Becoming Agile: Mindsets over Process

Agile transformation must be mindset driven, not process oriented

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Throughout my career as an org transformation consultant, I’ve spoken to many senior leaders who want their teams to be more agile. They wan’t their teams to work more like the ‘Silicon Valley’ startup instead of the top-down bureaucratic office of the 20th century. There are also countless leaders who are convinced that “agile could never work here” but aren’t exactly sure why. Generally, when leaders think of agile they imagine the scrappy software development teams inside tech giants like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon. However, many leaders and teams across non-technical organizations are adopting agile. So if they’re not developing software, what is it that they’re asking for? 

There are many opinions about what is ‘agile’ and what it isn’t. Many believe it’s a process for how teams work together or mange projects; but originally, agile ideals were drafted as a manifesto created in 2001 that gave a number of guides and principles about how to develop software. The intention was to create a common ground among the existing frameworks for software development including, most notably, Scrum and Kanban. Even after all of these years, the original website still exists and the original manifesto hasn’t changed much. 

So how can we bring agile principles into the everyday workplace — the fashion designers, chefs, bankers, healthcare service providers, and product creators? In this article, I will share lessons around the critical mindset shifts that are have helped large organizations agile principles stick.

There’s no one-size fits all solution

There are consulting firms that will absolutely train people inside of organizations to be Scrum Masters or Agile Coaches; however, most organizations won’t need this level of specificity for the work their doing. Advocates of Scrum and other frameworks will exclaim, “well, that’s faux agile!” unless you’re following their processes to the book. Those same advocates will also blame failure of teams to embrace these processes on their inablility to follow the processes. As you can imagine, teams and organizations under pressure to follow the rulesand make it stick, get frustrated and abandon agile. 

I believe, despite the naysayers, agile is truly a philosophy that can be adopted inside of any team and any organization. It doesn’t have to be a rigid process, but it should help teams achieve focus, boost creativity, improve employee engagement, and drive to better outcomes faster. Instead of focusing on processes within teams, adopting agile principles must start with new mindsets that encourage a cultural shift that embrace uncertainty and adaptability.

Agile isn’t new

Embracing agile inside of our workplaces isn’t new. The principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto come from the basic theory of the scientific method that was used hundreds of years before the 21st century tech revolution, beginning with Aristotle and being formalized by Galileo. Agile principles and the scientific method have many tenets in common: 

  • Start simple and build knowledge as you go,

  • Do small experiments and learn from trial and error,

  • Track metrics to know if you’re on the right track,

  • Pause to reflect on what you’ve learned, then adapt new features or experiments to try going forward

Simply put, being more agile means most teams and organizations will need to think like scientists. This requires experimenting frequently and often, learning and creating the best solutions based on real data (not just targets), embracing failure, and providing teams with the autonomy (and trust) to make decisions on their own based on their expertise and proximity to the work. 

Start by starting, then codify new processes

Becoming more agile means most organizations will need to embrace a cultural shift. Changing culture is hard, it takes time, and it doesn’t happen by simply changing project management processes. Transforming an organization’s culture requires a change in mindsets among teams and it must begin with leadership.

Leadership’s role in cultural transformation requires setting the vision and objectives, showing teams examples what goodlooks like, sharing success stories widely and often, and allowing teams to become more agile in their own way

This isn’t an invitation for an “anything goes strategy” but it doesn’t force a process from the start. This allows teams to do their own experimenting and learning about how agile principles work best in their own projects or business units. Once teams have found something that works for them, then, together, teams and leadership can agree and govern new processes that can be spread across a business unit or the organization. 

Fundamental mindset shifts

Whether you are a leader of a business unit, the leader of your project team, or a team member looking to try new agile ways of working, here are 6 mindset shifts that you can start with today to get on your way. 

Bias for action. From asking your team to spend months developing a clear predicted project plan tostarting with a clear vision allowing the team to get starting by making small steps toward that goal as they go. Don’t throw out planning, just don’t spend too much time on planning. Have you ever taken weeks or a few months creating a project plan that the team never changed once? Exactly! Get something down and get going on the work. 

Safe to try. From waiting until your team has the perfect idea or solution to test with stakeholders and customers tomaking progress and finding what ideas or solutions are “safe to try” that wont cause harm to the business or the brand. When teams aren’t sure how to proceed or are stuck on a decision they get stuck in the “analysis paralysis” of what’s the right thing to do next. By deciding what is safe to try or can keep the team moving forward, teams can make progress even if the next step isn’t the perfect solution. Leadership must become the enabler in these tricky sitations. When a team is stuck, help them get unblocked by providing institutional knowledge or experience that could get the team going again.

Learn as you go. From awkward “post-mortem” sessions at the end of a project that teams tend avoid topausing and reflecting on what’s working and what can be improved regularly throughout the project so that team’s know what to do differently in order to create a better solution. Schedule a 30-minute team meeting at least once per month and reflect using these 3 questions: “what worked? where did we get blocked? what might we do differently?” Framing the questions in this way allows teams to focus on the work and avoid the finger pointing and blaming that happens in a post-mortem.

Meet with purpose. From status meetings and stakeholder one-off “check-ins” that distract the team from doing work to only scheduling meetings that have a clear purpose and intention (e.g. prioritize, make, decide, demo or learn) that keep the team focused and on task. As a leader, allow your teams to thrive with less meetings and less meeting prep. Avoid asking for lengthy beatiful slide decks or agenda prep. Keep meetings short and focused and let your teams get back to work.

Work in progress. From endless 1:1 reviews with managers and lengthly pauses between deliverable deadlines tosharing work openly and frequently to invite continual feedback and avoiding “grand reveals.” Another shift for leadership involves giving clear and direct feedback to teams and allowing messy, scrappy, v1s to be ok throughout the project. Avoid feedback that starts with: “Have you considered…, I think you should try…, I have a feeling that…”Instead try feedback that starts with: Based on the data…, The feedback from customers suggests…, Let’s experiment with…”

Experiment and iterate. From discussing what might be the best solution and putting all our energy and resources into what we think will be right to making small bets by experimenting (mock-ups, prototypes, MVPs, etc) and testing with stakeholders or real customers to be able to continually iterate. We could spend months or even years coming up with a what we think is a the best solution for our customers, but we won’t know what actually will work until our test our hypotheses with out customers . The more opportunities for feedback we get the better our final solution will be. Leaders must allow failure to be part of the new working culture. 

So, Can You Describe the Company's Workplace Culture?

Understanding an Organization’s Culture Before You Take the Job

A few months ago, in New York City, I hosted an interview with Mollie West Duffy — the co-author of No Hard Feelings: Embracing Emotions at Work when an audience member asked Mollie this question (I’m paraphrasing):

How do you know during the hiring process if the job you are interviewing for has the right workplace culture for you?

Mollie shared her thoughts then punted the question over to me to share my insights as well — I totally stumbled over what to say. Interestingly, like the woman asking the question, I too was in the process of interviewing for new jobs and realized I hadn’t thought about “culture” as part of the hiring process. After, what felt like, totally bombing the answer, the question sat with me for weeks. During this time, I was determined to ask questions and make observations about what demonstrates a company or team’s culture before starting a new gig. 

Since the talk with Mollie in March, I’ve applied to over 25 open positions, have had over 50 formal interviews, have had 4 case studies, and countless coffee chats and introductory referrals that I didn’t even bother to count. In an effort to redeem myself, I will share with you all of the questions, observations and lessons I’ve learned to anyone interviewing or hiring for a new position and tips for anyone looking to understand an organization’s culture before taking the job.

What is workplace culture anyway?

Workplace culture is made up of the shared belief systems and assumptions that people value across an organization. The people who make up an organization —  their roles, backgrounds, upbringing, and personal identities — also influence an organization’s culture. In the workplace, the biggest influencers of culture are leaders and an organization’s strategic objectives. 

I believe how leaders lead, develop, and direct teams is the greatest influencer of an organization’s culture and a clearly defined strategy can create a positive workplace culture where individuals thrive and find a sense of belonging. Despite the jobs that we do or the roles we hold (or titles), culture is the most important aspect to our daily jobs. When the work is hard or stressful, or we’re just having a bad day, the culture of an organization can be what we lean on to break through those challenges. When times are great or celebratory, we can lean on culture to be the fire that ignites creativity to persevere and continue beyond our momentus achievements.

Culture is the difference between bringing your whole self to work — your creativity, secret sauce, and uniqueness— and making work a transaction for doing exactly what is expected of you in exchange for a paycheck.

