How to Run a Business Without Losing Your Mind
When you’re operating a team within a large organization, demands on your time can pile up quickly. As soon as the new outbound sales team is humming, you move on to customer support, only to find that the outbound team has gotten lost without you. Then you tackle the product roadmap with your product manager, only to discover that the product team is ignoring bug reports from the customer support team. The reality is, you can spend 80 hours a week trying to fix these things, but you’ll never spin the plates fast enough. And people keep throwing more plates at you!
The solution, for your business and your sanity? Feedback loops. By implementing a solid framework of building, measuring and learning, you can design a system that spins the plates for you, while you focus on more important tasks. As your business grows, feedback loops ensure that you can keep up.
Live a little less like this.
And a little more like this.
The Build-Measure-Learn framework was popularized by The Lean Startup, and is frequently used in product development and innovation work to encourage adjustments based on feedback and incremental steps toward a goal.
It’s pretty simple, at least in concept. You build a thing; you measure that thing’s performance (or cost, or impact); and you figure out what you’ve learned from the process. Then, you apply that insight to the next thing you build. Not only does this approach make teams more efficient, it ensures that everyone on the team is locked into a learning and growth mindset.
The build-manage-learn framework has a wide variety of applications. I often apply it to management. In a healthy business, every team is doing some form of building, measuring and learning. For example, at Part and Sum, each of our strategists partners with clients from multiple accounts. On each account, the lead strategist has developed build-measure-learn feedback loops. They define a marketing idea or hypothesis, experiment with a marketing tactic and measure the results to see if the idea had legs. Clients, as collaborators, get to participate in this process and benefit from it, too.
Internally, our strategists have designed another loop. They share ideas on how to succeed with similar accounts, stay updated on each other’s work via account reviews and show-and-tell sessions and get together for group brainstorms.
Here’s where the sanity comes in. If you stop thinking that you’re responsible for the success of the entire business (and everyone on your team), and start thinking that you’re simply responsible for putting clear feedback loops in place, life suddenly becomes less overwhelming. What’s more, your job description comes into clearer focus.
Here’s how I incorporate build-measure-learn processes in my approach as a people leader: it’s all about empowering, informing and celebrating.
Give your teams the confidence and tools they need to make things happen.
Establish clear expectations for every team, project and initiative. Describe the why and avoid prescribing the how.
Avoid people who are dishonest or deceptive. You don’t want them in your life, and you don’t want them on your team.
Allow easy access to new tools and experiments. Minimize red tape.
Support cross-functional teams: a variety of perspectives will catch potential risks and pitfalls earlier, and will bring new ideas to the table.
Have teams to run their own retrospectives. A good retrospective should feel healing. They’re a fantastic opportunity for team-level conversation about what isn’t going well and how problems can be resolved fairly, sensibly and efficiently.
Makes sure everyone has the context to keep them focused on what really matters.
You should be repeating your business’s vision, guiding principles and goals so much that your partner complains because you’re reciting it in your sleep.
Host quarterly all-hands to share how the business is doing, discuss changes in strategy or positioning and to square everyone up towards that big, scary goal.
Design a skills matrix for each functional role that outlines mission-critical skills and clarifies what execution looks like at different levels of experience. (Here is a peek at ours.)
Give performance feedback as soon as possible. (Unless you’re upset or angry. In that case, sleep on it and give clear and kind feedback the next day.)
Everyone on your team puts in effort to do meaningful work. It’s your job to make sure they’re excited about it. Take time to acknowledge and celebrate wins of all types and sizes. That’s a positive way to reflect on lessons learned.
Remember that launching a new product, approach or idea can be worth celebrating even if it doesn’t succeed in the marketplace. Did the process work as intended? Did you learn something important about working together? Did someone step up in a new way? That’s awesome!
Focus on teams, not individuals. Nobody wins alone. It’s the team effort that enables individuals to shine.