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The Crucible Approach

In previous blogs, we have discussed actions you and your employer can take to partially mitigate the impact to you and your family amid a rapidly changing job market. We also discussed how Austin-ites outside of key hospitality and entertainment sectors may be positioned to feel less pain than residents in many other key labor markets. We discussed specific and immediate actions that TWC and workforce boards should undertake to plan for rapid re-employment, training and retraining to accelerate the return of many of the jobs we have or will soon lose.

In this blog, let’s discuss The Crucible Approach. We are in Austin, Texas, one of the best regions in the world to create, support and scale start-up companies to solve new problems at lower cost with better customer service. Many start-ups – especially in the IT space – employ a hybrid “design thinking / agile approach” (which I will call in this environment The Crucible Approach). You can find examples of this approach in practice today throughout governments (i.e. Gov. Abbott’s Medical Supplies Task Force), but we need to solve a vast number of existing and new problems caused by an explosion in demand for government services and a need to provide those services remotely. We have to scale the Crucible Approach quickly.

Here are my thoughts on how to convene (virtually) the key problem owners and problem solvers who can iterate and solve a certain problem.

  1. Rough Agreement on Problem(s) to be Solved – Ideally, you focus on high value, low risk problems to try out the concept and show quick performance gains (see Blog 6 & 7 for a few examples).

  2. The Crucible Team Convened - Ensure expertise, decision making authority, relevance – the facilitator and team need to be comprised of relevant staff/subject matter experts (i.e. end-user, legal, financial, regulatory, technical, funder, entrepreneur, scaler, vertical integrator and ideally an evaluator). Facilitator should maintain the ‘punch list,’ delegate and hold all accountable.

  3. Ground Rules:

  • Define Problem Statements – With organizational principals, achieve quick agreement on the initial problem statement. Agree that definitions and ideas to address the problem(s) will be iterative and asynchronous.

  • Rapid meeting cadence – Teams and sub-teams put together quick sets of needs, barriers and sub-teams to address and report back.

  • Rapid RFP – Discussions on problem statements should include users, problem owners and problem solvers and hopefully should allow for a more rapid RFP process. RFPs should account for multiple iterations. RFPs should be able to scale as the project moves through different phases.

  • Products should have clear feedback mechanisms – It’s important to provide mechanisms for user and The Crucible Team feedback and a closed loop to bring feedback to the development team.

  • Celebrate Successes – The Crucible Team should surface to principals the clear milestones and user functions being established. Solicit feedback and assistance in solving problems.

  • The “New Normal” — The team also needs to discuss what a “new normal” might look like and account for how gradations of physical distancing and telecommuting impact the products. Is the assumption distancing is an on-going reality or something that comes and goes based on the potential resurgence of the virus? Restaurants and entertainment venues will not simply reopen in the same form they were in January, government directive or no.

  • What is Missing? In your implementation of the approach, what do you find to be the ‘must have’ participants, pre-requisites or strategies? Email

The Crucible Approach is not "admiring the problem" or "thinking about thinking about." Leaders need to step up and provide direction, empower qualified team members and iterate on improvements with users. They can't fear failure, but they should be willing to kill off approaches if those are leading nowhere. In start-up terms, these approaches should be made to prove up or "fail fast."

In Blog 6 we explore how The Crucible approach might apply to the Austin Region. In Blog 7, we explore how this might apply to Texas government.

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