Each organization’s culture will be unique. So what’s the right culture for you? What will bring you a sense of belonging? It will depend on what is important to you. Whatever culture you are aiming to find, be sure that it is something you are excited about. After all, we spend nearly 1/3 of our day, over 2000 hours a year, and roughly 35 years of our life at work. Make it count!

Determine what is important to you

As you start looking for a new job, write down a list of things that are critical that you expect to exist inside of your next organization. 

Ask yourself: What about my everyday life are important for me in my work life? Was there anything missing at my last organization that I desperately need at my next? What values do I hold that are important to me personally that I hope my teammates hold as well? Here is the list that I wrote for myself (in no particular order):

  • development processor mentorship program — someone to push me beyond my comfort zone

  • Women in leadershipor a clear path to improve women in leadership roles

  • A program or strategic objective dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and equityand an explanation of the organization’s journey so far

  • The autonomyto experiment and try something new, even if it fails, without the fear of losing my job or title

  • The ability to speak up, be direct, share feedback, discuss problems, and find solutions with peers andleadership (culture nerds would call this psychological safety)

  • An organization that understands and leans into the rich creativity that comes with disagreement and conflict

  • General respect for downtime, time off, and sick time.

Please note: This is a list of things that are important to me and where I am in my life and career. There are a ton of things that might be missing that are important to you including benefits for time off, parental leave, work from home days etc. Make a list that is important to you.

Deal breakers and nuances

Determine which, above all else, are your total deal breakers. In other words, of the things listed, if they didn’t exist, would make your decision to work inside of the organization a hard “no.” 

Next, determine if there are any other versions that would work for you if they don’t neatly fit your vision. For instance, one deal breaker for me is not having a strategic objective dedicated to diversity, inclusion and equity. If an organization is on the journey to defining the strategy, or has a clear grasp of what type of program they are looking to develop, I’m totally ok with that. It tells me the values and mindset of embracing differences is considered a feature, even if it’s not fully baked just yet. 

Every organization will have a unique way of holding these values as part of their culture and each culture will have a different way of bringing values to life that might not fit perfectly on your list. Remain open to quirky and unique experiences in culture that you didn’t consider!

Make smart observations 

You’ve been told all of your adulthood that you must be prepared to ask smart questions during your interviews in order to show interest in the job, role and company. This is the time to not just ask smart questions to show that you’re smart — the hiring manager already knows that because you’ve got the interview — it is the time to really dig into asking the questions that you truly want answers to.

Take a look at your list of wants and generate as many questions as you can. During your interviews and in preparation, take notice of all of the things that are happening that aren’t being explicitly said to you and be bold to frame questions around your observations. Below are observations and questions I made along the way and examples that I encourage you to steal.

Observation: Values

Take a look at the organization’s website. Are their values listed and written for everyone to see? If they are (or if they aren’t) here are some questions you can ask. 

What values does the organization hold? Can you name them? Does everyone know these values? What values do you see lived most frequently? What values does leadership demonstrate most often? Can you give me an example of how some of your values show up in everyday work life?

Observation: Balance

Notice your interactions with the hiring or talent manager thoughout the interview process. For instance, one company that I was interviewing with would often send emails late at night, post 11pm, to schedule an interview for the next day orwould send emails over the weekend to confirm scheduling. To me, this was a sign of long hours and grueling expectations. For myself, I tend to draw a hard line at weekends and post 8pm emails especiallyfor someone I’m not working for yet! I do understand that sometimes life gets hectic and sending late emails might happen from time to time, here are some questions to ask to determine the work balance norms:

What are the typical working hours for this role? Do people in this role often work late nights or over the weekends? What are the expectations of leadership in this role? Is there anyone in this role currently that I can speak to in order to learn more about their day-to-day experience?

Observation: Diversity + Inclusion

Thanks to technology, a lot of interviews are conducted via video conferencing where it makes it easier for you and the organization to get the interview process going without having to travel; and unlike the phone, you can see your interviewer or future teammates faces!

Use this time to make observations about the surroundings and interactions. If diversity is important, take notice of the people who are interviewing you from interview 1 to interview X (depending on how many the process takes). Are you meeting people of different races, genders, educational backgrounds, cultures, etc? Are the people you meeting only senior (are more junior roles less valued as part of the interview process)? Are the senior interviewers all men? Some questions to consider:

I noticed a lot of the those in leadership are men, are there any plans to elevate more women into leadership positions; if so, what is that plan look like in the next 2–5 years? I noticed that I haven’t spoken to any people of color as part of the interview process, does the organization value people of different backgrounds, cultural, or educational experiences? Can you speak to your overall approach to inclusion and where the organization is on its journey to being more inclusive? Can you share any examples of how inclusion shows up at your organization?

Ask lots of questions, especially if you’re not sure

If you’re not sure, continue to ask questions to get the answers you need. If you’ve run out of time in the interview, ask for the interviewer’s email and follow up. In a lot of these examples, I purposely tried to make the questions open ended as to not lead the interviewer into giving the me the answer that I wanted to hear:

  • Development: How would you describe the professional development process at the org? Is it formal program or a more flexible “choose your own adventure” structure or is it something else completely?

  • Breaks:What is the organization’s time off, vacation, and sick policies? Are there times when people are expected to respond to emails or meeting requests during their time off? In what cases does this happen?

  • Communication: How are leadership decisions made and communicated? Can you give me an example of when leadership made a tough decision and communicated that effectively to the organization?

  • Feedback and Psychological Safety: Tell me about your culture of giving and receiving feedback? How does the company embrace and handle conflict? Can you share any examples?

  • Quirks: Tell me about some unique quirks at your organization that are special. Can you give me examples of these in the last month or quarter?


After you’ve had your chance to ask your important questions and make critical observations, take a moment to think through all of the data that you’ve capturing both in person, over the phone, throughout the process and anything else you may have experienced during your interaction with the organization. 

Consider how you felt after your conversations — did you feel energized and excited or depleted and defeated? Were you able to showcase your strengths, creativity, and thought processes or did you feel like you were being tested to have the rightanswers that fit specific expectations? 

There are no right answers, however, try to set aside that “gut instinct” as your go-to guide. Trust all of the data, the observations you’d made, and the list of important cultural features to be your guide to making a decision to move forward in the interview process or take the offer into a the right workplace culture for you.

Belonging: A conversation about Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion

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Happy new(ish) year everyone! As we kick off the new year, I have been fortunate enough to be thrown in a client space where equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) are constantly at the forefront of our working topics.

Thankfully, I wasn’t hired to be the ED&I expert, however the work that we do at August often dips its toes into conversations about ED&I because our purpose is, in fact, to create more equitable workspaces where talented people can thrive. So I’ve been banging my head against the wall these last few weeks in attempt to understand how can we as an organization focus so intently on equity, yet still struggle to identify and define our point of view on how we speak about diversity and inclusion in the workplace more fluently.

I realized, that ED&I gets different definitions depending on the group I’m working with. If you ask a senior executive leadership team inside a wealthy Fortune 100 organization what ED&I means versus an urban community-based nonprofit organization, you’ll get strikingly different responses.

The former might think of ED&I as one conglomerate — an ongoing conversation, or series of projects, about how we foster a progressive workplace in the 21st century. Example of these might be improving gender and racial diversity when hiring and promotions or creating more holistic programs that make the lives of our employees better (e.g. better parental leave, work from home days, or improved time off structures). On the other hand, the latter (the nonprofit) might think of ED&I in the same frame of reference on internal topics, but includes the way we connect with our clients/audiences/customers externally as well. In fact, they look at each definition uniquely — equity, diversity, and inclusion — as having different meanings for different issues and groups of people.

In order to help wrap my mind around these definitions, I reached out to a close friend who has a spent his entire career on creating programs that foster more equitable spaces for children to learn in our American public school systems.

Here was his response:

This is an important question, as these words are used commonly used interchangeably. It is essential to differentiate these terms, to create shared meaning, to achieve a mutual understanding properly.

When thinking of diversity, biodiversity comes to mind: a variety of living organism in a particular habitat or ecosystem. We find this in nature! The term diversity between people can be understood as: the presence of difference. It’s that simple. This can refer to people of various races, genders, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religions, ethnicity, or national origins, mental or physical abilities. When applied to an organization, defining diversity should include cognitive diversity (diversity of ideas) and cultural diversity.

