Building the Scaling Community: Five Questions

We are obsessed with the notion of scaling. More specifically, “How do great companies scale great ideas across the enterprise?” One CEO calls it industrializing, meaning, “How do I move from ideas to pilots to industrialization, i.e., convert an idea into our ways of working, so the full enterprise is bringing innovative ideas to our customers at industrial scale?” The entire Bain Micro-battles System℠ is set up to scale—individual teams worry about moving from prototype to repeatable model, and the executive team is constantly asking, “How do we scale insights from individual micro-battles across the company?” We’ve set up a process to consider scaling at every point.

While the process is necessary, it’s not sufficient. We also have to obsess about people. Who are the individuals that help ideas scale? And in this context, we’ve landed on what we believe is a profound insight: To scale demands a scaling community. We argue that implicitly, all organizations are made up of three communities:

  1. The Agile/disruptive/innovator communities. These are your teams that are disrupting core products and services, business processes and even your business model. They are the talk of the town right now, as everyone wants more innovation. They generate new ideas and test prototypes.
  2. The expert/execution communities. These are the core engine of any great company and account for roughly 85% of your people and activity. They are your sales teams, your customer care teams, your manufacturing and logistics managers and so on. They are experts at what they do and they execute against established playbooks. Of course, they are learning as they go, and the firm benefits from continuous improvement, but the primary value added to your customers is flawless execution.
  3. The scaling communities. These are the groups that no one is talking about. They help take innovation and convert it into something that can be industrialized. They are the bridge between disruption and playbook. They are vital to scaling. They are ignored.
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In this blog, we want to discuss in more detail what we’re learning about this community, and we’ll do it through five questions.

  1. What is a scaling community? First, this community probably doesn’t exist in your company right now, and this is a problem. Second, we call this a scaling community because their job is to help your innovators figure out how to turn their innovations into something that the experts can run with. The scalers are a bridge. They need to make sure the innovation can be industrialized, or made huge and converted into the firm’s ways of working. They also need to make sure the expert community can take the innovation to customers. Third, we call this a community because we’re not talking about organization boxes. This is a set of people with common skills and approaches, but they’re not found together on an org chart. They are like-minded, but not co-located. They share skills and mindset, but not bosses or office space. They are probably isolated from one another and don’t know others like them exist. Remember, they are ignored as a community.
  2. What skills does the community share? Like any community, the scaling community is filled with people with diverse skills—together they bring the full tool kit to bear, but it is rare to find any one person with all the skills. At the highest level, the scaling community can help turn prototypes into Repeatable Models® and Repeatable Models into playbooks. This demands people that possess five core skills:
    • Builders of Repeatable Models. Individuals in this community can convert a prototype into a repeatable model. Prototypes require extreme specificity—we design them for specific customers and their specific needs. Repeatable Models demand transferability—they should apply to as many customers as possible. Prototypes are best as trees. Repeatable Models are best as forests. It is an art form to move from the specific design features of one prototype to the first principles of a repeatable model.
    • Creators of playbooks in the language of the expert community. Even if you have the repeatable model properly defined, you don’t always have something that can be used by the expert community. Experts demand clarity. Experts demand that you think through how the new repeatable model will fit with the rhythm of their day. Simply put, experts will expect you to amend their playbook to include your new ideas. Experts will expect you to use their language. You can’t roll out a new way of working with wholesalers unless you have translated the new way of working into the daily salesforce activity charts. The scaling community knows the language of expert playbooks and translates Repeatable Models into that language.
    • Teachers/educators. To scale, you must also understand how to create a training program to roll out the new playbook and the repeatable model. This requires the skills of the educator and teacher to decide the right sequence of training modules.
    • People developers who translate Repeatable Models into skills. As every coach knows, new playbooks demand new training schedules—the moves must be drilled into the team’s daily routines. Key moves must be explained and trained.
    • Experts at feedback systems and continuous improvement. Finally, playbooks are the beginning of a learning process, not the end. Scalers must also design the right feedback system so people can improve by doing.
  1. Who are the members, and how do I find them? While the community doesn’t exist per se, you probably do have individual members of the community scattered about. We’re now working on a major study with another firm to try to better understand the exemplars of this community and the behaviors that indicate their success. While it’s still early days, you are looking for a set of folks who seem to challenge everything. To say they’re a pain in the neck is often an understatement, but you realize that with their questioning, they’re trying to scale innovations. For example:
    • Team members who are constantly representing the voice of the experts, by arguing that you’re talking about innovation at too high a level. They interrupt these discussions asking, “That is all well and good, but what does Jane [a regional sales rep] do differently tomorrow? She’s already overstretched on her visits per day and everything we’re talking about seems to be taking more time, not less!”
    • Team members who constantly point out that the current pilot hasn’t actually passed a transferability test. They argue, “Yes, this worked in Germany, but it won’t work in Spain because the channel mix is different. We need to define the program in a way that you can stick to first principles, but adapt rollout to the local channel mix.” They’re always working toward solutions to transferability by moving from the specifics of the prototype to first principles that can be rolled out.
    • Team members who challenge whether you got the “unit of scaling” right. They argue, “Look, we’re never going to be able to roll this out at a retail level—our reps will never have enough time to meet with each retailer. But let’s think about this as a wholesale proposition—what can we do to spend time with our wholesalers so they can include this as part of their proposition to retailers?”
    • Team members who identify key bottlenecks, particularly around technology, and offer workarounds. They argue, “Look, if you’re expecting this to be solved through Project Red, I can tell you that won’t happen. It’s two years late and I’m not sure we’ll ever get it on line. But we can play around with our inventory app to add a couple of features and use that as the backbone. Our guys know how to use it and it will only be a couple more clicks.”

You know these folks and get frustrated by them, because they always seem to be questioning innovations. But actually, these are the folks who are obsessed with scaling and frustrated that you’re not taking scaling issues seriously. This is your community. Follow your head. When it hurts, you’re probably surrounded by members of the scaling community.

  1. How do I nurture individuals and how do I bring the community together? Our short answer here is to broadcast the problem widely, but assign the tasks to potential members narrowly. What do we mean? The idea of the three communities is very motivating and your organization will “get it.” They have been frustrated by the lack of innovation scaling and recognize the need for a group to act as the bridge between disruption and playbooks. And they will love that you’re going to focus on this. So, broadcast your ambition. Then, as folks come forward to help, give them very specific tasks on micro-battle teams. They should focus on one of two things: 1) turn a prototype into a repeatable model, or 2) turn a repeatable model into a playbook for the experts. As individual team members gain experience on these two tasks, start bringing them together as a community to share lessons. They should feel free to opt in or out of the community as they learn and to invite others. It will grow organically as word gets around.
  2. What do I do now? This is simple. Start micro-battles. Broadcast the need for a scaling community. Take volunteers and put them in micro-battles with the two tasks mentioned above. As they learn, bring the scaling community together to compare notes. Ask them to invite others. And tell their stories as additional heroes who help scale innovation.

Accelerate and Fund Scaling: Actions to Address the Hardest Change Issues

How companies can address the hardest change issues of the micro-battles journey.

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