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  • Krishna Lal

Navigating Startup Strategy: Unleashing the Power of the Balanced Scorecard

In 2023, Krishna Lal, a Strategy and Innovation Research Team member, worked across teams to develop a Balanced Scorecard for BrainSightAI. The following is her experience during the process.

We are all probably aware of the challenges of working in a startup. In an early-stage startup especially, we find ourselves delving into different roles, working across teams, and acquiring a breadth and depth of experience. We're constantly solving problems across domains, which requires working with people from different walks of life, understanding departments we never ventured into, and rapidly adapting to the demands of a new business. However, the excitement of working in a startup, which is the novelty and amount of work, is also where we risk losing direction in a startup. A company might forget its vision or engage in activities that are not linked to that vision. We risk losing sight of the larger goals in a startup's dynamism and problem-solving environment.

The key to tackling this problem is that startups need the support of a good strategy. There need to be frameworks to ensure that there is a direction and a business is moving towards a specific vision and goals. The process of building and implementing a balanced scorecard has prompted me to think more about my role in strategy and understand the importance of strategy in a startup environment.

The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) is one of the most effective frameworks companies employ to get a comprehensive view of how the business is doing at different levels. The Harvard Business Review article wherein Kaplan and Norton presented the BSC details the workings of this framework. The BSC proposes four traditional perspectives of a business:

  • The financial perspective

  • The customer perspective

  • The internal business perspective

  • The innovation and learning perspective

Across these four perspectives, companies set objectives and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to track the achievement of these objectives. Companies can take up various initiatives to achieve these goals, but what is especially critical is that there are measures in place. Measures ensure an objective lens is in place to track performance and offer leads on where to improve.

The brilliance of this framework also lies in its flexibility, and as a startup, we adapted it to suit our company's needs.

Step 1: Evaluating Company Structure for the Balanced Scorecard

The first step of building the balanced scorecard at BrainSightAI involved looking at our company structure. Our product is our bread and butter as a health tech AI company. Secondly, as we're in the healthcare space and make products for medical settings, we aim for the gold standard in regulatory approvals and overall ethics. Therefore, adapting this framework to our company is very helpful in capturing the work done across teams. Given these considerations, we adapted the framework and introduced two new perspectives.

BrainSight's BSC, therefore, is composed of 6 perspectives-

  • The Financial Perspective

  • The Customer Perspective

  • The Design and Development Perspective (The product team, ML and tech team, and research team)

  • The Internal Business Perspective

  • The Innovation and Learning Perspective

  • The Regulations, Legal, and Ethics Perspective

Step 2: Building the Scorecard using a top-down and bottom-up approach

The next facet involved systematically building the scorecard, which was quite the process. We began by having a series of conversations with the CEO, CTO, and team leads. Richard Rumelt's work Good Strategy Bad Strategy underscores the importance of diagnosis. Through discussions with the team's senior members, we could narrow down the most critical problem we faced. Subsequently, we charted out what was needed to tackle our main issue. We had to weigh out different methods of combating this problem, evaluating our business model, blockers, each approach's pros and cons, and so on. The top-down approach helped ensure that the team leads agreed on matters of utmost importance.

Once we identified the issues and agreed on the key vision, we took a bottom-up approach to understand people's goals, ongoing projects in their circles, and vision for their teams. Conversations like this ensured that smaller, unnoticed projects could integrate with the company vision using the BSC. Additionally, we reevaluated projects that had no links to the company goals, identified those that were not feasible and discarded them. This way, we ensured that everyone saw their contribution to the company through their contribution to different KPIs. A combination of the top-down and bottom-up approaches was extremely valuable throughout this process. As we continued these conversations, we simultaneously built the BSC, laying out the objectives, measures, and initiatives. We also created maps to present the team with a diagrammatic explanation of how everything would come together.

Step 3: Linking the BSC to our day-to-day operations

The final facet, which tied together the process and brought about more coherence, was linking our BSC to the day-to-day functioning of our company. How did we manage to do this? As a tech company, our work runs in a sprint format. We ensured that the BSC was linked to our sprint so that we could track our performance across all KPIs every sprint. By integrating the two, the company strategy didn't remain a distant vision but actually involved targeted efforts and actions toward the goal.

Building the scorecard was undoubtedly accompanied by challenges, especially in a startup. It required bringing structure to the otherwise bustling environment of a startup. This process involved translating vision and policy into action. We had to decide to discard a few projects to ensure we were moving in the direction we wanted. We also had to strike a balance to ensure that, as a small company, each perspective of the BSC has a dedicated team while allowing people the opportunity to understand the workings of other teams. We found it most challenging to explain the importance of strategy to our team. While a team consistently solves multiple problems, asking them to pause and consider why they are solving a problem and what it leads to is a great deal of effort. While the initial steps were strenuous, they actually prompted our team to think more innovatively, pitch more ideas, and offer their input.

The overall process of building out the balanced scorecard was something we immensely enjoyed at BrainSightAI. As someone deeply interested in the topic, it was a great exercise to delve so deeply into the world of strategy.

BrainSightAI is where AI meets ML and brain mapping. Our product, VoxelBox, provides detailed and usable reports on patients with brain disorders, early stages of Dementia, and other neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions. Explore VoxelBox here.

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