At the core of inclusion is diversity. Inclusion means that people with marginalized identities feel as if they: genuinely belong, are valued and relied upon, empowered and ultimately matter. Like diversity, inclusion is an outcome and often an actual experience of the workplace, one that holds real potential or implications.

Equity, in many regards, are the norms, fundamentals, and/or policies in places that ensures everyone accesses to the same opportunities. Equity requires preliminary work to identify imbalances, loopholes, or unequal starting places.

So in my attempt to understand how we talk about each of these, I have recreated a diagram that I found from Turner Consulting Group (a Diversity and Inclusion consultancy based in Toronto), to organize my thoughts.

Each element represents a different piece of the full human experience. Addressing only one or two of these falls short on gaining, what I think is the full human experience — a sense of belonging.

Each element represents a different piece of the full human experience. Addressing only one or two of these falls short on gaining, what I think is the full human experience — a sense of belonging.

Each element represents a different piece of the full human experience. Addressing only one or two of these falls short on gaining, what I think is the full human experience — a sense of belonging.

This diagram were the thoughts that I pulled together on a late night in my hotel in NYC. Since then, I’ve posted this image to twitter to see what feedback or insights I could get from anyone interested in the topic.

I realized, from feedback shared with me, that it is easy to recognize when you are the one left out of any one of these areas; that feeling of being the “other” persists. It might even manifest itself in ways where you have to code switch at work, assimilate to a new culture you wouldn’t otherwise, or just say nothing knowing essentially you’re voiceless, unheard, not respected in your area of expertise, then essentially left out of career progression and upward mobility.

Some of original feedback I got was, “it reads a bit negative” or “name some of the good outcomes of having at least two.” I struggled with this because, I believe, two of these aren’t enough and shouldn’t be perceived as a good outcome.

Here are a few examples of each “scenario” of having two elements but falling short on the other:

Situation 1: Equity and Inclusion, No Diversity #somanywhiteguys. Imagine the boardroom of all white men. This is the extreme example that I think of in this scenario. Sure they all have a seat at the table and the opportunity to share and have their perspectives heard. Assuming decisions are made in the boardroom, those perspectives held make policy and changes to the organization (and sometimes the public and our environment). Great, right? Sure, if you are a company of all white men whose customers are all white men and every policy and decision made only impacts other white men. This is almost never the case. Without diversity no new perspectives are heard. Policies are established and implemented benefiting the interest of those in power. Organizations lose their competitive edge because innovation slows down without diverse perspectives. The result of this is that employees leave because change is too slow. That $1B new idea just walked out the door because it was just not “core to the business.”

Situation #2: Inclusion and Diversity, No Equity #powerstruggle. Imagine the bold, progressive community organization that is excited to advocate for new change and policies or a public school system in an inner city. They pride themselves on diversity and inclusion! It’s part of their mission statement and they boldly represent the voices of the community at large. However, those in positions of power or leadership positions do not represent the diversity of the community; in fact, beliefs held at the top are that of the dominant social ideology. A recent example of this was breakdown of leadership for the 2018 and 2019 Women’s March. In short, the founders were excited to include women of color to bring diverse perspectives to help organize the march, however, those women of color were denied leadership positions until they demanded it. Another example is diverse inner city schools where children of multiple intersectional identities exist yet Black and Brown students are continuously punished more often and more harshly and bullying against LGBT, especially trans, students is ignored or rejectedcompared to their straight, cisgender peers.

Situation #3: Equity and Diversity, No Inclusion #iheardyoubut. This is probably my worst case scenario of all three. The other scenarios are a bit easier to draw attention to. There are hard and cold “facts” for someone to refer to (e.g. national statistics, employee self-identifying questionnaires, leadership demographics, etc). Inclusion, however, is a feeling based on an individual’s experience. This scenario is best described as the “I heard you, but…” or “If I could play devil’s advocate for a minute…” or “I have a friend who is X and they said…” mindset. In short, its erasure of experience and perspective; it’s subtle and dismissive. You are invited into the boardroom, but you are expected to speak for all people like you. You are invited into the boardroom, but your idea isn’t considered until a peer of the the dominant culture recognizes and claims your need for change as their own idea, even if you’ve pointed it out multiple times in the past. Essentially, you’re invited to the boardroom, you’re smart and have a fresh diverse perspective, yet you’re ideas aren’t heard or are commonly misunderstood. This scenario isn’t hard to imagine, many people have been put in this uncomfortable situation. It’s exhausting for those who are expected to show up as their whole selves, yet are expected to assimilate to the dominant workplace culture and not be too disruptive. As a result, diverse talent leaves from exhaustion and burnout from feeling like they don’t truly belong.

In short, none of these scenarios are good. I don’t have a positive way of framing either of these. If there is a spectrum from “good” to “great,” in my opinion, one of these fit on the drawing board. They’re not good and they’re certainly not great at creating a sense of belonging on teams, inside our workplaces, or our communities. There are no positive outcomes from only embodying two elements because groups of people are consistently left out.

My hunch is that when the three are able to coexist within teams, and inside of organizations, an individual will feel a sense of belonging. I don’t believe it is the responsibility of the organization or managers to ensure everyone feels that they have a sense of belonging. Belonging is the outcome of holding space where everyone truly feels empowered to speak up, make change, and shift the culture. It is the responsibility of those in leadership and of the dominant social culture to create these conditions.

Just this week, I saw this tweet circling the internets on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and thought, everything in this thread totally makes sense to me.

For the entire thread  click here.

For the entire thread click here.

Do I truly believe equity, diversity, and inclusion is a scam? Not quite. I do believe that there are organizations that show the value of how these three concepts working together can exist and persist.

I also understand that some people can find ED&I or D&I programs inside their organizations to be a fallacy, for a number of reasons: low retention and turnover of diverse talent, diversity at the bottom and not the top, reprimand for speaking up or voicing concern that is countercultural to the organization, or simply not being listened to or taken seriously.

I want to be clear, I am not an ED&I expert, I have years of experience working to improve and change hierarchical systems inside organizations to better adapt to change, and this leans into creating more equitable spaces quite a bit. However, the focus of my work doesn’t tackle issues of ED&I head on. I’ve had experience trying to start an ED&I program at August and it hasn’t come without mistakes, frustrations, and challenges, to say the least. All that to say, there are more highly qualified people who can speak on this topic more fluently and with direction than I.

Although my professional experience on this topic is limited, I do believe I can share some personal observations and lessons that I’ve learned and from others — the brilliant minds of friends both near and far — that you can add to the conversation about ED&I at your workplace, school, organization or team.

  • If the mindsets and the behaviors of leadership don’t embody the principles that are to be held by new ED&I initiatives, tools, practices, or policies, the whole thing will fall short. As we know, humans learn by doing and learn by example; if the messaging and examples aren’t being held at the top, no one will really care enough to change.

  • Organizations must bring ED&I into leadership positions at the highest levels of the organization in order truly embrace policies and operations from diverse perspectives.

  • Diversity of gender must include gender non-conforming, trans, or 3rd gender identifying people. The gender “binary” is too narrow minded of an approach to gender parity inside our organizations in 2019 and beyond. — feedback from a close friend and colleague, Sasha Ahuja.

  • Always work on building trust. That means being open, honest, vulnerable, and embracing challenging conversations between people (even when it’s uncomfortable) so that everyone is always seeking to understand, and to improve when they learn new from a thought partner and friend, Mike Tannenbaum.

  • Be open and intentional about ED&I. Consistently communicate the progress and expected outcomes of your approach. Be transparent about the failure the organization has made in the past and the importance of change. The team at CultureAmp believe the power of openness and narrative (in the form of personal storytelling), especially from leadership, can build trust and foster a sense of belonging.

My hypothesis is that people who feel a sense of belonging at work, or in their organizations, will be more resilient and willing to challenge themselves and others to be better stewards of equity, diversity and inclusion. I also believe that organizations where individuals hold a high sense of belonging will result in more more engaged employees who are energized by their work, team, and ultimately perform with better creativity, execution and productivity. In this scenario, belonging, everyone achieves better outcomes.

Are you working inside of an organization that embodies these concepts and fosters a sense of belonging? I’d love to hear from you! Contact me at

OKRs and KPIs—Defining Metrics for Innovative Teams

Innovative teams need different metrics, here’s how to do it.

Photo by  Charles Deluvio

Innovative teams inside of organizations are often tasked with tracking their KPIs (key performance indicators) against their company’s quarterly or annual goals. The problem is, KPIs evaluate teams and business units based on how successful they are (or not), are too slow to change, and don’t embrace learning and failure.

