Have you ever been frustrated by how long it sometimes takes to get things done? Us too. In this article, we’ll explore what it means to move forward fast in large organisations, what mistakes you could be making along the way and we’ll be celebrating the doers among us that are brave enough to take the plunge.
Moving fast is about making decisions fast and getting things done. Sounds simple but it’s not. Some of us are very decisive and like to get things done quickly. Some of us like to think things through in detail and analyse it from every possible angle before committing to anything. And if you’re part of a small team that has permission to move ahead and get things done then that’s great news. But making fast decisions in large organisations can be much more difficult. Hierarchies abound, your remit might be limited, the list of people you need to ask for permission first could be long. The more heavily regulated the business is (think financial services or healthcare) the more hoops you’re most likely have to jump through from a legal perspective. Reputations for large organisations matter more than ever making mistakes unlikely to be taken lightly.
Then there are the office politics of stakeholder management. All sorts of ‘Department Directors’ and ‘Heads of’ that would like to be consulted so they can add their comments and feel part of the process.
These are just some of the reasons why moving fast in large organisations often fails. Despite the lip service given to ‘innovating at speed’, unless a team has truely got the permission to move forward fast it can take a lot more time and resources to get things done. For instance, trying to organise 20 diaries over summer holidays or having weekly conference calls with 15 people who have issues with their phone lines or can’t dial in are just a few more possible roadblocks that don’t help in moving things forward fast.
The key is to onboard key senior stakeholders first and to get their permission to act fast with a small team. You need to be good at working the floors (ie good with people) and focus on getting the right people involved at the right time. We found that running one day problem solving workshop with senior stakeholders is an effective way of onboarding and consulting senior stakeholders fast. The reality is that ‘Department Directors’ and ‘Heads of’ are usually great at strategy and vision, but not so much at the detailed every day delivery (try to get a ‘Head of Departement’ to organise a room and parking for more than two people without help from a secretary or assistant and you know what we mean). We find problem-solving workshops help set the context and to prioritise what needs to be done and who should be doing it. Once that has been established in a structured way you can then assemble the different teams necessary to make progress. Remember, the senior stakeholders have all been consulted and made the decision themselves and are now expecting rapid progress.
Then it’s all about making it happen. How to do that best will vary from company and project requirements. You could be running design sprints, lean UX or content strategy workshops. It could be running an in-house innovation incubator or think tank.
You also need to carefully assemble the right team. It’s crucial to create a really safe, but ambitious environment of ‘can-do’ and courageous people. When you’re problem-solving you need people who are unafraid to call it as it is but are also able to take people on a journey. You want brave problem-solvers, great communicators and infectious energy. You also need an experienced facilitator or project manager that keeps everyone on the straight and narrow to meet deliverables and timings.
One of the key things to learn when moving fast is that you’ll be making mistakes faster than before and you need to start getting comfortable with dealing with mistakes. That’s something that doesn’t come easy to most of us and it can be very deflating and inhibitive. Frankly, it can feel like you are on a roller-coaster. Sometimes the energy is high at the beginning of a project, the team is excited and great ideas are flowing freely, one idea gets chosen and gets implemented fast only to find out that the solution wasn’t right. Or there’s a regulatory barrier no-one expected. Or users don’t like the solution. Or a partner or competitor comes down heavy on you with legal threats.
It is as times like this you have to get used to feeling uncomfortable and to deal with and learn from mistakes. Dealing with mistakes is as important as learning from them. We often say it’s great to learn from mistakes, but no-one really tells you how to deal with them. There is a definite emotional impact when making an unintentional mistake, especially if it’s perceived to be a serious one. In that situation, you need the person in your team with a calm head and nerves of steel that can analyse a situation and take the emotion out of it and see the situation for what it really is. This person needs to give everyone the confidence to find an alternative solution and not beat themselves up about it.
It’s also important that the senior stakeholders who you’ve onboarded at the outset understands the process and doesn’t shut the team down if it makes mistakes. It comes with the territory. Mistakes will happen when you move fast. It’s how you deal with them that matters. This is also the moment where you hope senior stakeholders step in to offer supportive advice and encouragement rather than ‘you should have seen this coming’ or ‘I told you so’. Words such as ‘we all screw up’ and ‘don’t get stuck in fear’ can help unlock a team’s progress and enables the right conditions for future success.
In order to avoid costly making mistakes, one of the most effective tools and requirements to moving forward fast is to kill bad ideas early. This requires having a clear and fast process in place to test ideas on actual users quickly and to then decide whether it’s worth moving them forward.
How you do that will depend on the type of project or product you’re working on, but if you’re building a completely new product we favour the design sprint process which requires you to create a working prototype in 2-3 days and test it on real-life users. If it’s more of a reiterative process, then lean UX might the better way to go.
When you get in the full swing of moving forward fast your team will start falling into a rhythm. Watch out though as there is a small danger that your new process can turn into a bit of a mass production line of new ideas that become a bit stale.
Make sure you keep your team energised by celebrating successes and giving people the space to experience different environments to keep ideas flowing. Your agile war room can turn into a bit of a groundhog day environment. So make sure you clear out the space. Change it (even if it’s just a new plant or poster). Go somewhere different and keep the team inspired to come up with new ideas. Don’t get stuck in a boardroom all day. Go for a walk, spend a day away in a creative place, celebrate success with a picnic in a park, meet new people or try something new you haven’t done before whenever you feel the team needs a new boost of energy.
A study polling 7,600 employees across 16 countries found that people who work in spaces with natural features reported 15% higher levels of overall wellbeing and expressed feeling 6% more productive and 15% more creative at work.
Find out more about the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace.
Having worked for many large organisations here’s what we have learned that works to get things done fast:
The most important bit about moving forward fast is to get started. We know from experience that it takes courage to take the first step. And remember, you will make mistakes. You will learn a lot. You’ll wish you did things differently. But most importantly, you will have made progress fast.
So here’s to the doers among us that are brave enough to take the plunge. Here’s to moving forward faster!