In a previous post, we looked at how some giant companies are implementing Lean methods to innovate from within. Whether you’re a hospital or multinational manufacturer needing to adapt to new realities, how do you get started? What types of people do you need to put in place?

One of the lessons learned by major corporations like GE and 3M is to give the skunkworks startup as much autonomy as possible.

  • Large organizations can often offer the benefit of sizable budgets, broad resources and market leverage to give the startup a leg up.
  • The culture of legacy organizations is such that workers within it may not grasp the startup sensibility or vision. If required to work directly alongside, they could be a drag on a startup that may strike them as divergent, disruptive and vaguely threatening.

And speaking of Skunk Works proper, some of Kelly’s Rules still apply here:

  • No. 1: The Skunk Works’ program manager must be delegated practically complete control of his program in all aspects. He should report to a division president or higher.
  • No. 3: Use a small number of good people (10 percent to 25 percent compared to the so-called normal systems).
  • No. 11: Funding a program must be timely so that the contractor doesn’t have to keep running to the bank to support government projects.
  • Other rules related to a guaranteeing a rapid, iterative learning process and providing workers with monetary incentives are also useful.

The person to lead the internal startup may well be of a different stripe than your traditional tenant of the C suite. Discovering the traits of innovative leaders these days takes only a few mouse clicks, and you can likely predict the results: customer focus, trustworthiness, loyalty, upward communication, and so on.

The intrapreneur to lead the enterprise team might resemble someone like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos — a person who favors speed, has a high tolerance for risk and a bone-deep willingness to experiment and often fail. According to Strategyzer,

  • “Bezos wants Amazon to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ culture of decision making. He emphasizes the importance of constantly assessing and adjusting Amazon’s culture.” This is classic Lean strategy — an ongoing, iterative learning process.
  • Customer development is key: Bezos focuses on customers more than on competitors.

How you integrate the intrapreneur into your internal startup demands that the newcomer speaks the same language as you do. Business strategist Benson Garner suggests using one of Lean Startup’s basic tools, the Business Model Canvas, as a tool for onboarding intrapreneurs. It could form the new CEO’s introduction to your company’s inner workings and product strategies, yielding a unified company vision.

After committing to a free-standing internal enterprise team and bringing on new leadership, it’s all about company culture and acculturating your leadership. At tekMountain we know that this can take serious self-reflection, the kind emphasized by co-author of the million-copy bestseller Business Model Generation, Alexander Osterwalder. He says, “Most companies are characterized by an execution culture that is focused on implementing an existing business model.” How, then, can you build an innovation engine that can live alongside the execution engine?

We believe that great leaders succeed more by influencing than by “doing.” And before being able to influence a startup, its leader must understand the company culture. One way to do that is to actually map it.

Dave Gray is one of the great explainers of technology, processes and business strategies in the known universe. For him, company culture comes before all else in an organization’s life. With the help of Osterwalder, Yves PigneurAlan Smith, and Chris Finlay, Gray developed the Culture Map, a tool that invites deep reflection for investigating the culture of one’s company. Mapping helps to identify the behaviors that yield positive or negative outcomes, to figure out how to enable positive behaviors or to find out what’s blocking them. Check out Gray’s Best Practices for mapping your company’s culture.

Lean methodology is all about adaptive discovery. At tekMountain, we’re committed to helping large, legacy organizations apply the most forward-thinking methods to evolve amid new regulatory environments, resource landscapes and technologies.


This blog was produced by the tekMountain Team of Sean AhlumAmanda Sipes, and Zach Cioffi with lead writer Bill DiNome 


Comments are closed.