Teams doing innovation — testing new products and business models — need to be able to fail and learn in order to be able to adapt and iterate while navigating continuously uncertain conditions. In other words, metrics developed to measure learning, are also just as important to innovative teams.

In this article I will introduce you to OKRs (objectives and key results) and highlight the difference between KPIs and how to use both to measure learning and success within your teams and across your organization.

Back to the Basics — KPIs vs. OKRs

In today’s fast-paced technology driven world, measuring performance looks completely different than that of the 19th and 20th centuries. Regardless of the technique (KPIs or OKRs), the purpose is to measure and review performance in order to learn and adapt your business model or services.

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are metrics that demonstrate how a business is performing against its goals. The success of teams and business units are often measured against meeting these targets. KPIs also provide a “north star” for the teams to go out and achieve throughout the year. Each set of KPIs will be different for each organization because business and service model are unique, and every company is in a different state of its evolution.

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are metrics that demonstrate how a business or team are meeting its objectives. Objectives are descriptions of what a team wants to achieve, they are meant to bold and ambitious in order to challenge the team. Key results are the measurements tracked toward the progress of each objective. Objectives are qualitative, key results are quantitative. Generally, teams set OKRs on a more frequent basis (e.g. once per quarter) in order to be sure that teams remain agile and adapt to change with shorter objective cycles.

Photo by  NESA by Makers

Noticing the Difference

Now you might be thinking, Ok so what is the difference between measuring KPIs and OKRs?” The differnce lies the type of measurements you decide to track. If you are looking to scale or improve upon something that has been done before or falls into the “business as usual” category, KPIs are good enough because they are straight forward to ongoing business processes. For new innovative projects, that have an unclear or uncertain outcome, OKRs are a better fit. OKRs will allow you to set goals, measure, learn, and adapt more quickly.

Innovative teams are often sandwiched between reporting KPIs that are set for the entire business unit and yet must also track more real-time practical OKRs to meet their objectives. It’s important to do both.

Photo by  Jessica Ruscello

Defining OKRs for Innovative Teams

OKRs are meant to be defined by the teams doing the work. Unlike, KPIs they are not intended to be “cascaded” down throughout the organization. Here are a few principles to get started defining OKRs locally:

  • Be Ambitious: OKRs are meant to be bold and aspirational and should be challenging for the team to achieve, but not impossible. On the other hand, if your team is reaching 100% of its goals, they might be too easy and you might not be learning much. Aim for a 60–70% success rate.
  • Track Regularly: Track your teams OKRs on a weekly cadence. This method is not to simply “report out” but rather ask yourselves, what’s working, where are we getting stuck, what can we do differently? For the week ahead.
  • Remain Agile: Adjusting OKRs on a more frequent basis is critical to innovative teams as things change quickly. Adapt objectives on a shorter cadence, for instance quarterly, so that you are prepared to steer your metrics according to what you are learning.
  • Be Transparent: Keep your metrics in a publicly shared folder (e.g. Google Drive) so that all team members and stakeholders at any level of your business can access them.
  • Keep it Simple: Your OKRs should be memerable and easy to understand. Since you will be adjusting your OKRs on a more frequent basis, you don’t need an extensive list. OKRs should focus on your top priorities between 2–5, no more than 10. Avoid making your OKRs a task list, they should create value and learning rather than efficiency in completing tasks.

Here are a few examples:

Objective: Make a lovable product that excites our customers.

  • Key Result #1: Conduct 10 in-depth interviews with enthusiasts
  • Key Result #2: Host 3 user workshops locally
  • Key Result #3: Increase early adopter engagement by 35%
  • Key Result #4: Launch referall incentive program by Nov

Objective: Launch an MVP that users promote to others

  • Key Result #1: Generate 10K new registrations
  • Key Result #2: Receive product reviews in 15 publications
  • Key Result #3: Achieve registration to trial ratio over 25%
  • Key Result #4: Achieve trial to paid ratio over 50%

Any team trying something new for the first time can get started on creating OKRs, they don’t have to be reserved for those doing projects that are considered “innovative” or experiemental. Give it a shot!

Trying OKRs for the first time with your team? Getting set up with learning metrics for your project? I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me at

Prototypes vs. MVPs — What’s the difference?

An easy breakdown to get your team started.

“Yellow box of crayons sit on a wooden table” by  Evan Kirby

“Yellow box of crayons sit on a wooden table” by Evan Kirby

Teams inside of organizations are often tasked with “working more agile” or leaning into new ways of working. They are tasked with designing new products and services for their businesses. They’ve read the theory and understand the concepts, but putting theory into action can often be a challenge. I want to make it easy for you to understand and get started on getting your ideas in front of customers as soon as possible.

If you missed my last two articles in this series, check out how to get your idea in front of stakeholders and how to do simple user tests to validate your hypotheses. Assuming that your idea has support and you have validated the problem, it’s time to get to designing your solution.

This article will help you understand how easy it can be to prototype and define your Minimal Viable Product (MVP).


A prototype is a simple design or sketch of an assumed end product that allows us to quickly validate our assumptions and generate new ideas with users. Typically prototypes are non-functional — they don’t actually do much, but they do allow a real user to get a clear visualization of what you intend to develop based on their needs. A prototype is not the “final version”, rather a quick, inexpensive technique to quickly adapt.

To start building prototypes, I’d suggest starting with a team exercise of simply sketching your ideas will fulfill the user journey. I like using two exercises from offered from Sprint Design Kit: Crazy 8s to quickly generate a lot of ideas and Storyboarding to narrow down what you will develop.

Example of a Storyboard from  Design Sprint Kit

Example of a Storyboard from Design Sprint Kit

If you are working without much design experience, you can make quick prototype versions using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides. If you have access to someone skilled in design (or want to play around with prototype design tools) here is a list of software tools that can get you started on developing a more high-fidelity prototype.

No matter how you design your prototype, the objective is to understand, quickly, which features are most critical to solving the users core need so that you can define what will be built into the MVP.

Minimal Viable Product (MVP)

An MVP is a stand-alone functioning product, that addresses the user’s core problem, but lacks many functions and features of the indented complete product or service. An MVP is specifically intended to be tested in the market to learn how users will react before you heavily invest time and resouces into buildilng something that may prove to not be a market fit. Unlike a prototype, an MVP is meant to test a larger user pool and identify additional pain points within your product once it is introduced to the market.

When presenting the concept of MVPs to teams, I like to use this popular graphic (below) to describe the process. An MVP is a product that works, it wont not be the fully-baked solution from the start (the mustang), but it will get users from A to B (the skateboard); building the tire first won’t solve the user’s core problem. Using the continuous iteration steps — build, share, test + learn, iterate, you will eventually get to the end product. Here is a fun list of MVPs from popular companies that you have probably seen evolve over the years.

An MVP is a product that works, it wont not be the fully-baked solution from the start (the mustang), but it will get users from A to B (the skateboard); building the tire first won’t solve the user’s core problem.

An MVP is a product that works, it wont not be the fully-baked solution from the start (the mustang), but it will get users from A to B (the skateboard); building the tire first won’t solve the user’s core problem.

For teams looking to take a step-by-step approach, starting with a prototype can be a beneficial first step. The next step is to define the MVP. After gathering insights from users on your prototype versions, work with your team to identify what features will be the most valuable to solving the core problem and require little, time, effort, or resources to build. I’ve used this simple canvas to help teams define what should go into the MVP. The Y axis is categorizing features from easy to hard to build and the X axis is categorizing features from less to more valuable to the user. Using this matrix, identify what is easy to build and creates the most value. The features in the top right quadrant are the MVP.

Before you start to test and validate, your matrix might look something like this based off your assumptions.

Before you start to test and validate, your matrix might look something like this based off your assumptions.

After prototyping and testing, you will have a better understanding of which features are most useful to meeting the users needs.

After prototyping and testing, you will have a better understanding of which features are most useful to meeting the users needs.

Not all of your features will fit into the top-right quadrant, and thats ok. It doesn’t mean throw them away, it just means that if something is valuable, but hard to build, that it might be part of future iterations, but not the MVP.

