Imagine you’ve just taken on a new project, whether it’s at work, your business, or community group. There are going to be a lot of players on the team and everyone wants to make their mark. We usually have limited resources to achieve our goals and often have to ask for more to get the job done. Ok maybe we just want to ask for more to make our lives easier. Regardless, running into nos is a common occurrence in any resource constrained environment, which is almost all of them.
When I eventually run into opposition for a request, I’ve discovered an approach that works almost every time, which is to run an experiment. An example might be that I want to try out a new vendor to offload some work for a project. It’s going to have an expense and the budget is already allocated, a quick no is thrown in my face. So how can an experiment allow me to try this vendor?
Make it cheap
The goal of an experiment just like from your basic science class is to test a hypothesis by collecting data. So I ask myself how I can do that as inexpensively as possible. My hypothesis in this example might be something like, “We hypothesize that this vendor can complete this part of a project in less time than our team can and at a lower cost.” So instead of giving a vendor a large chunk of work, come up with something that is small or even free as a proof of concept to win more business later. If it doesn’t cost very much, you are much more likely to get permission to try it because the risk is reduced. Cost can be money, time, or some other resource, whatever is most important to your team.
Be sure to learn something
An experiment’s goal is to get validated learning, not necessarily complete a lot of work. Scope the experiment to learn something that could be applied at a larger scale. In our example we might see how much work a vendor could get done for a certain cost and time. Try adding up what your internal team costs for the same amount of time. If the vendor is less, then you start to have a pretty good argument, especially if that saved time could be used on something more valuable. You might learn that the vendor is going to take too long, or their quality is too low.
Learning is a valuable currency because it can encourage you to move forward or prevent you from running into a trap. It doesn’t matter if the answer you get isn’t what you want. You learned and can take action with that information to save you a lot of potential mistakes in front of you. Just get the learning in a way that is measured and can be clearly communicated to your team.
Now that you’ve discovered something new, first of all document it. Ever seen a scientist without a journal or detailed log of all of their experiments? What you learned may be useful to the next team. You may forget it a few months from now. Someone will ask you about the topic in the future. Now you can point them to your treasure trove of experimental learning. As you accumulate these results, they are going to be treasure I promise you. This increases your credibility and documents why you took the actions you did. Each experiment will inform you how to move forward with confidence and act as a guide for others that join your team or examine your results.
Open the door for the next request
After you do a handful of these, your future requests are going to be predictable. Your resource holders are going to be more likely to grant your requests because they know you won’t waste resources. If you’re the one managing the resources, then you can place more confident allocations because you have the data from cheap experiments to tell you what is going to work before taking larger risks.
I ❤ science, and it works in business too.