Discovery-Driven Checkpoints for Growth Success

Rita McGrath
15 min readMar 3, 2021
When uncertainty is high, discovery is critical

Growth programs need a different plan for progress than the operating business needs

Executives without experience in bringing new ventures to life — whether as entrepreneurs, business leaders, those with transformation responsibilities or other change agents — often think that planning a new venture is like planning for an existing business. It isn’t. It really isn’t, as I’ve written about for many years.

One of the main differences is that new ventures are best planned to take advantage of option value. You do this by working through a series of checkpoints, so that as you meet each checkpoint, your knowledge increases and your confidence that investment is merited can increase. The watchword is to plan to the next checkpoint with great determination, then stop, look at what you’re learned, and plan to the subsequent checkpoint. It sounds simple, and it is, but it can feel terribly unfamiliar to those who are new to the whole high-uncertainty, venturing world. In this article, I’ll lay out 20 checkpoints that most new ventures will go through, though not necessarily all, and not necessarily in this sequence. I’ve therefore not numbered them.

As the picture below shows, the goal is to balance your investment in a new area against how much learning you have done, represented by the range of possible answers you have discovered. As you gain in knowledge, your range narrows and you can invest with greater confidence.

Initial Customer Interviews

At this checkpoint, what you are trying to ascertain is what the customers’ key “jobs to be done” are and whether some solution that you might have is potentially going to meet that need. I turn to the brilliant work of Alberto Savoia on this — the key idea is not to build something and hope someone will buy it. Instead, find out what someone will buy, and build that!

The goal at this checkpoint is to come up with a “job to be done” that isn’t getting done or is getting done badly. You want to get clarity on a need, problem, issue that customers might pay to resolve. This article by veteran entrepreneur Steve…

Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.