If you are a team working under restricted time or funding and/or with strong development and design skills, jumping straight into developing an MVP might be the right approach for your team. Lean Startup enthusiasts would argue that buildilng the MVP as quickly as possible reduces time and wasted effort on prototypes. I have seen some teams go from idea to MVP in less than a month. It worked for them! My advice is: know your team. The overall objective is to get your ideas into the hands of real users as quickly as possible so that you are truly creating a product that works for your customers.

Proof of Concept (POC)

I added proof of concept as here because it is often a question that comes up by teams. A proof of concept is a small, internal project to showcase your ideas that you intend to develop. A proof of concept, generally, isn’t usable. For big teams, or large organizations, a POC can be a great way to learn from others and gather insights from teams doing similar work or influence internal stakeholders as part of a pitch for an upcoming project.

For teams getting started on new innovation projects, I don’t recommend creating POCs. I find them to be time consuming and distracting to getting out and talking to real users. A prototype or MVP, in my opinion, are more useful and can also serve as a POC for internal stakeholder purposes.

First time developing a new product of service? Having fun prototyping and buidling MVPs? I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me at

Quick and Simple User Tests

Validate your assumptions in little time with little budget

Becoming a learning or more agile organization takes time. It requires mindset shifts, team design, and leadership buy-in. Any team trying to get new products and services off the ground inside of an existing organization shouldn’t have to wait until everything is perfectly in place to start learning and becoming more agile.

There is a ton of theory circulating that tells teams to go out into the world to test and validate assumptions with real users/customers as soon as possible instead of following the traditional project management waterfall chart. The reason for this is because you won’t know if you are making something useful until you talk to potential users. This approach can be simplified into this process: Make, Share, Test + Learn, Iterate.

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 2.28.15 PM.png

Making stuff is easy; getting the courage to share your work or ideas while they are still works in progress, testing with real potential customers and learning from their feedback can seem like a huge undertaking: What happens if you damage the company brand? What are the legal implications of sharing an incomplete product? or What happens if the competition sees what we are doing?

In this post, I am share some simple tests that can get you started and get your assumptions validated with real customers as soon as possible, with little resources and time, before you start to heavily invest.

Simple Surveys

This might seem obvious, but surveys are a quick way to answer a few questions to test your assumptions and get validation quickly. Surveys don’t have to be extensive like a market research survey, they can be done quickly with just a few questions around a particular hypothesis you might hold.

A team had this idea that people would buy produce directly from farmers in their local region to cut out the upcharge from local groceries and support farmers and reduce food waste. They had a few assumptions that they wanted to validate before they started investing in developing a solution. Are people happy with the produce in their local markets? Are they be willing to buy imperfect produce for a reduced cost? Will they be willing to consume produce from local farmers, (knowing the selection will be seasonal and not always regular/consistent)?

So the team created a simple 3-question survey using Typeform. They spent a small amount of money using targeted Facebook ads to try to gather responses from local customer segments. They ran the ad for a week and gathered around 100 responses (more than they were expecting!) and learned a lot about users quickly.

Screen Shot 2018-08-15 at 1.47.45 PM.png

Hint: If you are worried about revealing the company brand, create a fake company persona. It doesn’t have to be real, since you don’t have an actual product or service yet, it just has to be creative to generate responses.

Casual Conversation

Get out and find talk to potential customers. Get familiar with your customer segments, and determine the best way to get face time. Whether you are thinking of developing a new technology, service, or physical product, consider who the “enthusiasts” will be in the customer sergments. Enthusiasts are those who are excited about the topic, they are likely to have tried solving the problem you are investigating and will be interested in providing feedback.

Once you are in the space, meet people, and ask questions to test your assumptions. Again, you don’t have to give away that you are trying to validate your hypotheses or that you are developing a new product. If you are in a space with like minded people, just make conversation.

Photo by  Fancycrave

Photo by Fancycrave

My rule of thumb for in-person conversations is: 80% listening and 20% talking. Like the survey, you will likely have some questions in mind. Use them as prompts, but don’t make it feel like an interview. In a casual conversation you may only have a few minutes to validate one or two of your assumptions. Offer a few prompts, but let your counterpart dominate the conversation and listen.

Better than surveys, conversations allow you to dig into a users pain points or frustrations more specifically. If you find something especially intriguing, dig into it further and let your counterpart do the talking.

Hint: For direct to consumer, local MeetUp events are a place to meet ennthusiates, for a more professional crowd, consider communities of interest like conferences and speaking events, and for a B2B approach consider identifying an early adopter approach — one or two users/customers inside of your target organizations that you know and trust who may be willing to give and gather feedback in exchange for early “sneak peeks” or free access to your product before it is shared with the general public.

Somewhat Structured 1:1 Interviews

In addition to short casual conversations, consider more in depth 1:1 interviews. Interviews are a great place to allow a user to go into depth about the pain points and frustrations they are experiencing. I hesitate to call these “structured” interviews because the intent isn’t to answer all the questions that you could possibly think of, rather allow the user to give you a glimpse into their user journey, pain points, and any creative solutions they may have to share that you can improve on.

Photo by  Kiana Bosman

Photo by Kiana Bosman

Here’s an example of prompts to get the conversation going. Try using 1–2 for each category. I’ll use an example of an interview to improve beachgoers experiences in Chicago:

  • Build rapport: Tell me about yourself. What excites you about the beach?What motivates you to come to the beach? How long have you been coming to the beach? Explain to me what your experience is like when are at the beach?
  • Understand the User Journey: As best as you can, explain your day at the beach from the time you leave your house to the time you get home. What things do you do first? How do you travel to the beach? Where do you go? How do you find a location to enjoy? What things do you do when you get there? Can you show me anything about how you make decisions about your day (weather apps, transit apps, news, etc)?
  • Learn Pain Points: What parts of your expriences at the beach frustrate you? What gets in your way of having the perfect beach day? What do you do to overcome these blockers?
  • Gather Improvement Insights: If you had a magic wand, what would you change about your experience at the beach? If you could invest $1M today to improve your exprience what would you improve and why?

Adapt these questions to make the most out of your conversations, but be conscious to not impose your solution onto the interviewee.

Hint: 1:1 interviews can be time consuming. Limit the number of interviews during each phase of your work. It’s likely that you wont gain any new “breakthrough” insights after a handful of people. If you can, consider a small incentive to interview social influencers or people with a lot of experience as part of your interview pool.

User Workshops

If you have a few excited enthusiasts, in addition to 1:1 conversations you can also conduct a group workshop. Keep the workshop less than 90 minutes. Have one person play the role of the facilitator and one person play the role of scribe. Lastly, limit your workshop to 5–7 people for every facilitator-scribe duo so that you can capture the most out of your conversations.

An example of user journey sketch. Asking users to sketch their experience doesn’t have to be pretty, just honest. From  Stanford

An example of user journey sketch. Asking users to sketch their experience doesn’t have to be pretty, just honest. From Stanford

A simple workshop is group exercise of the questions used during an 1:1 interview. This isn’t meant to be a traditional marketing focus group, its intended to really dig into the users existing experiences. Some of the supplies you will need include: sharpies, post its, wall space, whiteboard/poster board.

  • Build rapport (20 Mins): In a circle, allow each person to introduce themself. Prompt the group with one-two questions. Allow each person to speak in turn, without interruption. Try to avoid cross talk. Keep pace of time. People love to talk about what excites them!
  • Understand the User Journey (20 Mins): Give each person a space around the room either on a white board or poster board to draw their user journey (see example above). Set a timer to 7 minutes (no longer than 10) and let them work. When time is up, let each person explain what they drew and what their exprience is like. At this stage, try to only ask questions for clarification to better understand their journey.
  • Learn Pain Points (20 Mins): Open the conversation for discussion. Prompt the group to explain their frustrations and pain points about their user journey. Note common themes and pain points, dig into interesting topics that you may not have considered in your original hypotheses.
  • Gather Improvement Insights (20 Mins): Feel free to be creative here. Up and until the now the group has probably shared hints of potential solutions throughout the session, now go into more depth. Set a timer for 3 minutes and ask the group to write down all their creative solutions. Let them group their solutions on a wall. If you have assumptions or features to share join the group in adding post-its of your ideas to the wall. Open the floor for discussion.

Hint: The job of the scribe isn’t just to take notes, but make sense of the conversation, notice themes, and connect insights from other tests. It really is an important job, with larger groups, consider an additional scribe if necessary.

Throughout your testing, meet with your team on a regular cadence to share what you are learning. Keep documents in a shared folder (like Google Drive) so that everyone can see the notes from the tests you’re doing.

