Becoming a CA intrapreneur – by necessity

Like most good software stories, ours began by scratching our own itch.

Over a year ago my co-founder, Rick, and I were both participating in a weekly, 45-minute engineering leadership meeting with about 15 engineering leaders.

To keep things focused we adopted a modified Lean Coffee™ meeting style to improve meeting value but there were a few problems. We had many remote participants, which made managing the meeting flow, taking votes, and keeping time a bit of a mess. We tried several tools to make things better – Google Docs, etc. – but nothing hit the sweet spot.

So, we pieced our own solution together during a one-week hackathon and called it Instant Agenda.

During our hackathon, we spent time figuring out exactly what our problem was. We realized that the problem was not creating an agenda, or taking notes, or keeping time. Those are activities. The problem was “facilitating a meeting.” That’s what our app needed to do for us.

Instant Agenda was an instant success. It barely worked, but it did provide just enough to run our meeting fluidly and effectively. With Instant Agenda, we were able to cover seven topics or more, instead of our usual four or five. The discussions were more productive and we had more consistent notes and action items.

We noticed it even worked pretty well when a “non-facilitator” ran the meeting – because the product provided the framework to keep things moving.

It didn’t end there.

Without prompting, the participants in our leadership meeting started using our tool in their other meetings. Soon we had dozens of users.

We knew we were on to something, but what we had built was not a real product – it didn’t even have user accounts. So, we started looking around for people with interest (and budget) to help us validate this idea and turn it into a product. That’s about when we ran into the CA Accelerator program – a head-on collision.

We created a lean canvas and pitched our idea to the CA Accelerator board. The building of our internal “scratch your own itch” app was instrumental in successfully making our pitch to the investment board. We already had some good validation going in, and it helped us frame our statements for the problem, customer segment and unique value proposition conversations.

Our business idea was accepted into the CA Accelerator and we quickly began more formal validation with actual customers. Not surprisingly, we continued to hear people tell us that they had the same sorts of problems.

Instant Agenda came about because we had a real problem that annoyed us enough to fix for ourselves. We understood the problem well, because we lived it.

Of course, this is only a starting point. The lean startup process described by Eric Ries, Ash Maurya and others is the disciplined way to iterate to a working business. We’ll talk much more about how the CA Accelerator uses these methods in future posts.

If sitting through unproductive meetings is a problem for you as well, visit instantagenda.com.


Michael Ball-Marian is co-founder of Instant Agenda, a product in the CA Accelerator. Michael was…

Comments

  • I am a huge fan of official meeting facilitators. I love the idea of this project. I am also looking to organize my own note taking. I have really good intentions, but I’m a mess. From the little I’ve seen on your site, looks like I might be able to use this. Can’t wait to learn more.

    • Thanks @rachel_macik:disqus ! Our shared note-taking environment should be a big help for you and your teams! Looking forward to your feedback when you get access.

  • Shmalkandik

    Meetings are expensive. Total up the opportunity cost of all that talent not working. Unless you actually need all that talent in one space/time to solve a problem – don’t. Meetings for ‘reporting out’ status and information are a crime against productivity. Any one with the word ‘facilitator’ in their title or among their tasks needs to find some thing else to do. Now.

    • @Shmalkandik:disqus Thanks for your comments.

      Yes, meetings are expensive. It is even more expensive to have an organization working without alignment. I completely agree that status / reporting meetings are a waste, and should never happen. Many other meetings are wasteful too. You only collaborate over the exceptions that need addressing, never the readout.

      That said, meetings are not inherently wasteful. I think it is often an over-simplification to think that meeting isn’t “working”. In fact, that might be a good litmus test — does it feel like you’re working? If yes, you’re probably meeting well. In a subsequent article I will talk more about what it means to collaborate well, and why it is critical to do so.

      I disagree with your comments about facilitators. If you have 10 or 20 people who need to collectively solve a complex problem, a skilled facilitator is the key to success.

      The biggest problem I see is that most people don’t know how to meet and collaborate well. It’s understandable — it isn’t a skill that is often taught. We just assume people know how to collaborate, because “its just talking, right?”. This is the target of our application — to provide a framework for folks that will both help them execute meetings and learn as they go to run more productive, efficient meetings.

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