Early Stage Lean: Running Weekly Decision Meetings

At Neo (recently acquired by Pivotal), we tried to put lean startup ideas into practice. Several years ago, Time Inc was our first client where we got to dream up and rigorously test new ideas over a period of several weeks. During that initial project, I realized that we needed a weekly ritual that helped us keep our feet to the fire and also be very explicit and intentional with our decisions and priorities (note: this is *after* we had rallied around a specific idea). In startups, time is your enemy, and these projects were no different.

Every week we had a meeting on the calendar to review our work, what we had learned, and whether we should “pivot, persevere, or kill” the idea.

The rough meeting agenda is:

  • Review our big questions and goals for the week (this is likely a small subset of all the risks and questions associated with the idea)
  • In order to answer those questions, we did X and learned Y (with more time on Y than X)
  • Take a step back from the weeds and think creatively about strategic or tactical things we might be missing or are challenged by (Z)
  • Given Y and Z, we think we should do ABC next

The meeting should only last as long as it needs to. In some weeks, the discussion is intense. In others, the meeting lasts all of 5 minutes because you are in the middle of an experiment.

The decision meeting is part presentation by the team and part conversation as a group. It is not meant to be a laundry list of everything the team worked on. Nor should it require creating polished documentation and artifacts that would distract the team from the actual work. The team can present their learnings however they wish, as long as it is coherent and concise. This means they need to take the time ahead of time to get their thoughts coherent and concise.

In our case, we always selected one person to be the ultimate pivot/persevere/kill decision maker, albeit with the input of everyone. The team was expected to come into the meeting with a point of view on the decision already formulated.

The decision maker should not be dictating tactics. That is for the team to decide. But a decision maker can force a direction: “I want to prioritize learning about X.” You also want the team to decide how long to spend on specific tactics, but a lot of guidance is needed with less experienced teams. It takes practice to do lean quickly, effectively and pragmatically.

 

I’ve had teams push back and claim that they were too busy, but you should never be too busy to take a step back and ask if you are working on the right things. Running fast in the wrong direction takes you further from your goal.

If you are in the very early stages of an idea, you might try these weekly meetings out. I think you will end up appreciating the rigor of the weekly transparency and deliberation.