There’s no right order to the types of tests listed above, nor do you need to do all of them, rather these are some easy tests that can be helpful for any project. Lastly, these tests don’t need to be stand alone tests, these can be repeated through multiple phases of the project. Each time you “share” something (e.g. a prototype, an MVP) you can use these simple test to get feedback and iterate to continuously improve your service or product.

Have you tried other easy, low cost tests? I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me at

Pitching Creative Ideas to Stakeholders

An easy how-to guide to help your idea make sense


A fun poster we have hanging at August HQ

Brilliant ideas are everywhere inside of our organizations and teams. Teams who are closest to the products and services that we’re building know the work best but constantly struggle to get their great ideas in front of leadership. In everyday change and on agile teams, small ideas can be implemented quickly as teams learn and improve products and services. It’s getting those nuanced, big, crazy ideas out there that can be tricky.

Teams say things like, “I just don’t have enough time to do the research to prepare my idea for my manager” or “I have no idea the first step to getting my thoughts organized to share.” In this article, I’m going to share a short, six steps that can help you get your idea organized quickly to share your pitch with leadership. If you are leadership, this can be a starting template to encourage your team to share bold ideas'

  • Step 1: Identify the Problem
  • Step 2: Identify Potential Customer Segment(s)
  • Step 3: Consider the Value Proposition
  • Step 4: Define the Market
  • Step 5: State the Advantage
  • Step 6: Share Potential Creative Solutions

To break down each step, I’ll share a real idea from a client team member who asked me for help. Her idea was an app that you could connect to your window shutters to open at a specific hour to wake you up naturally with sunlight. We broke down the idea using this simple template.


Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 11.12.36 AM.png

In more detail below, I’ll share with you how we were able to articlulate each point clearly and present this to staekholders.

Step 1: Identify the Problem

I often see great ideas start with the solution: a new app, a peer-sharing business model, a cloud-based software, etc. Having an idea for really great technology, product or service is great, but if it is not solving a problem or solving the needs of a group of people, it might not be the right time to work on the idea. If you have a great solution, start by asking yourself “what’s the problem I’m trying to solve?”

In our example, we had a great potential solution, but what problem was this going to solve? People have access to all types of alarm clocks, radio clocks, watch alarms, and cell phones. So I probed her with a series of “why’s” to understand the root of the problem (this approach comes from the 5 Why’s Exercise from lean manufacturing).

Camille: I think auto-opening shades could be a cool, more natural way to wake up instead of alarm clocks.
Me: Why do you want the shades instead of an alarm?
Camille: Alarms are loud and jarring to wake up to.
Me: Why not wake up to music instead?
Camille: The only way to wake up to music is if I use my phone.
Me: Why not use your phone as your alarm clock that can wake you up to music?
Camille: Ugh! My husband and I are trying to do this thing where we don’t sleep in the same room as our phones, we are too “connected” all of the time.
Me: Why does that bother you?
Camille: I keep reading things about sleeping with your phone can be detrimental to your health and I want to stay healthy to be here for my kids.

Ah! The root cause is sleeping with the phone somewhere near her and her husband to wake her up. In this case the problem is: In today’s world many people use their cell phones as their alarm clock, yet studies have shown that sleeping near a cell phone can cause long-term health effects.

When you read this problem statement, you notice that there could be hundreds different creative solutions to this problem once she’s able to start talking to potential customers. In this case, Camille has an idea or a hypothesis that her idea is the right solution.

Step 2: Identify Potential Customer Segments

When it comes to identifying your customer segments starting with “everyone, because my product will be so amazing everyone will want to use it;” but it shouldn’t require months of marketing research either. Identifying who your customer segment might be doesn’t have to be a science, it just requires a little bit of empathy mapping or putting yourself in the users shoes. What is the user thinking and feeling, what are their pain points, is this truly a problem for users, what else motivates or frustrates this type of user? Take a bit of time to answer or brainstorm these questions with a friend or co-worker and see what you come up with.

For our problem, we decided that Millennials parents are probably our target user. They’re thinking about their long term health for themselves and their kids. They’re probably less “on-the-go” and don’t require their cell phones as an alarm like say, regular travelers. They’re feeling like it is important to set a good example of what a healthy balance of technology for their children.

Step 3: Consider the Value Proposition

A value proposition is, again, a hypothesis that needs to be tested and validated with real potential customers once you are able to get your idea off the ground. For now, it’s your best guess at what you think your product or service will do to benenfit the customer. There are many different templates that can help you generate a your first version of a value proposition. Here is one that I like to use as a first start with teams:

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 10.15.12 AM.png

If you can’t make out my mid-workshop handwriting, it reads: Our [product or service] helps [users/customers] who want to [solve a specific issue] by [improving something important] and [reducing pain, time cost, etc…] unlike [the current solution or competitor]. Using this structure, you can ideate through each piece of the phrase, eliminate what doesn’t apply to your idea, or add different elements if your idea is very unique. Again this is a starting point and should remain open to continuous iteration.

After a few iterations on our own, in our example, we landed on something we hoped to be simple to understand: Our product helps sleepy parents get a better night’s rest and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning without the noise and distraction of a cell phone. In this example, we don’t have a fully baked product or service yet, just our hypotheses. So we left out anything about shutters, automation, or an app for now.

Step 4: Define the Market

Defining the market is something that will evolve over time. Your target market can be as broad as Facebook (all 6B people in the world) or as narrow as a luxury brand (targeting a very elite market). Your idea will likely fall somewhere between these two extremes, so consider your target customers/users and think about where you might find them.

At this stage of your idea, think of the “market” as who you think you can start to test and validate you assumptions with in the next few weeks or month. In our example, the entire human population might not be the place to start since so many types living structures have so many different architectures and types of windows. Also, we’re not quite sure how much of a problem this is for people outside of our circles just yet. We knew it would also be easy, and cost very little, to talk to parents in our surrounding communities. For our example, we landed on large cities in Germany (e.g. Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt) as our starting markets.

Step 5: State Your Advantage(s)

When teams or individuals are presenting new ideas to stakeholders inside of their organizations, leadership can be resistant to invest in or take on ideas that fall into the “disruptive” category— A type of innovation that is outside the core business, introduces a new market, new technology, or new customer (for a better understanding of types of innovation, check out this article I wrote).

I have seen teams get slammed with this question over and over again: “Why us?” In other words, why is this idea at all something that our company should be doing, and why should we invest in this idea?

To bring stakeholders along, preempt this question by giving examples of how your organization indeed does have an advantage to solving the problem and how it can be beneficial to the future of the business. Again, this is going to be based on a heaping pile of assumptions, but it’s critical to really know the motivations of your stakeholders. It’s always a good idea take a look at how your idea relates back to your organizations goals, strategic initiatives or other long terms initiatives.

In our example, our advantage is that we are a large manufacturing company that has access to technology and tools that can develop direct-to-consumer products quickly. Without getting more specific, and giving away my client, you can imagine that inside your organization, you can be a lot more specific in your approach to answering this question.

Step 6: Share Potential Creative Solutions

Last step! Sharing potential solutions. When Camille came to me with her idea, it was framed as the solution to the problem. Once we were able to get to the root problem, we realized, hey! there are lots of different possibilities of solving this problem!

So we did a quick exercise that I like to call “hack your idea” something I came up with as a really easy workshop type where you can generate multiple ideas by enlisting folks not embedded into the research that can help you ideate quickly.

A quick version of this workshop is really simple (and I would encourage you to do this on any type of new idea) is ask a few colleages for 10–15 minutes of their time. First pitch your idea and share all of the work you’ve done so far to shape your idea and ask them to “hack” it. Grab some post-its, a timer, and giver you teammates a few prompts to help you shape some creative hypotheses to a solution to your problem. Set a timer for 3 minutes, ask your teammates to generate as many ideas as they can think of and then share.

In less than 15 minutes Camille and I had some bold ideas from our colleages: Tinted windows that adjust to sunlight for wake up times, natural sounds connected to a speaker to wake up (e.g. morning bird sounds), a feature that can program weekdays differently than weekends, a soundless vibration pillow that softly shakes you awake… the list continued. One or none of these solutions could be “the one” but it demonstrates leadership that your idea will change based on what you learn when you start talking to customers.

I would encourage anyone with a great idea to get started! Sharing your idea shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to pull together. In fact, you’ve probably spent more time noodling on your idea for a while but never had the opportunity to write it down or share it.

