Lessons learned, how to effectively learn from experience? About BAR methodology

Authors: Zbigniew Waz

27.08.2017
I was looking for decent literature in the field of startup management and I was very disappointed. There was almost nothing in professional Polish literature at that time (and I dare to say that there is still very little) - and while all of the startups spoke, the management authorities were silent.

Since the "origin" of the startup was in Silicon Valley, my gaze wandered over the big pond. Through this gaze, for the first time I witnessed, first hand the differences between the Old European way the New American way to do things. What divides us? There is an Ocean of differences. First of all, the approach - Europe likes to theorize, while America simply embodies its idea and goes straight into earning money.

Regardless of where I searched, the conclusion was obvious and at the same time difficult to explain: the knowledge of startup management is exceptionally scant. Startup management requires completely new tools. Leaner, Simpler, faster, but above all, more effective tools.

Slim management, meaning from the beginning it was lean

Before I delve in, I have to explain a few - it would seem - basic concepts. First, Lean Management (Lean Manufacturing, the basis of Toyota’s production system), an approach that seeks to produce a certain value with the best possible use of resources. The essence of the concept is to identify and eliminate inefficiencies and non-optimized processes such as over-production, unnecessary traffic, waiting or over-processing. Today, a variety of automation systems can play a big role in reducing excess.

To clarify the essence of the matter, I have to resort to another acronym, SMART. The concept of S.M.A.R.T. is to help set goals correctly, which in turn increases the chance of achieving those goals. Setting goals in this way requires an in-depth analysis of what we want to achieve and thus achieving these goal will provide us with greater satisfaction, as this will be exactly what we really intended to do.

According to the acronym, the goals should be:

• Specific - its understanding should not be a problem, the formulation should be unequivocal and not leave room for loose interpretation,

• Measurable - so formulated to quantify the degree of achievement of the goal, or at least to make it possible to unambiguously "verify" its implementation,

• Achievable - a goal too ambitious undermines your belief in its achievement and thus, the motivation needed to execute the solution,

• Realistic - the goal should be an important step forward, but at the same time it must be of value to those who will implement it,

• Time-bound - the goal should have a well-defined time horizon in which we intend to achieve it.

The problem with SMART / Lean and similar startup tools is basically one: they help to focus on a goal or problem and solve it, but they skip the most important thing: how do I know I'm working on what I should be working on?

Poles not geese ... - a "treaty of good work" - bagatela from 62 years ago ...

Asking yourself what is the essence of startup management will always give you the same answer: EFFICIENCY. No matter what your startup wants to deliver, you have to do it effectively. Do a small experiment and ask the startup (and even yourself), what is praxeology? ... or whether they know the character, Tadeusz Kotarbiński. No… no wonder! Business has always stayed away from Polish science.

My humble opinion is that Tadeusz Kotarbiński should be recognized as the father of Polish startup theory and his portrait should hang in every accelerator ☺. He is the author of many philosophical works - including one that specifically addresses problems that are inherent in startups.

“The treatise on good work" is a pioneering text, first of its kind not only in Poland but in the world about praxeology - a science of functional and effective action. Without going into the details of the dissertation, what impressed me the most, was the reversal of a role that was always taught to me: no matter what you do - do it well. NONSENSE!

If you would like to get one valuable thing out of this lecture, here it is: First, do the right thing (determine what to do and why).

Only then do it in the right way (how)

Let's suppose you perform the task perfectly / you achieve a goal that is not necessarily right - read "you do not have to do it now or it is not critical to your startup (typical nice to have)". What can you expect?

At best, a feeling of doing great, unnecessary work ... And focusing on doing the right things - critical / important at the moment - you can make enough mistakes when performing these tasks, and still succeed.

Finally, I felt that I was finally close ...

Only who will properly slim and trim the essence of efficiency and divert it into a startup tool?

What is BAR?

BAR is a team / project management method that is an ideal hybrid of the two methods mentioned above: Lean and SMART. Before we start to work, we should estimate what knowledge and resources we have at a given moment. It gives us the opportunity to anticipate the risks and potential challenges based on the knowledge we derived from our past experience. BAR, in its essence, dictates that you have to look back and use the knowledge you already have (intranets, data, AAR reports, or colleagues) to draw conclusions and properly lead the current project.

However, the reason why BAR, despite its ingenious simplicity, is so difficult to implement in everyday work (at least the first few months) is because it’s hard to break thinking patterns and the temptation to cut corners

BAR forces a clear answer to the following questions:

• what do you want to do,

• why do you want to do that,

• how do you do it.

Also, in conjunction with the AAR tool, your startup will become a self-learning organization.

How to use it?

BAR enforces a constant recycling of knowledge and builds new knowledge, based on well-established wisdom.

What does it look like in practice?

1. Collect the team - BAR can be run throughout the team or only its core parts. It is crucial to engage the people who are most familiar with the competencies and knowledge of the team and the requirements of the project. Defining these critical points will allow team members to efficiently navigate the resources that an organization has.

2. How to carry out BAR? (Max 2 hours)

It will be based on some fundamental questions:

• What is the intended result?

• How do we measure success?

• What challenges await us?

• What did we learn from the past (including AAR reports)?

• What kind of knowledge do we need?

• What will help us increase the chances of success this time?

3. Make an overview of the any knowledge that will help you in this project: methodology, tools, skills, experience, and resources that you can reach through networking and relationships. Do not be afraid to ask and reach for these resources.

4. If the knowledge or individual experience you need is in the team, designate the people working on the project to gain knowledge and benefit from the experience of others.

5. When to use BAR? If you know that your organization is knowledgeable and will help you go through a new project, then use this methodology. If the project or topic is completely new in your organization, then this methodology will not do much because you will not have any expertise on board. You may still use BAR principles, but you will have to rely on the basic, general knowledge and experience you have gained at work.

BAR, or learning organization

Referring to the dictionary definition - "learning" is a cognitive process leading to modification of an individual's behavior under the influence of experience, which usually enhances the adaptation of the individual to the environment. " Learning is also a key skill that allows startups to survive. Why? It is one of the main drivers of effective action. And nothing is more important than finding an effective place in the market for startups – read: before funding ends.

In the second part of the article I will explain how my project survived through BAR and how to use BAR and AAR in real startups - these tools can also be slimmed down!