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Rapid, iterative experimentation process – A 'Lean Startup-style' approach to innovation

The emergence of disruptive digital technologies and changing customer expectations has made innovation an imperative for companies to remain sustainably competitive and stimulate growth. Realizing the benefits of innovation requires a systematic approach to not only generating novel ideas but converting them to meaningful business value.

The Majority of Innovation efforts are unsuccessful
Innovation has become the Holy Grail for executives in the 21st century. The advent of technological changes, such as the digital five forces (mobility and pervasive computing, big data and analytics, social media, cloud, and artificial intelligence and robotics), means that companies need to innovate continuously with agility and efficiency if they are to sustain themselves competitively. However, our numerous client interactions, as well as research from a broad array of sources, indicate that a majority of innovation efforts are unsuccessful. The challenge, more often, is not the generation of creative ideas but their conversion into meaningful innovations that stimulate growth in revenue and profitability. Primary reasons for failure include an inability to rapidly and iteratively experiment, by prototyping new solutions and determining business outcomes through simulation and testing of novel concepts.

Innovation is vital to growth
The emergence of digital technologies has made the current business environment one of the most dynamic in history. Companies seeking to expand their market share, enter new product or customer segments, or use emerging technologies to create more compelling customer experiences need to generate and launch innovative solutions faster than their competitors. These solutions may include differentiating services, breakthrough business models, or re-imagined business processes. To do this successfully they need to build the capability to continuously ideate, experiment, and monetize their inventive solutions. Innovation, therefore, requires a systematic yet flexible process to handle its associated ambiguity and uncertainty.

Conventional approaches to innovation fail
Many organizations have increased funding and are putting ‘people, processes, and technology’ in place to create their own engines of innovation. However, they struggle with generating enough of the right kind of ideas, and, perhaps more importantly, quickly and effectively converting them into bigger, bolder, faster, and cheaper innovations that drive significant value creation.

A key reason for this failure is the application of traditional product and technology development, as well as large program management methods, to innovation. These methods involve lengthy sequential processes designed to guarantee results. As such, they are too slow for today’s dynamic marketplace and often reject outright and/or strip from the inspired ideas the very essence that could change the game and contribute most to the top and bottom lines, that is, their ‘innovativeness.’ As a result, companies often fail to swiftly monetize their innovations and maximize overall innovation-driven returns.

The need for rapid experimentation
Generating new ideas and converting them into meaningful business value to support competitive sustainability requires a scalable Lean Startup-style approach. One that quickly and cost-effectively identifies the better ideas in the enterprise’s pipeline and evolves them into great innovations that significantly improve business performance. This approach or ‘Rapid Iterative Experimentation Process’ (RIEP – pronounced ‘reap’) involves the use of solution prototyping, concept simulation, and testing (for example, piloting) to assess and improve the potential of the proposed innovations. RIEP can be used to analyze and convert novel concepts along multiple dimensions such as customer attractiveness, market viability, and technical feasibility. By adopting this Lean/Agile and design thinking-based approach to assessing the value expected to be generated by their new ideas, enterprises can ‘learn fast and cheap’ and thereby optimize their overall investment in innovation. RIEP deploys a combination of people, processes, and technology to practice Lean Startup-style experimentation to improve innovation driven business performance. It features a series of activities to generate the insights and information needed by the investors in innovation (for example, the CEO and Business Unit Heads) to make better decisions about whether to ‘pivot, halt, or persevere.’

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