Sharing your idea doesn’t need to come with a huge ask for budget, time or resources. If you are able to ask for that, go for it! If you are just asking for some creative time in your day or week with a few others, ask for that. Your pitch, however, should always remain focused on your very next step: Validating your assumptions and hypotheses with real potential customers/users. The sooner you realize your problem exists (or doesn’t), the better you will be able to design a product or service that works.

Have you tried other methods? Are you pitching ideas on your team, how so? I’d love to hear from you. Connect with me at

The Insane Push to be Disruptive

How to make innovation inside your organization work


In every company and organization there is no shortage of brilliant ideas. We hired the best and brightest, afterall. So why is it so hard for companies and organizations to do innovation? Why is the word “innovation” being used so often in every context, staff meeting, or quarerly earnings call? What does leadership mean when they say “we need to build more innovative products and services?”

From my experiences consulting in some of the world’s largest companies, I think what leaders mean is disruptive innovation. You know, the iPhone, Facebook, Tesla, Uber, AirBNB — the case stories that become $1B companies in less than 24 months. This type of innovation brings a complete change to an entire market, and as you can imagine, it is the hardest and rarest to create. Not all innovation will be disruptive. It doesn’t need to be, either. Simply put, innovation happens when creativity can be brought to scale.

Here is a definition of creativity and innovation from Florian Rustler of Creaffective:

“Creativity is the ability to come up with something new that is useful; innovation is the introduction of something new into a market, an organization or a society that is useful.”

Disruptive innovation is just one type of innovation. Innovation can be incremental, similar to a technology or product that exists but makes a few features better for the customer. For example, a new model of a car or the next iPhone series. Innovation can also be semi-disruptive by introducing new, minor changes to a technology, process or business model. For instance, a car-sharing service like Car2Go is a new process for renting a car and introduces a new business model, but likely wont slow down or disrupt the sale of cars to consumers. Lastly, disruptive innovation is a new technology or business model that changes an entire market.

Disposable diapers is a simple example of distruptive innovation. Davila, Epstein, and Shelton note in their book Making Innovation Work that before disposable diapers were introduced in the 1970s by Johnson & Johnson, families used cloth diapers that needed to be properly laundered and many small companies offered diaper laundry as a service. When disposable diapers were introduced on the market, families no longer needed to use a laundry service and could easily dispose of used diapers and buy new diapers at local retail stores. This virtually wiped out the cloth diaper market and business model. Can you believe it? — diapers the disrupter of the family household of the 70’s, groovy.

When developing strategies for innovation in your teams, orgs, or businesses, it’s critical to focus on not just one type of innovation, instead on all three. Distruptive innovation is rare, hard, and very risky. Rustler notes, “The more disruptive the innovation the more likelihood of failure.” It can require a lot of time, resources from your team/organization, and skill to get it off the ground, however, the rewards can be game changing should you be successful. Semi-disruptive innovation can also be risky, but can keep a competitive advantage of being the “first” among competitors for a period of time (e.g. Fitbit Fitness Watches). Incremental innovation can also be a cash cow for an existing business (e.g. new Telsa models). Instead of only focusing on disruption, consider balancing your innovation projects with less risky, safer types of innovation for mid-long term success.

You might be thinking to yourself, ok great, got it, skip disruptive innovation and only focus on something more incremental because we can’t all be the next Steve Jobs.

That's not what I’m saying.

Disruptive innovation is not just disruptive to the market it can also wreak havoc inside of your existing organization. Most organizations are fine with incremental innovation to make small changes to an existing product or service. Even semi-distruptive innovation most companies can tolerate since it’s something compatible to an exsiting market or technology.

In order to do disruptive innovation an organization must be equipped with the conditions to function under extreme uncertainty. Leaders will need to develop a structure that can allow teams to experiment and learn. This also requires building a culture where teams can move at the speed they need to truly innovate.

In the case for disruption everything is new. They can throw performance metrics out of whack, can send procurement into a frenzy, and can cause confusion among leadership or have an impact on productivity or revenue. I’ve heard leaders tell teams that their disruptive ideas were “too far from the core business,” “useless to our existing markets,” or just “never going to work.”

To really focus on creating disruption, teams need a different structure, new metrics, and the agency to learn and fail constantly. In order to allow teams to create and work on disruptive business models, services, or products the following ingredients need to exist for teams to thrive:

  • Small, lean teams no larger than 5–9 people who all have a clear skillset and role on the team at 100% dedication — no volunteer, side-project help
  • Autonomy over ideas and the ability to pivot or kill ideas based on the teams learning
  • The ability to safely (and legally) talk to real customers to validate problems, assumptions, and features
  • Special legal assistance when needed for patents, data protection, and other user data information (e.g. GDPR)
  • A set of metrics designed for learning, not performance or productivity
  • The ability to upskill or hire external technical or design expertise quickly
  • A budget that doesn’t require slow procurement processes so teams can move fast
  • Hardware and software that will let the teams get their work done and not get blocked by VPN firewalls
  • And most importantly, an ambitious leader willing to create the conditions inside the organization for teams to thrive.

Easier said than done! In another post I’ll share some learnings from my experiences trying to set the conditions to do this very thing inside of client organizations.

How to Travel for Work and Stay Sane

Lessons from traveling at 100%

Some of the things I am going to share in this post are going to be blatantly obvious, yet other lessons shared here might help a new consultant starting their career, or this may be helpful for anyone who travels for work from time to time.

A bike ride through Bavaria using the hotel bike-sharing program.

A bike ride through Bavaria using the hotel bike-sharing program.

I work for a organizational transformation consultancy based in Brooklyn called August. In August (the month!) of last year we won a huge contract with a client based in Europe. I had a few options: Try to work and deliver remote from NYC and travel to Europe periodically to meet with my client and the teams, orrelocate to Europe and deliver onsite.

Since the work that I do, generally, requires hands on facilitation and training, daily coaching, and facetime with leaders to be change champions, I decided to relocate. It was one of the best, and scariest decisions I’ve made in my life. I never thought I would have the opportunity to live and work in another country, so I jumped on the opporunity. I still have no regrets! I’ve learned a lot about myself, about the work that I do (and how to do it better) and have made deep and meaningful relationships with people doing org design and innovation in London, Berlin, Munich, Paris, Toulouse, and Budapest, to name a few.

In September 2017, I left Brooklyn, my home of over 10 years, and moved to France. For the first 6 months my commute was simple, like my commute in NYC — I got to ride my bike to work on good weather days, or I took the subway on days where the wind or rain was unbearable.

About 6 months into my contract, the scope of our work shifted and I was going to have to commute weekly to Germany. Cool! Lucky me, I was never the constulant that had to travel weekly to client site by train or plane or required spend most of my week in another city. My longest commute was from Brooklyn to Midtown — if you ever had to deal with the A or F trains during rush hour, Manhattan might feel like you’re commuting to another city — so this was my first time becoming a “traveling consultant.”

A really cool aerial photo I took on a flight. These are the Alps somewhere between France and Germany.

A really cool aerial photo I took on a flight. These are the Alps somewhere between France and Germany.

Generally the lessons that I’ve taken with me come down to these points: (1) Consistency is key, (2) Make nice with people who are willing to look out for you and, (3) Become a member of your new community where you are traveling.

Here are a list of the things that I’ve done that made my travel experience that might help you too.

