Working at a startup gives you fresh perspective on what concepts like “strategy” really mean. Having spent most of my career as a consultant, much of my work has informed corporate and product strategy.

Living, breathing and executing on a strategy is a very different thing. Quite early on I experienced a conflict in thinking. On the one hand I knew we needed a clear business and product strategy. On the other, I knew the learning we would make by experimenting and iterating would push us in new directions. This is one of the most powerful outcomes of adopting agile methods of managing a team. What I soon realised is that these are compatible: a business needs both clear direction and agility.

Working on the sharp edge of delivering products shows you that strategy is not an event it’s a process. A consultant or a founder doesn’t hand over a document and a strategy is born. Markets, customers and technology move too quickly for strategy to remain static in a document.

There are some key decisions a business needs to make early on. What is the vision for the company? How will it differentiate and where will it compete? A team should all align around these choices and drive in the same direction. But when in full swing of designing, building, testing and iterating – strategy becomes something that is embodied by the team. Together, you’re on a shared journey of discovery and learning.

Our vision for the company didn’t change. Yet our assumptions of what customers want, how they use our products and what has “value” certainly did change. As a team we were reacting to our customer’s needs, to new capabilities and competitive advantages. These things are transient and cannot be thought out in advance.

The key to success is being able to define a strategy and execute on it quickly. Learning, discovering and iterating along the way.

Picture Credit: Jungwoo Hong

Also published on Medium.