Adventures in Intrapreneurship- 8 Tips

I’ve recently done a few workshops for ‘intrapreneurs’, folks at existing businesses who are rolling out new products and new ways of doing things. It’s an important job. In fact, if their space is innovation-intensive it may literally be the most important job.

Yet most intrapreneurs I meet are paddling upstream. If you’ve worked in such an environment, the reasons are probably familiar to you:  intrapreneurship-getting-started1) the gravitational pull of safe, existing lines of business are hard to pull even a little resource away from and 2) existing habits are hard to break, especially when they keep us from having to think too much or question our productivity.

The solutions I’ll offer here work and routinely create better outcomes for intrapreneurs. The honest caveat is that they don’t work automatically; they take work.

If you’re inclined towards slides, let me provide that for you before we go any further:

Applied Intrapreneurship

I’ve found executives launching new projects have to spend a lot of time managing upward, explaining why their intrapreneurial venture isn’t going to take shape like established parts of the business. The customer development framework is one handy tool for working through this- Management’s used to just executing and hoping for the best (jumping forward to ‘Customer Creation’) but you know you’re much more likely to get the best outcome by actually doing Discovery and Validation to see if you have an investable idea. The diagram below summarizes:


Problems & Propositions

They also spend time on more discrete subtler problems. Here are 8 of the top problems I see paired with material I’ve been using with intrapreneurial teams (where applicable).

The Business Unit or Project Manager

1 Management wants to throw tons of resources at this and wants a long-term plan. Try to articulate the fact that while there’s uncertainty now, you don’t need to consume a lot of resources and there’s a definite structure to what you’re doing (see customer development diagram above). See also the items below for a specific alternative you can propose.
2 We have an established way of doing things- I need an equally structured alternative to get buy in on new methods like design thinking, Lean Startup, and customer development. Yes, you probably do. There’s excitement about these techniques but the body of practice is still emerging. For a structured program, try STARTUP SPRINTS. Please also post about what else has worked for you- I’d love to hear about it.
3 I have to write a business plan, so I guess we’re going with that. You gotta’ do what you gotta’ do but just because you have to present in a certain way doesn’t change the validity of a certain approach. Using some of these techniques will probably help you generate a good, written plan. My advice is: separate out your operational content from your presentation formats.The VENTURE DESIGN TEMPLATE provides some ideas about how approach with modern, best practices techniques, while still generating more traditional outputs where you need them.


The Individual Contributor

4 I want to start using design thinking but I have to sell management on it. Are you sure you have to sell them? What happens if you just start writing up personas, problem scenarios, value propositions and use those in your work? You might find these materials from the Venture Design Template a good place to start: Personas & Problem Scenarios.
5 I want to start using Lean (Startup) but I have to sell management on it. Why do you have to sell them? Yes, they might organize resources as they would to scale a known proposition and that’s wasteful, but that doesn’t stop you from identifying pivotal assumptions and putting what focus you can on proving or disproving them.Here are materials from the Venture Design Template if you want an easy place to start: Lean Startup- Applied.
6 I want to start using agile, but my department (or other departments) aren’t bought in to it. Start with yourself. Just go ahead and use it to improve management of your own work. Here’s a post on how- Daily Do. If you’re a manger, try applying it across your (‘Weekly Do’ is also an option).
7 I know requirements don’t work but that’s what engineering/[the man] is saying I have to do. Go ahead and write them up with personas, problem scenarios, user stories and test cases as you see in the Venture Design Template. My bet is that the actual users of what you’re creating will appreciate it. If someone says ‘Where’s the requirements?’, just tell them those are the Test Cases.
8 I want to use the Business Model Canvas, but we still do business plans. Just use the Canvas to communicate what you want to communicate. It’s not like having a business plan out there somewhere breaks it (it makes no difference).

What else?

If you’re local to the SF Bay Area, drop me a line at if you’d like to connect with a local peer coaching group. Please let me know your area of interest and what’s local to you (I’d say ‘Where you live’ but that sounds weird).

  • JIm

    The customer development framework is excellent. Thanks!