In times of uncertainty, learning teams will thrive. This is a recurring theme in Eric Reis’ 2011 book The Lean Startup. Technology companies and new businesses all over the world are taking the teachings of Eric Reis and applying it to the way they work.
Today, uncertainty exists not just in small businesses but companies of all sizes, and a university admissions department is no exception. Universities can no longer guarantee that they'll get a good volume of applications from which they can select the students that they believe will get the most from their programmes and go on to be great ambassadors for the institution.
In this blog post, I’ll explain how we run our development cycles at FULL FABRIC and discuss how you could adopt the teachings of The Lean Startup to inform your university’s admissions process.
At FULL FABRIC, our development week starts with a lively one-hour planning session. We confirm our goal for the week by asking what problem are we trying to solve for our customers?
This leads into a discussion of where we are now and a more detailed dive into the changes we plan to make to our software in order to achieve our goal. By the end of this meeting, everyone has a clear understanding of what needs to be done and why.
During the week, we take 15 minutes out of every day to have a quick team catch up, looking at what we each worked on yesterday, what will we each work on that day and if there is anything standing in the way of progress towards our goal. The purpose of this meeting is to uncover blocks and figure out as a team how these blocks can be removed as quickly as possible.
At the end of the week, we review the development work in the context of our original goal. To finish, we run a retrospective. The retrospective is intended as a chance to discuss what’s working well and what isn’t.
Retrospectives have proved crucial in helping us improve our processes. We’ll typically discuss the week around three themes: start doing, stop doing and keep doing. We’ll end with a list of actions: things that we all agree to do differently in the next week.
To translate this approach to university admissions, start by doing three key things.
Innovate by focusing on your customer
“What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget?”
Eric Reis, The Lean Startup
Before building a process, first put the focus back on your customer and think about what problem you are trying to solve for them.
Knowing which customer you’re focusing on will help you tailor your messages and conversations and think about how to connect with that specific group of people. As a team, you may even find that collaborating and applying empathy allows you to come up with new methods to reach certain groups you haven’t tried before.
Once you have this information, you can build a process using the strategies that you’ve come up with. After dividing up the responsibilities, choose a time frame (e.g. two weeks) and schedule a retrospective team meeting for the end of that period.
Measure your progress
“Begin with a clear hypothesis that makes predictions about what is supposed to happen.”
Eric Reis, The Lean Startup
When building your plan, you need to have a clear idea of what you think will happen as a consequence of applying your strategies. The only way to be confident about the outcome is to measure something meaningful.
If your responsibility is to connect with local prospects, then you may think about looking at the number of applications started by people living in the city or country your university is located in. Use your admissions software to extract the metric(s) that allow you to measure your progress over your defined time frame.
Never stop learning
When your team meets at the end of the cycle, first look at the metrics you selected to see if or how they evolved. Discuss whether they’ve changed in the way you anticipated when you made your plan.
The next part of the meeting should be the retrospective. This should be an open and honest discussion where the mutual goal of your team is to learn what worked well and what didn’t.
For example, one person may say: "I found scheduling events too close together meant I did not have time to follow-up by email with each person I met". As an action for the next week, you could agree for that person to schedule their attendance at events with enough time between to ensure all follow-ups are done.
In that following cycle, you could measure the number of applications started by those with follow-ups after an event and the number started by those who had no follow-up after an event.
Running this build-measure-learn cycle in small timeframes throughout your admissions year allows you to learn quickly and thereby continually tweak and improve your process.
It’s no longer necessary to wait until a whole admissions round is completed to look back, compile reports and make an assessment after the fact of what did not seem to work. Instead, you can use metrics and build experiments to learn how to optimise your processes to achieve your goals.
Whether you work at a startup or a well-established university, there’s always room for learning and improvement.
Have you been influenced by The Lean Startup? Let us know by leaving a comment or tweeting us.