Agile & Digital

Constant experimentation: not just for techies

At eBay they constantly tweet little parts of a beta version of their website to select users, get feedback and refine before launching across the board.  Many customers enjoy giving feedback in return for early access to new features, and to feel part of the process of making something great.  This kind of constant experimentation can no longer be confined to tech companies – to keep up in our fast-paced digital world we all need to adopt rapid prototyping in every area of our work.

In the past managers sought to reduce variation and flexibility to make it easier to standardize products and services and control their teams. Traditional organizations’ assumptions were built when the cost of failure was high and we needed to optimize and reduce risk. Now experimentation is cheap and failure is one more step in our fast evolution – provided we reflect and learn.

Constant AB testing (e.g. where marketeers put two test slogans, emails, pages etc. out to customers and see which one gets the best reaction) and Randomized Control Trials are possible with digital in a way that we could not have done cost effectively in the past. In fact, digital tools are already allowing marketeers, online news outlets and policy makers to test five or more elements with several options for each part of their message in one go – to see which version has the greatest impact on people.

This kind of experimental, data-driven approach needs to spread beyond IT and Marketing to all areas of our business – as we now have the technology to help us gather data quickly and the external pressures of fast evolving competitors to spur us on.

For example, one famous American restaurant chain recently set itself the mission of improving the quality of its food across its 1,000 restaurants through a radical kitchen and menu overhaul.  In the past they would have spent months researching and analysing the best possible kitchen appliances, layout and menu options in the lab.  This time they put what they hypothesized as their best options to the test with customers straight away in a few pilot sites.  The kitchen configuration and menu that earned the best customer satisfaction store was then further tested and refined in another 50 sites, before being rolled out to the whole estate.

Pace before perfection

In order to conduct your own experiments at work, think pace before perfection: hypothesize what might work best for your internal or external customers, get it out there, conduct rapid prototyping, test and evolve:

Once our ‘minimal viable product/service’ (with essential features only) is launched, by staying in constant dialogue with our internal and external customers, we can swiftly deal with any pain points they experience and evolve better solutions.

For those of you that are nervous about allowing unproven products and services out into the market place early on, Bain & Co. explain “a true test-and-learn approach is disciplined and rigorous. Before any tests begin, a team develops hypotheses for the options in question that consider the company’s strategy, target customers and financial goals. From there, the team decides how it will test the options and sets the right measures of cost and benefit. The results help them cut through office politics and resolve internal disputes by letting customers judge. Reducing the risk of large-scale failures often frees employees to come up with bigger, more innovative ideas”.

Thinking about your own situation, what are your hypotheses about what your internal/ external customers need? Therefore, what can you ‘build’/create, test and refine rapidly to improve their experience? It works for eBay and it will work for you too.

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