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Accelerate: Compress Lead Times

About Scaling Edges: Key design principles

In contrast to the 2-3 year planning cycles used at many firms, which allow initiatives to ‘stay the course’ for far too long before being reevaluated or rerouted, edges should use external feedback and short, iterative cycles to quickly improve and test products. Using an agile development methodology helps the team learn faster, and ultimately, compresses the lead time between investment and return.

Q: How do you start?
A: Learn faster to move faster

The learning process needs to be redesigned in order to compress lead times. We suggest three design principles to improve performance:

• Iterate in 6-12 month windows, not 2-3 year cycles

Traditional corporate projects require the creation of 2-3 year strategic plans and detailed blueprints. This approach, however, limits the ability to act nimbly and address market needs as they arise. Initiatives instead should employ 6-12 month operating windows. This shortened timeline creates more opportunities to capture feedback and pivot operations to better address market needs.

• Determine the minimum level of effort to test the edge

Companies often feel they need to wait until a product or service is “perfect” before testing it in the market. This approach, however, means they only collect market feedback after significant time and money has been sunk into development. By testing a product earlier in the development cycle, the team can gather much more detailed feedback at closer intervals. In turn, this feedback can be used to quickly refine or change course as needed.

• Engage the ecosystem to rapidly gather feedback

As previously described, edges should form extensive external networks in order to minimize investment. These networks, however, are also great sources of feedback since they are actively engaged in the edges’ development. Gathering feedback from these sources can also deepen relationships and lead to greater collaboration down the road.

Q: How do you mobilize the right resources and participants?
A: Reflect more to move faster

When structuring the roll-out of an initiative, it is important to set up frequent check-points when feedback will be collected and incorporated. These will provide additional opportunities for reflection while allowing the edge to maintain rapid development cycles.

• Stage deployment of initiatives

Many organizations launch initiatives as monolithic, one-off programs. This approach is extremely risky as it means the entire initiative is vulnerable to market uncertainties. Instead, staging the roll-out of an initiative creates more opportunities to collect and incorporate feedback into subsequent iterations.

• Encourage vertical and horizontal cascades

As an edge initiative is launched, it is likely to generate momentum within the organization, which can manifest in both horizontal and vertical cascades. Horizontal cascades refer to different business units or divisions that replicate edge pursuits, while vertical cascades refer to different organizational levels that replicate edge pursuits. These cascades should be encouraged to quickly create buzz and generate feedback from internal parties.

• Establish feedback loops with external ecosystem to drive rapid and continuous improvement

In addition to collecting feedback from internal cascades, formal feedback loops should be established for external ecosystem participants. Establishing frequent, formal feedback loops will ensure that learning is captured and incorporated.

Q: How do you use disruptive technologies to grow?
A: Move from dating to relationships

As an ecosystem matures, the connections between participants should move from “dating” (short-term and transactional) to “relationships” (long-term and trust-based). This process can be expedited by leveraging technologies such as shared platforms, which remove friction and enable unique forms of collaboration.

There are several other tools which can further expedite relationship-building. Gamification techniques and reputation mechanisms, for example, can incentivize participants to interact more frequently and increase collective awareness of who is contributing… and who is freeriding. These mechanisms help build trust between participants, which in turn will make the ecosystem more valuable for everyone.

Q: How do you measure success to drive improvement?
A: Focus on trajectory, not position

It is important not only to measure ecosystem performance at a point in time (“the position”) but also to track its long-term performance trajectory (“the trajectory”).

In particular, it is important to track two metrics which help reveal the long-term trajectory of an ecosystem:

• Collaborative Problem-solving

As an ecosystem matures, participants should begin tackling increasingly complex problems together. The level of problem complexity and the degree of collaboration between participants are indicators of the overall health of the ecosystem. If posted problems frequently go unanswered, for example, it may be that the ecosystem is not capable or engaged enough to tackle them.

• Improvements to participant capabilities

If participants benefit from the ecosystem, they are more likely to help with the problems of other members as well. This reciprocity deepens relationships between participants and collectively advances the performance of the entire ecosystem. It is important to track the performance of all ecosystem participants over time; in a healthy, vibrant environment, all participants should be advancing from the collaboration.

Case studies

Company command grows the right way.
Reflect more to move faster.
SpineConnect: Using trust to sell tools
Move from dating to relationships.

Company Command Grows The Right Way

Case study


In 1999, Nate Allen, Tony Burgess and Pete Kilner reflected upon their experiences as Captains in the U.S. Army. The three recalled the challenges as new army leaders, with limited working knowledge about how to manage the 50-300 personnel within their company. Despite training at West Point Academy, many skills needed for the position were learned on-the-job.

To address this problem, Allen, Burgess and Kilner envisioned a site that would allow company commanders past and present to share knowledge, learning, and questions and develop new military leaders. The next year, they launched an online professional forum, called Company Command (CC).The story of Company Command offers several insights into how an edge can maximize and capture learning.

First, the Company Command founders staged an iterative approach to the site’s launch. The team began by hosting Company Command externally, on civilian servers. By beginning outside of the military, Company Command built trust with participants that it was not controlled by ‘the man.’ In 2002, the site was gifted to the U.S. Army. Company Command had scaled significantly and core leadership recognized the site’s value with the impending invasion of Iraq to help commanders learn and react to new types of urban warfare. In 2004, the team transitioned Company Command to the Army’s Single Sign On system on Department of Defense servers. Switching over to secure sign-on ensured that sensitive information could be shared, making the site even more valuable for participants.

In addition to staging, Company Command founders encouraged both horizontal and vertical cascades that resulted from the site’s launch. As the site grew in popularity, other levels recognized the value in a shared platform. In 2001, Platoon Leader was launched as an equivalent learning portal for junior leaders in the Army. Simultaneously, Company Command founders utilized its network of “point-men” to roll-out the launch horizontally across commanders in different arms of the military. These cascades allowed Company Command to test ideas and progress the team’s thinking.

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SpineConnect: Using Trust To Sell Tools

Case study


Most surgeons rely on peer feedback when selecting which medical devices to use. However, in 2000, Scott Capdeveille recognized that medical device manufactures were failing to address this need, and as a result, were struggling to effectively communicate the benefits of new products they introduced to surgeons.

To address this, Capdeveille founded SpineConnect, an online platform for spinal surgeons. SpineConnect served as an online community of practice where surgeons could discuss innovative procedures and new devices from manufacturers and share case studies of their use. Ultimately, these conversations allowed medical device manufacturers to tap into expert user-feedback on their products and gain an effective channel for marketing to the surgeons who use their products.

To date, SpineConnect has successfully signed on 1,400 (more than 40%) of certified spine surgeons in the United States, and 74% of these surgeons have indicated that suggestions from SpineConnect have altered their surgical plans. In addition, Syndicom has also launched TraumaConnect and ArthroplastyConnect, which connect trauma surgeons and orthopedic surgeons respectively. Syndicom’s share platforms allow users to build long-term relationships and engage in trust-based interactions, which in turn, create a great deal of value for all participants.

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