Tracey Thompson

Product Design Leader, SF Bay Area

A steel framework is being constructed. There is a warm light and a lens flare.

Build a foundation for success with an assessment

All organizations make trade-offs to get where they are. To meet its near-term goals, your organization had to make tough choices about what to prioritize vs. defer, which best practices to follow vs. shortcuts to take, and when to invest in the team vs. make do. Your team has made progress, and that’s good. It’s also accrued tech, design, product, or organizational debt that’s standing in the way of their next success. Organizations evolve, and it’s not always obvious that what worked before isn’t working now.

Have you experienced any of these situations? Priorities change too quickly while product decisions are made too slowly. You see poor feature adoption or hear from your support team that customers find your product hard to use. New features are repeatedly delayed or are delivered full of errors. You see missed goals, poor outcomes, low morale, and burnout. These problems are signals that something needs to change.

Every team’s problem ecosystem is complex. It can be hard to identify the sources and strategize change when you’re deep in deadlines, short-staffed, or tackling risky new initiatives. Being close to the work means you may not see the stumbling blocks or see so many opportunities for change that it’s hard to know where to start. You need an outside perspective to help you address your blind spots and prioritize your next steps.

Lab Zero has helped a wide range of organizations navigate challenges of all shapes and sizes. We’ve learned that every struggling organization struggles in its own way. To be effective partners, we understand where you are and meet you there.  Cookie-cutter solutions don’t cut it. Valuable solutions have to be tailored to an organization’s context and address its goals, needs, and pains.

How? It starts with an assessment.

Learning is the foundation for successful change

Lasting change always starts with learning and discovery.

We don’t see assessments as a “test” that your organization passes or fails. We see it as an opportunity to learn what’s working and what matters to your team. Teams engage more directly and take ownership of change more quickly when that change is informed by their needs, and builds on their values.

The process of building this foundation can be formal, or informal, depending on your needs. An informal process might have a limited scope or be a more conversational process woven into day-to-day work and planning the team is already doing. A formal process might include an agreed-upon timebox, a schedule, and a presentation of our findings.

In either version:

  • We work quickly to understand your business, your product, your customers, and the impact of this work on your goals and revenue.
    • Why? Our goal is to deliver value to you, your teams, and your customers. We want to understand why you do what you do so we can understand what success looks like to you, and where your organization is not yet meeting it.
  • We interview your team members, leaders, and stakeholders 1:1 or in small groups to understand their goals, challenges, values, and needs.
    • Why? What help looks like might be different between an executive and an individual contributor. We want to be good partners with team members across your organization. We want everyone in your organization to see value from our work.
  • We observe how your teams work, including typical meetings and rituals, design reviews, and, ideally, interactions with customers. We work to understand your tools and processes.
    • Why? Most teams are too busy doing work to sit down and describe how it gets done. By observing how teams communicate, flow, and deliver, we can see where their blind spots are. We can leverage our outsider’s perspective to understand today’s opportunities and constraints and respond accordingly.
  • Most importantly, we want to understand what you’re doing well.
    • Why? We want to understand where your organization sees value from how it works today. We want to build on the best practices already in place and acknowledge your team’s success so far.

We’ve found this type of structured, holistic approach lets us go deeper/broader than just the obvious problems within a team. It enables us to connect with hidden context and catch opportunities the team might have overlooked. Having a strong sense of what matters to you, your team, and your customers helps us make informed choices about which leads to follow and what approaches to prioritize.

Our process’s formal and informal versions differ most in how we present our findings. Some teams prefer a deck, a scorecard, or a report. Others may be looking for something more conversational, like a working session or facilitated discussion. Either way, our goal is to read back to you what we’ve learned, what challenges we see, and what opportunities to discuss further.

Ideally, we’re not handing you a stack of recommendations and wishing you the best of luck in addressing them. We’ve found that organizations succeed most when we discuss opportunities and collaborate on determining what experiments to try and how to prioritize what interventions to make and when. We want to give guidance your team can build on rather than prescriptive solutions that might not be durable in the long run. This collaborative step in the process builds your team’s sense of ownership of the next steps and outcomes. Building this foundation together helps you and your team learn strategies to repeat this process as your business and processes evolve.

Coaching and partnership as a natural next step

A worker welds together steel beams. The sky is a warm gold color.

For some teams, this assessment and reporting process is enough. They may want to handle making changes independently or use the report to inform larger strategy and budget planning. In these scenarios, we make sure our work is clear so our clients have everything they need to move forward with what they’ve learned.

Other teams need hands-on help to turn the assessment into near-term value and systemic, sustainable solutions. These teams are looking to learn new processes and techniques. Here we can be coaches or experts who lead by example while working alongside your team. If a team has not yet staffed a leadership role or is too short-staffed to facilitate the change themselves, our experts are able to lead change as part of the engagement.

We see partnering with your team to fulfill your organization’s unique opportunities for success as a natural extension of the assessment work.

As partners, there are two types of opportunities we help your team take on:

  1. Deliver near-term value
  2. Address systems and root causes

Delivering near-term value

These opportunities are centered around the idea of quick wins and include things like addressing a pain point that’s preventing the team from working effectively, identifying and prioritizing a feature that will make a big impact for users without a large development effort, or creating a process that reduces duplication of effort.

Our goal is to build momentum, relieve pain, and reduce drag.

Addressing systems and root causes

These opportunities are intended to address larger or longer-range challenges. Opportunities here might include working to better understand user needs so your organization can make more strategic choices or reduce the time it takes to design a feature. It might include taking on tech debt. It might include building trust, alignment, and collaboration.

We don’t have to wait till the near-term value opportunities are addressed to start addressing these. Ideally, we’re tackling these in every activity we do. We’ll get that valuable feature out the door while modeling effective collaboration or learning that new tool or process.

Our goal here is to address unsustainable patterns and help the team choose ways of working that engage and empower them.

Continuous learning is a part of our process

As your organization learns new ways of working, your needs will change. Just as we build to learn in software development, we take time to understand the impact of our actions, learn from them, and adjust our priorities and actions accordingly. This might be after hitting a major milestone or at a regular interval. We likely won’t need to be as thorough as the initial assessment, but we will want to look at what’s changed and where we can be most valuable next.

Our goal is always to learn, collaborate, prioritize what’s important, and deliver what’s valuable.

Setting your team up to own their future success

Some organizations are hesitant to work with outside partners for fear that the expertise will disappear as soon as the contract ends. We work to ensure your team is building lasting expertise and taking ownership of their opportunities for growth. We want your organization to be able to perform this assessment → opportunity → action cycle on their own so that they may continue to build sustainable ways of working.

To us, an expert is a teacher, not a silo.

Partner with us to build your foundation

If you want to learn more about what partnering with us to understand and tackle challenges looks like, check out a few of our past client engagements and blog posts:

Don’t let your challenges stand in the way of your next success. With our help, you’ll better understand your organization’s needs and identify opportunities to set your team up for success.

Get in touch today!

Photo credits:

Dakota Roos on Unsplash

Jason Richard on Unsplash