Start Small Wins with Small Steps

This just in from the Harvard Business Review!!

The Power of Small Wins.

This is not new, but when HBR says it, it must be true! They’ve even given it a name, THE PROGRESS PRINCIPLE and some practical instructions on how to leverage it!

Now we find that Facebook makes hundreds of small step changes (and mistakes) every day.

How do we leverage the HBR insight and practice the Zukerberg model on an ongoing basis?

Create small wins with lots of small steps.

When teams or individuals ‘solve the problem,’ they often come up with ideas that require a substantial amount of change in behavior. They then a) start tackling the big picture, (e.g., we need to change the xyz system, or get the frontline people more engaged in the new programme) and/or b) go back to their other tasks.

How do you get people to start moving right away to the big picture without overwhelming themselves?

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  (Bill Hogan)

Actually, lots of small bites.

Try this simple 3-step solution focus approach at your next project meeting. Like Covey said, ‘Start with the end in mind.’


1. Now that we have an idea about the solution, what will it look like when we have arrived there?   Have them describe in detail what will be happening. If there’s debate about the solution, have them also describe the alternative. Why? Helping them visualize success will later make it easier to identify small steps

2. What are some of the larger tasks we will have undertaken to get there?   Break the solution into manageable tactical elements.

3. Suppose we looked back from this success, what will we have done at the very beginning in the first few days to get started? What will others have seen us doing?   Get them to visualize the small steps so that they will be encouraged to get started and, importantly, see themselves making progress right way.

Note: follow the format of describing things happening in the future. Get rid of ‘We must…’ Instead, use, ‘We are now using / doing…’

I hear some asking, What if they choose the wrong solution, tactics and small steps?

By taking small steps and engaging in operationalizing the tactics, it will become clear quite quickly that corrective action is necessary. That’s more productive than working on the whole solution and getting nowhere fast. Better to have the small mistakes teach you as you go along. Again, read Bloomberg Business Week’s piece on the Facebook engineer’s test/and learn approach.


Published by

Alan Kay

Alan Kay. Speeding up Change - Strategy. Customer & Stakeholder Co-creation. Solution Focus. Author & Speaker. Book: Fry the Monkeys - Create a Solution.