the couple up into separate tables. This way they would both come away with an idea to try.
Step 1: Sharing descriptions of our businesses
Each participant described their business to the others at the table, answering questions like:
What is your customer trying to achieve?
What pain are you trying to address?
What does your customer gain?
What products and services do you provide?
How does this relieve your customers’ pain?
How do they create value for your customer?
Where do you see difficulties in growth, e.g. acquisition, retention, revenue?
This gave everybody at the table a sense of each other’s business, so they could target the ideas they came up with later.
Step 2: How might we…?
In the interest of time, I consolidated a couple of steps from the original growth sprint format. This step consolidates the activities where problems are identified and then converted to actionable questions – the “how might we” questions that lend themselves to finding solutions.
Each participant was asked to come up with a “how might we” – HMW – question for each growth lever specific to their company. (I reviewed growth levers in this post.)
There were six participants, with five companies represented. With five growth levers, this meant a total of 25 HMWs were developed and placed on the wall. Each business was given a row, each lever a column.
Step 3: Dot vote
Everybody did a single dot vote per row, choosing what they thought was the problem the company needed to address first. This identified the area to focus on per company. The end result was that as a group we had identified a single HMW per company.
Nobody complained but in retrospect I think steps 2 and 3 took more time than they were worth. Next time I plan to have each business owner identify the growth lever they want to focus on. They know their business needs best.
Each participant could then write a HMW as simple as “How might we improve acquisition?”, or, if they had already been working on that problem and narrowed the problem down, a more specific HMW, e.g. “How might we ensure that page visitors don’t bounce?”
This self-identification of the HMW could be part of Step 1.
Step 4: Lightning demos
Working “together alone” we then all began writing down ideas for each other’s HMWs, either based on ideas we found on our phones, or ideas that had occurred to us during earlier steps.
Then we took turns listening to the others’ ideas for our business. After this structured brainstorming, many ideas were surfaced for each problem. These ideas were intended to inspire Step 5.
Step 5: Experiment definition
Together alone, each participant then took time to write out a growth experiment for the others. (I described growth experiments in an earlier post.)
Then we again took turns listening to each other’s growth experiments and the thinking behind them.
Here again I would change something for next time. The way Step 5 unfolded, the growth experiments were read out and the business owner in the spotlight had to scramble to write down the experiment description. Next time I’ll make sure everybody is using loose leaf paper so they can pass on the experiment definition after they have reviewed it out loud for the group.
Step 6: Experiment selection
The goal was for the group to do an ease-impact score for each company’s HMW, with a tie breaker coming from business owner if necessary. In reality it was already getting late and this is something the business owner can do on their own. Even without this last step I believe we all received something of value – a handful of actionable growth experiments.
At the end of the workshop we agreed to get together in about a month to try the process again and review our progress with the first set of growth experiments. I look forward to using this format again.
I was very impressed with the quality and variety of the ideas that came out. It is possible to think you’ve heard it all if you are immersed in subject of innovation and all its offshoots – design thinking, lean startups, growth hacking etc. Nevertheless, there were many ideas that really did need to come from somebody with a different perspective.