In this blog, I often write about the similarities between building a great marriage and building a great start-up. In both cases, two or more people are working as a team and their success is interdependent. And in both cases, people are bound to make mistakes and not live up to their own or their partners’ (the business kind or the lover kind) expectations.
As everyone knows, mistakes, accidents, and failure are part of life. At Power of Two, we try to focus on how to get the most out of our mistakes. If something goes wrong, we want to make sure we maximize our learning – especially because we’ve already paid for it!
We’ve got two main processes that help us out:
1. We make time for examining how we’re doing, so that we catch issues as early as possible.
In the future, I’m hoping to write a whole blog post about our “Agile” iteration process for project management. In short though, we operate everything in our company on a two-week iteration schedule. Every two weeks we stop everything, and everyone takes a few minutes to look back on his or her plan for the previous iteration. We each evaluate how we’re doing and how the company as a whole is doing.
For example, I recently wrote in my “iteration close out” that I didn’t feel like I’d managed to call as many of our new customers as I had planned in the previous iteration. I like to call customers regularly to find out how we can continue to improve our program.
Because I took the time to stop and acknowledge that my previous two weeks hadn’t been as productive in this dimension as I’d hoped, I was also able to take the next step and figure out why. I came up with two structural problems. 1) I hadn’t sufficiently set aside time at the right time of day to catch new members on the phone. So by the time I got around to making calls, I’d missed my window. And 2) the system I was using to track what I learn from calls was taking me too long. So next iteration, I’ve asked for help improving our system’s backend so that I can make and record notes from my calls significantly faster.
My point is – reflection takes time. You have to schedule it like every other task. And if you do, you’ll catch problems earlier and save time and money in the future.
(BTW – in the Power of Two curriculum, we discuss studies that have shown that couples in happy relationships spend 10-15 hours each week together. It takes real time to “stay on the same page”. In addition to having fun and catching up on each other’s lives, part of those hours together should be time to stop and ask, “How are we doing?”)
2. Rather than blame, we try to give everyone in the company the benefit of the doubt. We assume everyone intends well, and that when things aren’t working, it’s everyone’s job to figure out what’s happening. We expect stuff to go wrong all the time, and we try to focus on the “misses” instead of the blame game.
In the Power of Two communication skill set, instead of fighting, we encourage couples to focus on the “misses” – miscommunications, misunderstandings, mistakes, misinformation, etc. The more a business team or an intimate couple understands why things got derailed, the more quickly and effectively they can figure out a new game plan to get back on track. The goals isn’t to allocate blame, it’s to glean as much learning from a mistake as possible.
Be careful: it’s critical that everyone follows the rule, “Talk about yourself. Ask about others.” So, for example, in our closeout meetings you’ll hear a lot of questions like, “What do you think contributed to this project getting behind schedule?” or “How could we reduce the scope of that feature so that we can get it done and into our members’ hands?”
I find it helpful to remember that the person that didn’t live up to expectations is also the person with the most information about what went wrong.
VP of Business Development
- Mistakes happen. Learning from mistakes takes time and effort.
- Build in a process for making time to stop, reflect, and change course.
- Avoid blame. And don’t forget, the person who messed up probably has the most information about what went wrong.