Successful innovation: from plan to process
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A personal definition of innovation that I regularly use is this:
Innovation is doing new things in a context of uncertainty.
By this definition, the process of innovation follows an uncertain path. You cannot know up front whether or not you will be successful.
This causes quite some discomfort for many people, teams and organisations. Our business world comes from an era of planning and execution, and most organisations still rigourously follow a planning driven approach. Yearly budget rounds, waterfall project life cycles (albeit often with a touch of iterative and incremental implementation), hiring with a focus on knowledge and expertise (but no so much on attitude), are some examples of our strong trust in planning.
And then the plan goes wrong
Something unexpected happens. What do you do? How do you react? Are you able to react? Do you have the required flexibility or agility?
We can increase the success rate of our innovation efforts by fundamentally shifting from sticking to a plan to a process of continuous and rigourous learning.
- Determine your key uncertainties. What needs to be true in order to be successful?
- Perform a test to (in)validate these needs.
- Accept the test results for what they are (instead of interpreting them in your favour) and adjust your course.
Can we then not simply plan our series of tests? Well, the act of planning is certainly useful, but we will come across so many unknown unknowns and unexpected test results along the way, that the list of key uncertainties (and certainties) will change throughout our innovation process. That’s why the iterative process of learning is much more important than the initial plan.
This is a big mindset shift for many organisations. Take for example the concept of MVPs or minimum viable products. A lot of innovation plans contain a series of MVPs as partial products that build up towards the final product that we have in mind from the start. Then we go and build those MVPs.
Instead, we should think of every MVP as the smallest test we can perform to (in)validate our current key uncertainty.
The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.
— Eric Ries in The Lean Startup
Every MVP becomes a RAT: a riskiest assumption test. We don’t put our trust in a fixed plan anymore, but rather in a learning process. Trust the process, and the results will take care of themselves.
Intrigued by the concept of RATs, and the process of continuous experimentation? Join the Babel Journey and experience it for yourself!