I had the pleasure of hearing Steve Sanderson speak at the Austin Lean Startup Circle last night. Although I’m a big fan of the Lean Startup, with a working wife and two little kids it’s rare that I prioritize a Meetup over some family time before the kids go to bed. But I really wanted to hear what Steve had to say about applying lean startup methodology at Rackspace.
If you don’t know Steve, he was VP of Product at a couple of companies, most recently Food on the Table, and was featured in the Lean Startup book and on Eric Ries’ blog. A little less than a year ago he made the switch to Rackspace to be their Resident Lean Startup Expert. I was curious to know what that meant and any challenges he faced. There aren’t a ton of people working to apply these principles in a larger enterprise and since I’ve now had the opportunity to run a innovation lab at two medium-sized companies (Bazaarvoice and Indeed) I want to see how other people view the challenges.
I loved how he started by pointing out that there are a couple of different contexts for applying these principles, and he ordered them from easiest to hardest:
- A Startup. Easiest because there are fewer people, there are no products already operating at scale. There is no revenue and brand to protect.
- A Innovation Lab inside an Existing Organization. Harder than a startup (there is revenue and brand to protect), but you only need to persuade and convince a limited number of people, and protect them from the rest of the organization.
- Existing Teams inside an Existing Organization. Hardest. There are existing products running at scale. There is revenue and brand to protect. There are a lot of stakeholders to get onboard.
I appreciate that Steve was drawn to Rackspace to pursue the hardest challenge – working on the organizational change required to make these principles part of the product culture in an existing organization.
Steve started with some tips for effective organizational change. Things like:
- Have an internal sponsor / partner
- Establish relationships (He used the expression build rapport, and talked about interviewing people – my preference to accomplish this is to take people to lunch).
- Understand where value is created and exchanged, internally and externally
- Take a step back from the acute symptoms and look at the big picture
- Start small, and build upon wins
- Use evidence that these principles work, rather than words to persuade
- Be accountable for these changes
I had a chance to ask a couple of questions, but I still would love to know how he feels about the challenges of implementing dual-track agile, which is really necessary to get lean-principles running in a team that is also responsible for operating one or more products/features at scale. Since Steve is based here in Austin I’m going to see if I can chat with him further to go into more detail about this. I will be sure to share what I discover.