  1. Stay in a decent hotel. When traveling, the last thing that I wanted to deal with was a hotel in hard to reach location, unfriendly staff, or an uncomfortable bed. When changing timezones, it was even more important that to me to find a place that will make me feel comfortable enough to get a good night’s rest. To categorize “decent hotel” I use these metrics: friendly staff (based on Google reviews), a location close to the city center and easy access to public or private (taxi) transport to the client site, a gym, laundry service. These amenities might seem trivial for some, but consistency was important to me. Most of these amenities I never thought I’d use, but these came in handy throughout my travels from time to time — especially the gym. Most AirBNBs are unable to offer these services and check in and check out times can be tricky. To avoid a headache (and the AirBNB messaging app) I opted for one great hotel, after trying 2 others and stayed there every week for the 5 months. To find decent hotels I used the app Hotel Tonightto start my search and try a few places out. I wanted to stay in hotels that were not American/International chains to help support local and independently run businesses. Hotel Tonight offers a lot of deals at local hotels in thousands of cities.
  2. Know your flight preferences. Know what your flight preferences are and be clear about what what you like and dislike about flying — we all have them! I know a lot of people who are ok taking the first flight at 6 or 6:30 am and can work through the whole day. I’m definitely notone of those people. I tried to choose flights that would allow me to travel mid-late afternoon the day before I needed to be onsite so that I could be fresh for the next morning. That said, I tried to keep my onsite days Tues-Thurs as much as I could to avoid traveling on Sunday evenings. Keeping with the consistency theme, I often traveled the same route at the same time each week to and from the client office. If that flight was full (or was cancelled) I had a back up flight preference that I would book again to keep the schedule as regular as possible and to avoid the pre-dawn flight! Another obvious tip is to join any loyalty programs your carrier offers. Through the loyalty program with Lufthansa, I was usually able to get a business class seat for the same price or less thana regular seat. The perks of the business seat are: lounge access with strong wifi to do work and take video calls, first access to flight changes due to delays or cancellations, priority for your carry-on (so you’re never stuck checking it at the gate), and extra leg room on your flight. Again, these all might seem like no-brainers or you might be thinking “girl you bougee”, but spending the extra 10–30 EUR for a bit of comfort when you’re on a plane every 3–4 days is worth the spend and the convenience.
  3. Use a reliable driver. It’s no secret that the EU has had a hard time embracing American taxi apps like Uber, but a lot of cities offer a local ride-hailing app that you can download and support the local taxi drivers rather than sending your money back the Sillicon Valley. Do a little research to see which ride-hailing apps are available in the city to where you are traveling that offers drivers a fair wage and benefits. Some of the apps I found useful were MyTaxi(Germany), Chauffeur Privé(France), and Gett(UK/London) — all of these came from recommendations directly from drivers who I’ve met. If you want to go a step further, ask a driver that you like and feel safe with if he has a card or can pick you up regularly. A huge unlock for me was having a driver that would pick me up and drop me off to my destinations each day without having the wait for a driver through the app. This was a hugegame changer for me. I still could pay through the app and make sure that my transaction was secure, but I had someone available, reliable and who could get me to my destination on time. I avoided waiting 20–30 minutes on rainy or snowy days and never had a surge charge. This made travel to airports, to the client site, to offsite locations a breeze. I just had to send my drivers (there were a few buddies that would rotate) a text with my destination and times at the beginning of the week and it was all handled by the crew. All while supporting a local small business.
  4. Eat at a few good restaurants. Whether you have a special diet or not, find a few places that will offer you a healthy meal. While traveling I was noticing that I was putting on a few pounds just from not eating right or exercising regularly. So after about a month in, I narrowed my food selections to 4 restaurants (including the hotel) that I would choose from. I made sure that each restaurant had great reviews (again Google reviews!), offered healthy options, they were in walking distance (to get in a little exercise), and could seat 4–5 people if at any time I wanted to take my clients out for a meal. I also forced myself to make time for my meals and take the walk to the resturant to feel like I was able to give myself back a piece of my day. Often when traveling for work I would feel like I always had to be onbecause the client was paying me to be there, but making a balance for client delivery and self became important when stress was high. Even if I ate at the hotel, I tried to turn off the computer and read something for pleasure. Taking a step away to enjoy (and meditate) over a meal is a small radical way of showing self-care especially in a world that is driven by deadlines, time management, and sometimes high-energy clients.
  5. Compliment helpful staff. This, too, should be an easy one! It’s easy to say, “yeah, just get a driver that you like” or “stay at a hotel that has great staff,” because I am the type of person that wants to learn everyone’s name and make them a friend! I tried really hard to make sure the staff at the hotel and the drivers knew that I appreciated their time and business with me. The staff that I had the honor to work directly with often have thankless jobs. Just saying, “I hope you have a great day!” or “Good morning Ms. Rausch!” or making small talk like “How was your weekend?” and “How are the kids?”builds a rapport. Even though I don’t speak any German at all (Bitte, danke schoen, guten tag — is about my limit!) I’d give it a try even if it got a few laughs, just to show respect. In return, the staff always made sure I had everything I needed.
  6. Be open to new experiences. If your job allows you to and if you have the flexibility, stay a weekend or fly in a day early to learn about the culture and history of the city that you are working in. Being an American in Europe, every day feels like a history class to me whether it be art, architecture, WWII, or politics. Getting a chance to sit at a coffee shop, enjoy an afternoon at a local museum, lay in a park or botanical garden, or drink a beer (or wine) from a local brewery is always a nice way to become a member of the community you’re working in.

The tips above are tips that worked for me. I can’t say they will work for everyone in every situation, but they made travel feel less of a burden. I had less choices to make each week and I was able to navigate my way like a local toward the end of my 5 months. I will truly miss the staff that cared for me in Germany!

What are some of the tricks that you’ve picked up during your work travels? I’m here to learn, too! Looking forward to trying new tips and tools you all have learned along the way.

A special thank you from the hotel staff during my last week ❤

A special thank you from the hotel staff during my last week ❤

Updates, Transitions, and Running

It’s Wednesday ya’ll!


I know I’ve been missing for a bit, but I totally underestimated the energy it would take to transition my life over to France and begin working with a new client. So, what have I been up to this last month (yes, it’s been an entire month)! Well here are a few things:


First, I downsized my entire apartment in NYC into three suitcases. My apartment in NYC isn’t very big, as you can imagine, but deciding what went into these suitcases was a test to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Nailed it. 

Nailed it. 

Then, I was off to Chicago, carrying all my bags, to run my first ever Chicago Marathon! This was my 5th marathon overall. It was very hot on marathon day, 80 degrees (~27 C) and sunny, which does not make for ideal running weather. Despite the autumn heat wave, I finished.

Before at the race and health expo sponsored by Nike.

Before at the race and health expo sponsored by Nike.

After the race. Notice, once I took my shoes off there was no getting them back on #swelling

After the race. Notice, once I took my shoes off there was no getting them back on #swelling

Finally, I made it Toulouse, set up my apartment and purchased the coolest collapsing bike - the BTWN Tilt 120. I got this style because the stairs to my apartment have a tight narrow curve, Where no typical bike will fit. I tried, I failed - the BTWN fits nicely. Take a look.


Something about taking photos in front of doors in Europe, right?


So you may have taken a guess that I’m typically an athletic type of person. The type who runs, bikes to work, and tortures themselves for hours on end to train for a race that I’ll never win - I won’t, I’m old and slow! But there’s glory in all of it, you set a goal, you achieve it! Whether it’s running, cycling, or any other sport, I believe having an athlete on your team is definitely a value add. Not everyone is active and athletic, there are many reasons people aren’t and that is completely fine. Let’s be real, running a marathon ain’t for everybody - I still ask myself, “Girl why? Find a different hobby!” However, throughout my training experiences, I’ve learned a lot about myself as an individual and I’ve started to understand how my athleticism shows up at work. Here are 3 things I’ve learned:


1 - My mental endurance is at an all time high during training. Some might call this determination, but I think it’s slightly nuanced. For example, running a marathon for an able-bodied person is simple, all one has to do is put one foot in front of the other. Physically, it’s achievable, but after 4 hours of doing that exact thing, your brain starts to play games with you. Making up excuses for you to stop, quit, or defer to try again another day. When I’m training I become hyperfocused on the goal or the task at hand and don’t get clouded by doubts. I know in training and in work, each step gets me closer to my goals.


2 - Agile planning becomes a tool for my way of life. We often say “plans are always wrong” inside the offices at August, although true, agile planning is critical to staying on task. Agile planning requires the ability to set milestones and goals week-to-week in pursuit of the bigger outcome. It requires close attention to smaller achievements and failures - bad run days, good nutrition days, low hydration days - and the ability to adjust the plan to continue on the path to success or iterate, constantly.


3 - I choose my discipline and my fate. Training for a marathon, no doubt takes discipline and commitment. At work we say, “I want someone on this who is committed to this business.” Sure, but training for a marathon tests your commitment to yourself and no one else. If I’m not disciplined, I’ll have a crappy race - it’ll hurt, it’ll be slow, and it will be no one’s fault but my own. In work, the fate is the same, my team is very supportive, but it is ultimately me who determines my success. At work discipline comes in the form of  asking myself: “What am I focused on this week?” “What areas of growth am I working on now?” or “What should my achievements look like?”


That’s enough about me, what’s up with you? What lessons have you learned recently? What is motivating and driving you? Each one teach one! Reply to this email and share so we can learn better together.


That’s it for this week! I’ll be back in 2 Thursdays. Until then, stay warm and follow my adventures in France on Twitter: @krys_burnette