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No, Sticky Notes Are Not Your Secret to Success Enterprises hoping to learn from start-ups don't go too far beyond the idea of using Post-it notes as a stand-in for new ways of thinking

By Mark McGregor

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Take a walk into any modern, digital-focused business and you'll no doubt see a rainbow of sticky notes plastered on the walls.

They're a great metaphor for how rapid, agile businesses should work. They allow quick decisions, easy ways to share information, and they can be discarded quickly if something better comes along. A few sticky notes, and some design sprints, can go a long way.

Unfortunately, enterprises hoping to learn from start-ups don't go too far beyond the idea of using sticky notes as a stand-in for new ways of thinking. They look at start-ups using tools, like a design sprint, then place it within a larger context without thinking about how their existing processes play a role in guiding that activity.

Result? They talk the talk, but don't actually deliver anything of value. They haven't thought hard enough about the processes surrounding those activities.

Enterprises can do better. There's a lot to learn from start-ups, but adopting agile processes within a larger environment means there are definitely things to avoid as well.

Here are three of them.

Create Clear Leaders and Decision Makers

Part of the benefit of working in a start-up is that so many decisions are collective. An environment that places an emphasis on continual prototyping ala retros, stand-ups and grooming sessions, begins to feel more like a collective.

Start-ups can slip into an environment where decisions are paralysed because if the group disagrees, they can't move forward. In an enterprise this is crippling.

A strong business strategy relies on not only identifying those decision makers across every pathway, but then documenting who makes those decisions, the information available in the making of those decisions, and so on.

Start-ups can get away without this type of structure because, in the beginning, co-founders and early employees share significant authority. Enterprises obviously don't work that way, so decision makers should be identified as quickly as possible.

Rely On Your Documentation

Working at a start-up can be frantic, which means processes get left by the wayside. Unfortunately, this means documentation does as well. While documentation may not seem like a viable need within a start-up, it actually emboldens agility rather than hinders it.

If reasoning, data and information are not documented, decisions and action become subjective. So whoever holds the most power in a conversation then determines the way forward.

In fact, research has found a lack of documentation is one of the key reasons business transformation projects fail. Without a clear trail, decisions are made over and over again, different teams end up working on the same problem multiple times, and a decision that could have taken hours can take days or weeks.

In a startup, a lack of documentation may not matter when there are only two or three people to deal with. An enterprise needs a much bigger documentation process, and ideally, that process should be as digitally-focused as possible.

Be Led by Data Instead of Being Supported by Data

Enterprises are often told to make data-driven decisions. Start-ups, especially in the technology sector, put a huge emphasis on this. But a bad habit many start-ups fall into is being led by that data, rather than supported by it.

In a start-up, you have limited information by which to make judgment calls. So the data becomes your North Star.

This is the difference between being able to examine data, and actually using that data to make business decisions. The latter requires the ability to discard potentially erroneous information in the pursuit of a business goal.

Start-ups can often be blinded by the pursuit of information, rather than the careful analysis of it. Enterprises hoping to adopt an agile focus should use data as an input in a longer, more strategic business process.

The Formula to Agile Success

Enterprise environments can clearly be agile, but they require something more than just some sticky notes. Robust, clear processes ensure difficulties are minimized so the decisions can be made faster, with more context, and with a clear path for success. What could be more agile than that?

Mark McGregor

Head of Strategy, Signavio


Mark is a former industry analyst at Gartner, as well as a popular speaker and published author. He is regarded as a leader in this space when it comes to how people do and perceive business. He's currently working as Head of Strategy at BPM giant Signavio.


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