4 Ways The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) Helps Product Teams

Rajesh Nerlikar November 30 2021

Photo Source: EOS

A few of my clients, both current and former, are using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) as their way of driving alignment towards goals on their team. At least one mentioned they’re using it after a failed attempt to roll out OKRs.  So I thought I’d learn more about it as I’ve been thinking a lot about a product-driven company’s “operating system” / culture lately.  Here are my key takeaways.

#1. It all starts with a vision

EOS has a couple of concepts that might sound familiar to our Vision-Led Product Management framework. The first is expressing a 10 Year Target that explains what your bold, long-term business objective is (ex be #1 in the market). The second is to walk backwards from that to create a strategic plan for how to realize that vision, in the form of a 3 Year Picture (ex we'll have 300 customers, $15M in revenue, 80 employees, etc). All of this aligns the team to get them "rowing in the same direction."

#2. Rocks create focus

Rocks are effectively 90 day goals, intended to break progress towards the vision down into bite-sized chunks and measured using a scorecard.  They're intended to create focus, much like a sprint commitment in Agile Scrum. What struck me was that because everyone now has rocks, they understand why it's not easy to ask colleagues to change directions mid-quarter. One former client confirmed that this in fact meant the product roadmap could not be disrupted until the next quarterly planning cycle. This is a good thing in my mind for organizations who don't need to pivot more often than every 3 months (later-stage companies, not early-stage startups or products). It lets the product, design, and engineering teams put their heads down and execute on a plan rather than taking time to update the plan continuously.

One of my clients using EOS, Anil Harjani from Hireology added this, which really helps solidify how EOS emphasizes prioritization:

One comment on rocks - is that they need to be universally accepted as the most important things we need to work on and there is a directly responsible individual for seeing it through.  So no more ambiguous statements of something important without accountability.  And everyone is on board with that being a priority.  Anything that is considered still a problem and we've intentionally punted it, is put on an issues list to be discussed later.  Basically, let the fire burn and it's ok.  We've acknowledged it's a problem, but not a now problem to solve relative to other areas.

#3. Issue resolution is accelerated

In the weekly L10 meeting, 60 minutes is reserved for IDS (Identify, Discuss, Solve). This means that teammates bring specific issues that are blocking their progress towards Rocks and call out specific teammates who can help resolve the issue. This might seem awkward at first, but it creates a transparent and honest environment, focused on solutions vs problems. During this time, the teammates discuss how specifically to resolve each issue. It's a bit like figuring out how to unblock an engineer after daily standup in Scrum.

Anil added this:

I think one of the most powerful elements of EOS is that it creates velocity around problem solving on a weekly basis in service of those rocks, weekly operations, and anything that pops up.  It happens in a way where the onus is on both the person with the problem and the people they need to solve it with.  Much like Amazon has the written narrative that the organizer brings enough information to a group of people who can productively contribute.  IDS is also about clarity about what the issue is and feeling confident that issue has been solved to an adequate level.

#4. Get to know your colleagues personally

Our client, Hireology, has been using EOS since day 1 of the company, which was founded 12 years ago. Anil was gracious enough to let me join his product team's weekly L10 meeting, where they review their rocks and resolve issues on the team. In the first few minutes, there's a round-robin update where everyone shares their "best personal" and "best business" piece of news from the past week. What I loved about this is that it's such a simple way to learn about the personal side of your teammate's lives - people talked about their kids, traveling and their weekends. When else does this happen these days without impromptu chats in the office kitchen or in between in-person meetings?

Closing Thoughts

I've been thinking about how a team and their behavior create a company's culture, and there's something intriguing about having a framework like EOS that gives ceremonies and collaboration patterns specific names, creating norms. Agile does this as well within product development, but what jumped out for me about EOS is that it's used across the company, which means you could take an issue to another team and they'd understand why you're being so direct. There's something powerful about that. I've been wondering if a "product-driven culture" operational framework would be helpful to our clients. Email me if you'd like to learn more or help create it.

Written by Rajesh Nerlikar

Rajesh is a co-founder of Prodify and Principal Product Advisor / Coach. He is currently the VP of Product at Regrow. Prior to that, he was the Director of Workplace Products at Morningstar, a Senior PM at HelloWallet (which was acquired by Morningstar) and a PM at Opower (which went public in 2014).

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