Last week, my friend-tor Janice Fraser led the President’s Leadership Workshop at the White House. She asked me to help facilitate and here is what I learned.

Dynamic Duo - Janice and Jason Fraser

Sharing Lean Startup with staffers

Lean Startup is a methodology with roots in Silicon Valley startups, but it has proven to be successful in big business, healthcare, education, and more. I’ve “spoken” at Lean Startup, and been a fan since I first learned about it.

Lean Startup is all about being more efficient with time and money, so seeing its impact on all levels of government is exciting.

The workshop format

Around 30 White House staffers attended. Nine participants got one minute each to explain their program idea to the group. They quickly formed groups of three to develop each idea. Each group followed a series of exercises to:

  • determine their riskiest assumption
  • create a quick experiment to validate (or invalidate) that assumption
  • establish what a successful experiment would look like (before they began)
  • decide how will they measure that success
  • set a date to review the results

The Eisenhower building is where White House staffers work.

3 new things I learned from my second White House visit

1. Start Small

A misconception is that government wants to keep doing things the way they always have, but that hasn’t been my experience. These staffers are all about leveraging better processes to save time and money while delivering more effective programs.

That being said, there was concern their teams would see this new process as “risky”. Janice explained that moving forward without testing your assumptions was way riskier than running lots of small experiments.

Take away #1

Starting with small experiments and sharing those successes (and failures along the way) is the best method for proving this process can deliver better results.

Janice and the rest of our team (I'm behind the camera)

2. Buy-in can be more important than a great idea

The workshop ended with an exercise called fishbowl where participants come up to have a conversation on their insights. Participants loved the process, but still needed buy-in from leadership and (maybe more importantly) from their department teams.

Take away #2

A good idea with buy-in has a better chance of succeeding than a great idea with no support.

3. Begin with the end in mind

It’s important to determine what success looks like and how you’ll measure the success. You likely already knew that, but it’s just as critical for you to determine success metrics and specific goals before you run the experiment.

Success should be determined by something you can actually measure. So, determine the metric you’ll measure. (ex: number of sign-ups, hours of use, number of purchases)

Get specific with your measurements. Rather than saying you want “a few” positive results, specify “3 or more”.

It’s too tempting after you’ve run the experiment to say “…sure. I guess two could technically be ‘a few’”.

If you wait til the end of the experiment, it’s too easy for you to bring your own bais. You’ve already sunk time into this experiment, so you want it to be a success.

Take away #3

Set success metrics and specific goals first, then run your experiment to see if you are right.

Outside the security checkpoint with Kevin

Closing thoughts

Frameworks, exercises, and patterns are helpful, but my biggest take away was more of a reminder. Getting your ideas out of your head to share with others is powerful. It’s the best way I know to collaborate better, get buy-in, and decide together how to succeed - faster.

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