The Power of Partnership


handshakeI have been working with a company that is attempting to create repeatable innovation. So far, we have defined the innovation iteration (experiment, measure, decide, repeat) and have determined that we had the wrong approach for working with partners. These are the partners who provide services, software, hardware or ideas. The partners are not doing anything wrong; we just aren’t working with them in the right way.

The beginning of the innovation cycle is defining the vision/purpose of the experiment. What we failed to do was fit the right partner with the right experiment vision. It’s not that the partner did not offer the right thing, it is that we did not find the right partner personality fit for the experiment. The innovation lab is within a larger company, and we worked with partners from the perspective of the larger company… not the small, startup that the innovation lab really is. By doing that, we dealt with partners who expected defined process and solid direction. We don’t have that currently, so there was a miss on some of the innovation execution.

Below are some of the things we now keep in mind when looking for a partner, or to tell an existing partner about what we need from them. Even though these items were devised for a small startup organization, I think these ideas are valid expectations of a partner working with larger organizations… or even internal groups dealing with each other.

Manage yourself – The startup has limited resources – not only people but time. The startup is trying to do many things at once and doesn’t always have time to keep a vigilant eye on the partner. There are times when the management of a project is in auto-pilot mode. That’s when a trusted partner keeps moving in the decided direction, without prompting, and over-communicates the status.

Be flexible – Small organizations are nimble since they don’t “weigh much”. The nimbleness can be a benefit that allows the project to discover requirements on the fly and to change directions easily. By not expecting a rigid process or static direction, the partner can be more flexible when changes come to the project. Because, that’s what innovation is about.

Tell me what you can do for me – In the beginning of the partnership, the partner does not know a lot about the customer. But in a short period of time, the customer’s needs become clearer. Instead of telling me about the services or solution you sell, tell me what you can do for me. Don’t sell, explain your abilities and how those fit with the project vision, or the organization’s vision on the whole.

Tell me what I will get out of it – After learning more about each other, the partner should have a good idea of the benefits the customer should expect from the partner’s capabilities. The benefits need to be more tangible that soft, like cost savings as opposed to time savings. Also, improvements or better stability are welcome benefits.

What does success look like? – The partner is more familiar with its capabilities than the customer is, so the partner should be able to tell when their capabilities are starting to be used correctly to gain the benefit. So, the partner should tell the customer how to measure success, like better throughput or achieving a stated goal. The customer will also provide measurements of their own to describe when they are satisfied, but those measurements need to come after the partner defines their own.

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