Which way forward?
5 strategies to consider

Framework Benefits

In many aspects of life, it helps to follow the instructions. A pile of planks, poles and allen keys isn’t going to make a wardrobe unless you know how it all fits together.  Instructions provide a process by which to achieve your vision, and helps it stand up when you put it into practice.  The question is, does the simple idea of am “assembly manual” apply to business?

Start-ups and scale-ups often have disruption at their core, Facebook’s original ‘move fast and break things’ motto being a prime example. The temptation is to go your own way, break with tradition, and find new ways to do business.  However,  it is far more efficient to “stand on the shoulders of giants” by building on already proven principles.

For business leaders, there are two main benefits to following a framework. 

  • One can simply draw on best practice and make the appropriate adjustments to fit.

  • offers an expert’s perspective. It’s become something of a cliché, but leaders work on the business and not in it.  A leader’s role is to define and implement a vision, not to micromanage the disruptions of the day.  The use of a framework can help elevate the “leader’s game” and provide the leverage to achieve more.

So, here’s a quick review of five of the major frameworks:

Lean Startup

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup principles are built around getting the product into the customers’ hands as fast as possible, for as little cost as possible.  Not everyone who has a great idea for a product or service has the mindset to bring it to market – Ries’ framework introduces core business decision making to product-led thinkers.

Starting from correcting the very first question and moving from “can this be built?” to “can we build a sustainable business around this?” Lean Startup treats the process of starting a business as one of learning by testing hypotheses.  It uses the “five ways” problem solving approach to frame and address challenges, pursuing a logical chain of enquiry that helps establish the root cause of the problems people are experiencing.  What can you change to address the challenge?  The Lean Start-up philosophy is to measure and test a change and establish the results.

Advantages

  • It encourages businesses to test and plan their offerings with the marketplace at front of mind

  • It encourages agility and responsiveness especially in fast changing markets

  • It fits well with the early stages of a business, when money is tight and time to market is vital

Disadvantages

  • Too many tests and changes can undermine a founders’ confidence in the business

  • Emphasises mindset, spend and return but lacks a substantive how-to structure that addresses 5 fundamental areas: leadership, systems and infrastructure, talent, sales strategy, and finance

  • It risks the team burning out on repeated redesigns, and often struggles to build deep products

Startup Owner’s Manual

Steve Blank’s The Startup Owner’s Manual bills itself as ‘the step by step guide for building a great company’.  It’s a highly structured process, built around a business model canvas that encourages leaders to identify their key partners, activities and value propositions, and the potential customer segments that will bring in revenue.

The Manual isn’t exciting, but it’s technical and extensive.  It emphasises customer discovery, validation and creation as the start of a business journey rather than the idea for the offering.   It places a priority on the processes that will create a viable and profitable business. Each of these processes is modelled in depth, and it’s recommended to complete them one at a time, to ensure that you’ve seen your growth plan through.

Advantages

  • Exhaustively detailed with a checklist based model for the development for your business

  • Provides a clear distinction between web/mobile businesses and bricks and mortar, highlighting the different challenges involved

Disadvantages

  • Even as it focusses on the product /service and the market, it pays limited attention to competition, risks or category

  • Surprisingly little value placed on some of the softer topics such as mindset, or workplace culture

The EMyth Coaching Program (EMyth) 

The EMyth Coaching Program  is short for the Entrepreneurial Myth and the mistaken belief that people who start businesses are entrepreneurs, and that people who understand what the business does can successfully run it.  Michael E. Gerber’s book sets out the claim, and has since blossomed into an international business development consultancy.

EMyth’s method promotes mentorship.  Your business works with a certified coach who will challenge you to make decisions from an expert perspective, helping you work on the business rather than in it.  Together, you develop a vision for the next three years and establish goals for the longer term.  That vision will feed into a values statement which expresses your values in concrete terms about what your business will look like, how it will work, what market segments it will target and, of course, what its financial results will be.

Advantages

  • It follows a typical business’s evolution whilst retraining product innovators to become business directors

  • It is based on direct relationships between professionals who are open, authentic, and transparent with each other

  • It emphasises values as embodied in your business’ day to day operations

  • Provides a clear distinction between web/mobile businesses and bricks and mortar, highlighting the different challenges involved

Disadvantages

  • It has been accused of reducing business growth to a one-size-fits-all model made up of repetitive, routine tasks that suck the life from the business owner

  • Some employee reviews cast a long shadow and suggest EMyth does not follow its own advice, lacking a coherent overall strategy for its own affairs

Entrepreneur Operating System (EOS)

As the name suggests, EOS provides a structure in which your products, services and operations can function.

Quarterly meetings set ‘rocks’ – the immovable objectives toward which the business is moving – and make sure everyone in the business is responsible for achieving one of them. Weekly ‘Level 10’ meetings among the leadership team focus on processing and resolving issues, with strict timers to ensure resolution is understood within an hour.

Beyond this, EOS encourages you to use “an implementer” who is an expert adviser who can provide help to entrepreneurs in order to develop the structure of their business,  and provide an outside opinion on crisis points like personnel changes or changes in direction.

Advantages

  • Ideal for fast moving and creative businesses which can end up lost in the day to day.

  • It blends approaches to address day to day operations and long term vision

  • Restructures businesses with existing bad habits

Disadvantages

  • Successfully implementing EOS means committing to a particular mindset and not every business leader has the same priorities

  • It can be a daunting prospect for smaller organisation especially if some members need to be exited, or new hires made, in order to put the right people in the leadership team. It’s worth remembering that 60% of SMEs never grow beyond 35 employees because of lifestyle choices.

Four Disciplines (4DX)

4DX  is structured, as you might expect, around four disciplines – focus, leverage, engagement and accountability. The system, pioneered by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey, introduces these disciplines into businesses where they are currently lacking, without sacrificing the existing business’ objectives or culture.

The 4DX approach sets one Wildly Important Goal for the business as a whole, and everyone’s responsibilities are built around executing that goal.  Issue processing along the way is centralised, reactive and inclusive, setting a weekly meeting with everyone and checking on how they’re doing, relating their performance back to a compelling scoreboard with consequences for failure or success.

Advantages

  • Solves a specific problem e.g. businesses which have a vision but struggle to implement it

  • The approach is usable from day one and adaptable to different company cultures

Disadvantages

  • Another one size fits all approach focussing on one goal may not work for every business or team

  • Calls and meetings about goals distract from operations and some managers begin fabricating results to avoid them

Conclusion

Like most things in business, frameworks can be useful. They all encourage changing your business culture, finding a perspective that’s removed from the day to day so you can make the significant decisions that are only possible at leadership level.  

At their worst they can become a drain on time (all those meetings), money (all those consultancy fees) and morale (pushing profitability over product innovation).

To successfully roll out any of these frameworks, you need to understand clearly what you want and need to achieve and have a measure of success so you know it’s working.