The Value Checkup

With the previous post as context…

You’re #4: Broad Experience, and Experience in the Industry

I start here because the path is clearer in this case. I recommend talking to people to attempt to validate or invalidate the business model. Because of your background and experience, you know who to talk to. I recommend asking questions like: “Does this make sense?” “Does this fit within our system?” “What would it take to make this work?”. You want a variety of perspectives. You want to avoid failing to consider alternatives and issues outside your normal perspectives.

If you’re pretty much convinced that the business doesn’t fit together and is destined for roadblocks, disappointments, maybe failure, you need to start a conversation with someone who has power to make decisions about this business. Get their ok for you to spend some time investigating the issues. Maybe this is “off the clock”, maybe this is part of your job. The specific goal of your investigation is to raise your confidence level from “Does this work?” to “I have the confidence in my beliefs on this issue that I’m willing to stand out from the crowd and ask some questions, maybe difficult questions.” (Or maybe your investigation convinces you the plan should work.)

After some more work and discussions, you may want to negotiate with the decision maker for a time and dollar budget for your investigation, negotiate the effects on your existing projects, negotiate that no matter what you find, that you’ll still have a place in the organization. Negotiate how open or vague you will need to be as you talk with other people. Negotiate whose heads-up or OK is required on important issues. It’s important to set expectations. You might find something very ugly, you might find something very valuable.

You’re #1, 2, or 3 (from the previous post)

In this situation, I recommend that you work informally at first, and with a goal of educating yourself, to collect the basic facts, and identify knowledgeable people. Your basic stance when you talk to people is “I want to understand how …”. I always use a starting point of “Do you have a few minutes?”

If asked why you’re doing this, I would say “I’m working on … but when I look as the bigger picture, I find that I can’t understand it. I figure I’ll be more effective if I understand the big picture.” At first your goal should be to learn, not to influence.

At some point after many discussions, you’ll talk with someone with power, maybe say “I’ve been talking with a variety of people related to this project, and I think it’s possible that … (state the possible problem)”. “I don’t feel that I should spend more time on this without getting an OK from management.” Describe what you see and perhaps they will tell you that it is potentially worthwhile to spend more time on this.

This conversation may evolve to the negotiations described above, maybe in other directions.

I want to be clear what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to validate or invalidate a specific business model, customer segments, value propositions; all the elements of the business model and business model canvas. I’ve called this a value checkup. This can be difficult, but I believe it is much easier than discovering a business model, as is almost always the case in a startup. If you and your organization decide that the business model doesn’t work, is invalid, then you have the harder problem of discovering a business model that does work, maybe even discovering the best business model for the situation. This is a much more complex and difficult situation, but at least you know sooner rather than later and perhaps have the opportunity to discover a working business model.

At this point it becomes too complicated for me to provide advice. You might decide that the situation is different that you initially perceived and other people are working on it. You might become a behind-the-scenes change agent. You might become an in-the-spotlight change agent. You might decide that the organization cannot be changed but you want to remain with the organization. You might decide that you should update your resume.

Being part of a project that has a business model that doesn’t work is a tough spot, but I believe this is the reality in many cases. If you don’t perceive the problem, the chances of solving the problem are very slim.