The Art of the Stop for the Entrepreneur

I’m currently working on a new book in my Project Management and Entrepreneurship line (aka Books on Management). In it, I’m going to help Entrepreneurs and Small Business managers understand the relationship between strategic management, operating their business and project management and how to create a business plan that helps you steer and run your company.

Whenever I work on a new book, I start seeing other ideas for books and articles. In my book on busting writer’s block (Writer’s Block Demolition: Finding the Time to Write, Keep Writing and Finish Your Book), I explain that there is no such thing as inspiration — only a willingness to be open to the ideas that are floating in the aether. As I’m writing (especially one where I choose to research),  I’m opening myself up to different ideas and so it’s inevitable that I stumble on new ones. (One of my problems is learning not to listen … too many ideas can be as destructive as too few!).

I’ve just encountered such an idea and it’s been strong enough to make me question the theme of my book.  Fortunately, due to an accident, I’m still at the design stage so it’s no big deal. In any case, regardless of the results of this rethink, I want to record my thoughts on what is an important concept. (Which is an odd way of apologizing for a high level of writing complexity in this post compared to my preferences).

The concept has come from the title of an article by Claire Diaz-Ortiz on LinkedIn called (funnily enough) “The Art of the Stop“. In that article, Ms. Diaz-Ortiz focuses on four reasons for stopping (her interests seem to be in the area of personal development). It got me thinking about the concepts behind The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reis and the whole Lean Startup movement. This was one of the books I read while thinking through the idea behind my next book and represents what I feel is one of the big mistakes that Entrepreneurs make — falling in love with their ideas. I also left VProz Inc. earlier this year. VProz was a Project Management consulting organization that focused on innovation and strategic project management.

In any case, I shoved the three ideas together and realized that Project Management has a lot to teach Entrepreneurs and managers about “The Art of the Stop” and that the Lean Startup movement is missing a major opportunity. In project management, one of our key processes is closing. After all, a project is a temporary endeavour and so it needs to come to a stop.

There are three main concepts that apply:

  1. Think ahead
  2. Know when to quit
  3. Learn from Success & Failure

The basic concept behind the Lean Startup is the concept of the test. That is you test each step of the product build/business development process and thus build your business incrementally. For anyone in the software business think RAD (or incremental development) applied to generic product and business development. Each test is intended to improve the end result (or discard the change).

One of the weaknesses of the Lean Startup movement is a lack of planning ahead. Tests appear and are run on an “as we think of it” basis (this is Agile influences at work). There really is no pre-planning involved and the result can be a lack of efficiency.  Somewhat inevitable when your latest brainstorm wipes out all the work that was done previously. Project Management is based on balancing efficiency, effectiveness and oversight.  Pre-planning your efforts is at the core of this discipline. By applying the concepts of overall planning to the sprints (or tests in this terminology), there should be an increase in efficiency while maintaining (or almost maintaining) effectiveness.

But it also involves defining what needs to be done when a test is completed and a formal change process for applying the learning from the test. And defining criteria for the success of the test and the criteria for the results of the test (if the test says the hypothesis was bad, the test still succeeded).

One of those criteria must indicate when to stop running tests and when to walk away from the whole idea. Unfortunately, a little examined issue with the Lean Startup movement is the courage required to admit your idea has failed and you need to walk away. Unfortunately, failure does happen and beloved ideas must sometimes be abandoned. This is true at the individual test, test stream and overall levels. Riding the project (or business) from Hell into the ground is an all too frequent condition.

Finally, there is only one way to snatch success from failure — you have to learn from it. There is an old saying that you learn from your mistakes. But it’s only true if you make a concerted effort to learn from them.  And that means you need to learn from your successes as well. Project Management calls that the “Lessons Learned”.

These three elements form the true “Art of the Stop” and it is an art that needs to be incorporated in every business.

Posted in Business, Entrepreneurship, Project Management Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,