Here's a sad reality: most products and services developed by large corporations never make it to market.
There are simply too many internal hurdles to jump through. Which means when it comes to successfully bridging innovation and commerce, larger-sized corporations can learn a lot from startups. And they can do so without battling bureaucracy or running afoul of shareholders. The key to swiftly and successfully bringing products to market? Incorporating elements of the Lean Startup Method. Developed in 2008 by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Ries, Lean Startup is a unique approach to product development that promotes creative growth while minimizing risk.
And although the movement is geared toward early-stage ventures, its principles can do wonders for even the largest of organizations.
Hone in on Your Hunch
Larger-sized companies rarely question whether they have the means to create a new product -- the money is usually there. There are, however, some pivotal questions worth asking. Should we create this new product? Is there demand? Will it solve an existing problem? Will this solution lead to strong word of mouth?
While a leap-of-faith assumption is a good starting point, external feedback is crucial before development begins. The reality is your company's assumptions may not always jive with public perception.
This is where the Lean Startup's framework comes into play. To quote tech entrepreneur Steve Blank, you need to get out of the building and start learning. This involves interacting with potential users. The best part: it can be low-key and informal.
Office invites, lunch meetings, Skype chats even email exchanges. The key is to pick the brains of people you'd be selling to, listen to what they have to say, and heed their best advice. It's quick, easy, and inexpensive, yet an incredibly valuable way to determine whether your hunch can survive in the real world.
Be Down With MVP
Once your leap-of-faith assumption is vetted with outside input, it's time to put it to the test by creating the actual product or at least a representation of what's to come. In this area, the Lean Startup Method has you covered. Instead of a high-profile rollout, consider quietly testing the waters with a minimum viable product (MVP).
Depending on the hypothesis you're hoping to verify, your MVP can be a number of things. Although a live product is impressive, a functioning prototype or demonstration video can still pack a wallop. Who says only startups should be privy to modest development costs and fast turnaround times?
The most important role of the MVP is to get something in front of potential users to measure their response and see if there's sufficient interest. Best to keep the hype and PR to a minimum at this stage: if the product strikes a chord, there will be plenty of time to gloat later.
Metrics and Fine-Tuning
Once users begin interacting with your MVP, the baseline metrics will start rolling in. We're talking everything from retention rates to signups to conversion rates. You may not be thrilled with each and every number, but the feedback will play a vital role in tracking your progress.
The Lean Startup Method recommends using this data in a proactive way. Simply identify a metric you want improved, create a hypothesis designed to remedy the issue, and create a set of experiments to test this hypothesis.
With continued user feedback, these numbers will ideally move you toward a sustainable business model. And if the metrics still aren't in your favor? There's always this option:
Give it Some Pivot
We all know a motorboat can change course much faster than an ocean liner. This metaphor applies to the world of business, where startups are more adept than larger companies at making massive corrections on the fly. The question is, can larger companies find a way to incorporate the motorboat approach?
Lean Startup thinks so. At this stage, Eric Ries wants companies of all sizes to ask the following question: Are we making sufficient progress to believe that our original strategic hypothesis is correct, or do we need to make a major change?
This change is called a pivot, and it's about not being afraid to shift your fundamental strategy. Sometimes modestly. Other times dramatically. And if startups can do it, so can the big boys. The key is remembering that a pivot doesn't mean returning to square one. As Reis puts it, the objective is to keep one foot rooted in what we've learned so far, while making a fundamental change in strategy in order to seek even greater validated learning.
Tear Down That Wall
One reason product development happens more slowly at big companies? The assembly line mentality. Instead of a collaborative environment, many organizations opt for what American Express VP of Product Delivery Andrew Breen calls the throw it over the wall mentality.
This is where product works on an idea, hurls it over the wall to design, which tosses it over to engineering. Not much in the way of interaction.
A more efficient approach is the Lean Squad system, where one member of each group joins a project/product team. This allows full collaboration from day one, leading to better concepts and stronger troubleshooting. It also quickens the pace, given that every team member has a firm grasp of the product and their role in its development.
The Last Word
By streamlining the product development phase, companies of all sizes can reap significant benefits while keeping a tight lid on risk.
Whether your product involves next-level gaming, online ticket sales, or anything else along the technical spectrum, the Lean Startup Method does away with lengthy business plans, massive funding, and the need to roll out the perfect product. This allows greater opportunity for feedback, flexibility, and most of all, innovation. And that's as close to guaranteed reward as you can get in this business world of ours.
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