Edited excerpt from Lean Startup’s Eric Ries on How to Make ‘Gatekeepers’ a Source of Power and Speed:
Eric Ries calls functions like Legal, Finance, IT, and HR “gatekeepers”: Gatekeepers are the functional teams whose beneficiary is predominately the company itself, versus the end customer. They often impact the ability of the makers and sellers of the product — Product, Design, Engineering, Marketing and Sales — to reach customers.
The top tip for non-gatekeepers: Avoid the eleventh-hour ask. What they experience is someone calling them with no lead time, pitching a complex plan and asking for a thumbs up or down by end-of-day. From the gatekeeper’s point of view, that’s a lose-lose proposition. Either she has to say yes to something that has more liability than she’s comfortable with, or she has to say no and be the evil one. Instead, employ a cross-functional team from the start.
The top tip for gatekeepers: Revere how others build, be flexible in how you build. The best-performing gatekeepers have entrepreneurial virtues. They’ve got a tolerance — even comfort with — uncertainty and ambiguity and understand why entrepreneurship is challenging. This translates to empathy for what the product teams are going through. That flexibility brings a learning-first mentality. You want a gatekeeper who’s informed, but not always coming in with all the answers. She should be able to synthesize her expertise with what the company is doing.
The top tip for CEOs/founders: Foster an environment where gatekeepers can serve, not just respond. The statement you must be able to make is: The gatekeeping functions serve their customers rather than just respond to them. Keep gatekeeper functional heads accountable according to the cycle time of teams. Create metrics pertaining to how fast you want the team to turn things around.
(1) Thank you Andrew Fine, an outstanding “gatekeeper”, for the tip.
(2) Cf. In your startup, the goals and culture must become a mantra.