Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fostering Innovation in Established Companies

Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.

Does this sound familiar? You want to apply Lean Startup methods at your company, but your boss is used to being the decision-maker and is resistant to the concept of testing ideas. Or, you are the boss, and your team is afraid of or unwilling to try new methods. This kind of gap between leaders and teams is common at all sorts of companies. But it’s particularly prevalent at established companies, where hierarchy tends to inform more of the action.

On October 8 at 10a PT, join us for a webcast, Bringing Lean Startup to Established Companies. Eric will speak with Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits, both authors and entrepreneurs who have served as advisers to large companies, including many on the Fortune 100. This webcast is free with registration, and Eric, Patrick and Brant will open it up to Q&A with attendees, so come with questions ready. In addition, we’re offering a Lean Startup Conference discount for corporate teams; details below.

We explored Lean Startup in the enterprise through a number of talks at last year’s conference. One of our favorites was a panel led by Intuit co-founder Scott Cook, who spoke about the change in leadership required at his company when he decided to implement Lean Startup methods after meeting Eric in 2009. His challenge was, as he put it, “Converting Intuit to run on Lean Startup principles by converting Intuit to be a network of lean startups.” This transition required changing both how decisions were made in the company and how leaders behaved, moving away from what Scott vividly described as decision-making by “politics, PowerPoint and persuasion,” and “the conventional, the consensus, and the commonplace.”

In this discussion, Scott identified four things leaders have to do in an established company in order to “enable decision-making based on the best ideas that can be validated in the marketplace.” These were: setting the grand challenge; installing the systems and culture that enable people, even junior people, to be able to run fast experiments to achieve that challenge; pulling insights from those experiments, no matter whether they succeeded or failed; and living by the same rules and the same discipline as the rest of the team.

Each of these four elements of what we might term Lean Startup Leadership was addressed by a different Intuit team leader (the video here shows them all). To take just one example: Carol Howe, Intuit’s Senior Product Manager, spoke about the way her team created TurboTax SnapTax. A mobile app that lets people use their phones to prepare and file taxes, SnapTax lets users snap photos of their tax documents. As Carol described, the app was a huge success — but, “this was not where we started nor what we intended to build.” The original plan was for an app to allow photographing tax documents that users would then need to enter into their standard, web-based version of TurboTax. Customers disliked this two-step process in early testing, and so Carol’s team built a version of the app that ran entirely on mobile, and was a one-stop-shop for tax preparation. Even then, they were careful to test the new app in a limited context, launching it first only in California, and only on a limited category of tax filers.

Carol: “We heard from all those other customers — customers in other states, and customers with more complex returns. They complained to us and said that they too wanted to file their return on their phone. And that’s when we knew we were on to something special.” They had used methods characteristic of a Lean Startup to validate customer demand and create a truly innovative product — even though this product would compete with Intuit’s own flagship TurboTax software.

Obviously, any company, whether large or small, wants to create products that consumers nationwide clamor for. But creating and empowering teams to both identify and fill the needs of those customers via a process of rigorous testing and rapid iteration requires buy-in at all levels of the company. Corporate leadership, as well as team leaders, need to be on board. On October 8, Eric, Brant and Patrick will investigate the hurdles large corporations face in implementing Lean Startup and the unique opportunities there are for companies that are willing to do so. Register today to join them.

To help support teams applying Lean Startup methods, we’re offering a discount for any company that wants to send a group to the 2013 Lean Startup Conference. If you send eight or more employees, we’ll give you a substantial break. Simply email our executive producer Melissa Tinitigan for details, and use the subject header “group discount.” Here are few of the benefits to sending a team:

•    Get out of a rut. The Lean Startup Conference provides fresh ideas even for teams that have been working together, or hammering on a single intractable problem, seemingly forever. It’s not just the on-stage presentations that help get your team members thinking — it’s also the networking events and startup site visits that expose you to the sharpest entrepreneurial talent. And, professional development improves staff retention and satisfaction. Your team will come back energized.

•    Save time. Teams thinking about instituting more testing, or exploring the Customer Development model, will get direct information about how to implement these methods. You’ll gain understanding and confidence in the process, thus reducing your fear of making mistakes — a barrier that Scott Cook cites as a major hindrance to embracing Lean Startup, especially at the lower levels of a company.

•    Look into the future. The next best minds in corporate innovation are speaking at the Lean Startup Conference. They’ll give your team a sense of what’s ahead and can help you better perceive where to go next. Site visits to highly successful startups, including those successfully scaling, will provide inspiration and key insights to how those teams approach their work.

•    See results. Have your team present to a larger group — the division or the entire company— about what you learned at the conference. We’re preparing a kit of resources that you can take back to your organization and share ways you can immediately apply Lean methods to ongoing projects.   

Don’t forget to register for the October 8 webcast and prepare your questions for the live Q&A. Register separately to attend the conference, and email Melissa for group discount info.

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