Flaws in the Crawl Walk Run Methodology

The Flawed Crawl Walk Run Methodology

Many of you may have heard of the Crawl Walk Run project methodology. For those of you that haven’t the idea is that if a project team is trying to achieve something big, that sometimes you have to evolve your approach in stages rather than trying to make all the changes all at once. Many people are quite fond of this approach and can be heard repeating the mantra “Let’s crawl before we walk, let’s walk before we run.” Others have evolved Crawl Walk Run into Crawl Walk Run Fly. One of those groups is Edelman (a public relations firm), which in the following image proposes the following Crawl Walk Run Fly approach to social media:

Crawl Walk Run Fly Edelman

Ultimately the Crawl Walk Run Fly project approach looks back to the following Martin Luther King, Jr. quote for its inspiration and structure:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

But the flaw in the Crawl Walk Run project approach was exposed in a conversation I had yesterday with Stewart Pearson, a former client and friend, who happens to be the founder of Consilient Group, an emerging consulting group focused on helping clients undertake data-driven, insight-driven digital transformations to empower organizations to ignite sustainable growth and innovation.

Stewart was speaking about how some companies get stuck in this Crawl Walk Run mindset, and potentially jeopardize their future as a going concern. The truth is that Crawl Walk Run is only applicable to a small subset of projects, and definitely not appropriate for strategic projects because of the imminent danger of the competition transforming faster than you to better serve (and thus take) customers in the marketplace. Stewart captured this in the following way (slightly modified here by me):

“The danger of Crawl Walk Run is that while you’re busy crawling, a competitor is going to walk over you, right before another competitor runs over both of you.”

Then of course we can add in to this that if the customers wants and/or needs have changed, then simultaneously startups will not be crawling, or walking, or running, but FLYING by those incumbents engaged in a crawl, walk, or run strategies to maintain their relevance to the customers in the marketplace. But startups face their own danger in their FLY strategy, embodied in their lack of experience and infrastructure, and in many cases, their need to educate. This can cause startups to fly past the place where customers wants and needs have moved. So the flying strategy is not without risk.

Consulting clients or people inside your firm (depending on your context) may push back against this idea and again something like “Let’s crawl before we walk.” and it’s really seductive to give into this and tow the company line that achieving something is better than achieving nothing. But at the same time, the financial, human and capital resources that you might invest in implementing a broad crawl effort could potentially be more smartly implemented in a narrow run or fly effort off to the side that may then have the potential to be rolled out in a broad manner.

So, in situations where the company potentially faces more risk from moving slowly than from moving too fast, look for opportunities to craft a strategy that allows you to pick a small part of your business (possibly a single project or a single client) that you can begin building out a run strategy for (a strategy that leverages the existing experience and infrastructure of the organization) or a fly strategy (one that completely re-imagines your market approach).

The idea here being to prototype, test, learn, and then scale your transformative new market approach rather than gradually transforming your market approach in a series of phases. This is more like the approach we use in the innovation space, and has a lot of potential in helping to accelerate your ability to continuously transform your organization the maintain optimal value exchanges with your customers.

What do you think?

Do you think your organization could move away from the siren’s song of Crawl Walk Run, or are you stuck on all fours for the rest of your career with your existing client or employer?

This article was originally featured on Linkedin

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, builds sustainable innovation cultures, and tools for creating successful change. He is the author of the five-star book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire and the creator of a revolutionary new Change Planning Toolkit™ coming soon. Follow him on Twitter (@innovate) and Linkedin.

Braden Kelley

Braden Kelley is a Design Thinking, Innovation and Transformation Consultant, a popular innovation speaker and workshop leader, and helps companies use Human-Centered Change™ to beat the 70% change failure rate. He is the author of Charting Change from Palgrave Macmillan and Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. Braden has been advising companies since 1996, while living and working in England, Germany, and the United States. Braden earned his MBA from top-rated London Business School. Follow him on Twitter and Linkedin.




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  1. Cheri on March 19, 2020 at 8:58 am

    What do you think of measuring the performance of a team by using the CWRF approach? To me it is wrong. There is no way I can tell my team is high performing just because they are running instead of walking? What do you think? Please respond with your insight. Thanks

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