Most innovation programs are one long, slow learning cycle.
Once an idea has passed the screening phase and acquired the budget and resources necessary for execution, it typically passes into a product development process. If it’s a different type of innovation, sponsors still expect teams to make plans for this work. Sometimes teams need to produce requirements, specifications or RFPs for vendors. Even in a startup without all this overhead in the name of process rigor, teams will be asked to make fast decisions so that the company has something to show to investors and deliver to early adopters.
All this rapid decision-making can make the program seem like it’s moving fast, but it’s really setting up the team for slow innovation execution.
As innovators, we’re required to make important decisions early without much data.
Our innovation and product development processes require us to make decisions early, We need those decisions in order to get approval to proceed, whether that’s a slot in our company’s product roadmap or venture capital funding. Then those decisions are not validated until much later, sometimes right before or after the product launches.
When some of these decisions prove to be unworkable, they trigger late design changes and costly rework. They send teams backwards in the development process to redo work from earlier phases of development. The time from the original decision to the revisited decision is one long, slow learning cycle.
If this has been a problem for you or your teams, you’ll know because you’ve encountered one surprise after another as you prepare a product for launch. Your products miss their launch dates, you miss key customer commitments, the products may be too expensive to make or support. Teams hit early milestones easily but slow down as they near the launch window, and start missing dates for the later milestones.
Late surprises in product development arise from long, slow learning cycles.
These long, slow learning cycles are the root causes behind long product development cycles. They get in the way of a company’s inability to deliver innovations that take advantage of new opportunities before a competitor does. Late surprises erode the profitability of the product. They dissipate the confidence that business partners and customers have in your team’s ability to deliver innovative solutions. You may have even come to believe that your teams cannot innovate.
Even if your product launches tend to go smoothly, you may have the suspicion that product development just takes too long, and that your company’s best ideas are too slow to reach your customers. Even if teams are fast enough, you probably have more ideas that you’d like to take to market than you have the resources to support.
If you want to get faster at product development and better at innovation, you have to break up those long, slow learning cycles.
Rapid Learning Cycles break up long, slow learning cycles.
In the Rapid Learning Cycles framework, we identify those areas of the program most likely to trigger long, slow learning cycles. Then we pull learning forward in those areas, to validate our decisions much earlier than a typical innovation program does. When we do that, we break up those long, slow learning cycles. We get faster feedback on our proposed decisions before we’re so committed that change is expensive.
We also push decisions in these areas as late as possible, in order to give more time for new information to emerge. We commit to those decisions only when we have to make them. Decisions made at the last responsible moment are much less likely to be revisited than decisions made early. Sometimes teams and their sponsors make decisions because decisions help reduce uncertainty. But when a team makes a decision too early, that increases uncertainty rather than eliminating it. Such decisions often need to be revisited once the team has more information, but now that need is no longer visible.
Teams make decisions at the right time with better data to eliminate long slow learning cycles.
That eliminates long, slow loopbacks at their source: the decisions made by a team and its sponsors without the available knowledge to make those decisions with confidence. As a result, teams using Rapid Learning Cycles in early development have faster execution in late development. They have many fewer nasty surprises at the end. They gain the ability to deliver more innovative solutions, because they know how to build the knowledge they need to make decisions with confidence, despite the inherent risks and uncertainties of any innovation program.
If you recognize yourself or your teams in these long, slow learning cycles, then you’ve come to the right place. Rapid Learning Cycles can help you and your teams get your best ideas to market faster.