5 Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves When Supporting a Lean Startup Pilot Program

Leaders often ask us, “What role do we need to play in making this pilot program a success?”

Sure, a broad question, but as a start, here are some basic questions a leader can routinely ask themselves during the early stages of the process:

Am I practicing what I’m asking my teams to do?

Accountability begins at the top, and giving teams permission to work in a new and different way is, frankly, not enough to create true change. If you are serious about change, you need to actively disrupt the status quo through your actions. Push yourself to test your assumptions, run experiments, ask questions focused on learning, and accept that your pet project may not be a validated business opportunity for the organization.

Am I acting like a HiPPO?

Embracing humility is the first step a leader should take toward creating a high-performing team. If you want to do away with the bureaucracy and legacy culture that has been negatively impacting your organization, a good place to start is by checking your ego at the door and empowering the intrapreneurs on your team to have their voice heard. The “highest paid person’s opinion” (HiPPO) no longer carries the day (did it ever?), and by approaching situations with humility, you may find there are insights and opportunities you can discover.

Am I going to bat for my teams?

Eric Ries calls this “wielding the golden sword,” and refers to those moments when you use your position to cut through the red tape. Remember, we are speaking about the first steps toward bringing change to your organization. And those bureaucratic processes you hate so much? Yeah, they’re still there. This (is) your time to shine and (to) take some risk. Put your political capital on the line and help your Lean Startup teams overcome whatever bureaucratic obstacle is keeping them from obtaining the learnings they need to make decisions.

Am I properly reviewing the evidence my project teams are communicating?

It is essential that leadership and project teams be extra communicative when running a pilot program. As a leader, your job is to keep an eye on the present and an eye on the future. It’s important you adequately review and evaluate the evidence (e.g., is it customer-validated) presented by your teams so you can help them focus on innovation opportunities in the broader context of a balanced portfolio.

Am I demonstrating enough patience?

As you probably (and hopefully) know, organizational change doesn’t happen overnight. Nor does it happen “over-week,” “over-month,” or often “over-year.” So it’s important you manage your expectations accordingly. If after a month of going through a Lean Startup training your team is running experiments and testing their hypotheses in a customer-centric way, consider that a win. If after three months you are observing behavioral changes amongst your team (e.g., challenges to the status quo, customer advocacy, problem-centric initiatives) consider that a win. Don’t be surprised if you don’t observe immediate business impact in the traditional sense. When a starting a pilot program, we want teams to be focused on learning metrics, and not focused on revising their ROI projections. The true business impact may not surface immediately, and that’s okay. As new Lean Startup practitioners, your team is trying to create a business model for sustainability, not short-lived success.

Lean Startup Co. is a product and innovation consultancy that equips clients to systematically vet, shape, and de-risk new business opportunities.

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