James Allen

About James Allen

James Allen is a senior partner in Bain & Company's London office. He is the co-leader of Bain's Global Strategy practice, the founder of the firm's Customer Strategy & Marketing practice and a member of Bain's European Consumer Products and Technology practices. In addition, he leads Bain's Developing Market 100 initiative. He is coauthor of "The Founder's Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth" (Harvard Business Review Press; June 7, 2016). James is a recognized leading expert in developing global corporate and business unit strategy. With more than 25 years of consulting experience, he has worked extensively for multi-national companies in consumer products, oil and gas, technology and telecommunications, healthcare and other industries. He advises clients on the development of global growth strategies, emerging market entry strategies and turnaround strategies. James earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
Sep 29

Point of Arrival: Six Design Principles of the Scale Insurgent

By | September 29th, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

This blog asks and tries to answer one question: “What are the organizational design principles that define a scale insurgent?” First, let’s remind ourselves why this question is so important.

Aug 14

Micro-battles and Finding the First Failure Point

By | August 14th, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

As we noted in our blog post on winning skills, successful micro-battles depend on the ability to translate a company’s most important strategic initiatives into what we call “first failure points.” By that we mean you need to identify the biggest potential problem or hurdle that could derail the initiative and deal with that first by making it the focus of the micro-battle. Readers have been pretty clear in their feedback: This feels like a big idea, but I want to know more. So here is a detailed look at how scale insurgents master the critical skill of identifying first failure points so they can use micro-battles to solve them.

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Jun 30

Micro-battle Missions and Why They Matter

By | June 30th, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

We described in earlier blog posts the Bain Micro-Battles System℠ and the skills and behaviors needed to run the system. Now we’ll look at the micro-battle mission. Here’s what to consider.

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Jun 30

The Art of Choosing Micro-battles

By | June 30th, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

We described in earlier blog posts the Bain Micro-battles SystemSM and the skills and behaviors necessary to run it. Now we’re writing a series of posts on hot topics—this one on how to choose micro-battles. Here’s what to consider.

Micro-battles demand a strong strategic foundation

Micro-battles aren’t small things. They are your most important strategic initiatives. Strategic clarity is therefore critical when choosing them. While we believe it’s important to get started fast on your first wave of micro-battles, a program based on random initiatives will most likely lose momentum and fail. Selecting a coherent, impactful set of micro-battle initiatives depends first on two things.

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Jun 22

The Win-Scale Model: Scaling a Repeatable Model

By | June 22nd, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

As we’ve said elsewhere in these blog posts, each micro-battle team faces a dual challenge: winning and scaling. We define winning in this context as taking a targeted strategic initiative and translating it into a prototype that can be tested successfully in the marketplace. Scaling involves turning that winning prototype into a repeatable model and rolling it out across the organization. Winning is about rediscovering your Founder’s Mentality; scaling is about taking advantage of your size.

The scaling skills are simple to define and hard to deploy. The exam question is, “What is the right repeatable model, and what is the best way to roll it out so it will be adopted by the front line?” This demands three sets of skills:

  • developing the right repeatable model;
  • choosing the right rollout strategy; and
  • deciding where this repeatable model should live in […]
Jun 22

The Win-Scale Model: Winning by Failing

By | June 22nd, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

We introduced in a separate blog post the Bain Micro-Battles SystemSM, which involves the Win-Scale model (how you run a micro-battle) and the Amplify model (how you run a portfolio of micro-battles). We then introduced the story of Freddie, to emphasize how important behavioral change is to running individual battles and a portfolio of battles. Now, we turn to the key skills you’ll build as you work on winning, scaling and amplifying. This blog post covers the skills involved in winning.

Five quick contextual points:

  • Micro-battles are the “how” of becoming a scale insurgent. You run each micro-battle like a microcosm of the company you want to become.
  • Each micro-battle team is trying to do two things simultaneously: a) take a targeted strategic initiative and translate it into a prototype that can be tested in the market; and b) take […]
May 25

The Win-Scale Model: Leading at the Micro-Battle Level

By | May 25th, 2017|Micro-battles|0 Comments

Meet Freddie (not his real name, but his tale is based on a true story). The leaders of his company, Property-Casualty Inc., read our book The Founder’s Mentality, and wanted to transform their company from a struggling incumbent into a scale insurgent. They latched onto the idea of micro-battles and loved the notion of putting their top 20 leaders in charge of these focused initiatives. One of them was Freddie, a 28-year-old star they picked to lead a micro-battle focused on creating a new direct-to-consumer insurance product.

We will cover Freddie’s story from two angles: Here we will focus on how Freddie ran his own team and the leadership challenges he faced; in a separate blog post, we’ll look at Property-Casualty’s senior management team and the challenges they faced while reviewing progress on Freddie’s micro-battle. As we will see, both […]

May 6

Introducing the Bain Micro-battles System℠

By | May 6th, 2017|Founder's Mentality defined, Insurgency, Micro-battles, Net benefits of scale and scope, Southward winds, The Journey North, The path to Scale Insurgency, Westward winds|0 Comments

Micro-Battles-220x207This Founder’s Mentality® topic has become quite hot, and we’re working with a lot of business leaders on how to become scale insurgents. Central to this work is the idea of micro-battles, which at their simplest help large companies rediscover the art of getting stuff done fast. Let’s introduce you to what we call the Bain Micro-battles System.

Context: The six building blocks on the journey to scale insurgency

Context matters. What matters most is the growth paradox: Growth creates complexity, and complexity kills growth. Understanding how companies respond to this core problem has led us to look at companies on two dimensions:

All great companies start as insurgents, at war against their industries on behalf of underserved […]

May 5

Create a Company of Insurgents

By | May 5th, 2017|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Company-of-Insurgents220x207Insurgent companies thrive on a culture of speed, focus and a direct connection to customers. But as any leader of a large incumbent company can attest, those cultural attributes are often the first casualty of a growing bureaucracy. Meetings and deliberation swallow up speed. Process and systems muffle the voice of the front line and customers. The sheer complexity of the portfolio overwhelms the clarity of the insurgent mission.

As we discussed in the first building block, reviving growth and sustaining it starts with rediscovering the insurgency and locking it in with the people who need to deliver it. But inspiring your people to act like insurgents also involves a concerted effort to revive the insurgent culture that was so critical to the company’s ability to win against larger competitors with deeper resources. The key is to reeducate the organization about what […]

May 4

Simplify to Fuel Growth

By | May 4th, 2017|Insurgency, The path to Scale Insurgency|0 Comments

Simplify220x207Vocabulary matters in business. One of the problems many large companies face is that bureaucrats have won the vocabulary war. They want us to believe that the opposite of simple is advanced and that to simplify means to dumb down, to cut corners, to somehow be less advanced.

But for our purposes, the opposite of simple is complex. To simplify is to improve systems and processes by making them more straightforward. Importantly, simplification is also a way to redeploy. Streamlining something or making it easier to do allows you to free up resources and move them elsewhere to support other priorities.

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