It's a Sprint, Not a Marathon: How to Scale-Up Corporate Innovation

  • by Jaap Waaijenberg

    Chief Operating Officer

"We need more ideas" is the single phrase that marks the increase in innovation efforts within most organizations. And once there are ideas on the table that have the potential for success and are of interest to the organization to further pursue, what shall the next step be? How to make sure that these ideas are brought to life in the most efficient and effective way? And how much would that cost?

Innovation is a messy process and rarely goes according to plan. In our practice, we see companies having trouble with structuring their innovation process. Enthusiastic predisposition, caused as a post-effect of idea generation, often lures organizations into making a crucial but quite common mistake – rushing straight into development and implementation.

As business cases are comprised of a number of assumptions, there are many associated uncertainties that needs to be taken into account beforehand. Hence, to determine whether there is any point in investing efforts and resources into bringing a new idea to the market, it is important that these assumptions are validated both internally (with stakeholders and future owners) and externally (with prospective users) in advance.

When we get requests to develop a digital product (e.g. app, website), it is often the case that what the client has their mind set on is not ready for building yet. What we do next – put them through a three-step Business Sprint, in which we collaborate to help them define “the big WHAT” of their product.

What does a Business Sprint look like?

Step 1: Define the product vision.

During this step we collaborate with our clients to construct a shared product vision. We focus on elaborating key points, such as who is the target group, what needs would the product fulfill and what is the value for the company in bringing this product to life.

The objective is to define the product vision and make sure that all stakeholders share the same understanding of what the product is about. When all of the noses in the room point to a different direction, it is hard to go forward with innovation, as you don’t know what exactly is that you are trying to build. Moreover, the lack of a unified internal acceptance and understanding would make scaling the product in the future more difficult.

80% of a product’s features are hardly used

Step 2: Story-map it!

Now that the project team is already on the same page about the general direction they are taking. Let the process of story mapping begin!

As statistics show us, 80% of a product’s features are hardly used. They cost the organization money and time, and our goal is to prevent the team from building such by validating key features as soon as possible. This is when we build the “backbone” and the “walking skeleton” of the product and dive deeper into the concept to determine product features and functionalities.

By the end of step 2, all ideas are being prioritized and the most important assumptions are selected for testing. We create a minimum viable product (MVP) on the base of best assumptions, as the more optional features go to a product backlog awaiting their implementation in subsequent product versions.

Step 3: Prototyping.

At this point the product is well defined but is still not ready for realization, as we need to get all the stakeholders on board, including the one in charge of budget. We create a visual prototype, which is used for validation of the assumptions we have already made both internally and externally. Visualization is crucial for getting the right feedback. Moreover, it helps our clients clarify the idea and functionalities of the product, and make timely iterations of the concept before building it.

Getting to the finish line of the Business Sprint allows for our clients to minimize uncertainties, associated risks and costs, and test early assumptions about the product. Furthermore, the learnings from the validation process bring useful insights for determining the budget needed for development and placing a RFP (request for proposal).

Next comes realization!

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