Learn Fast, Learn Cheap: How Large Organizations Can Accelerate Their Innovation Efforts

Learning Plans – the Key to Lean and Rapid Implementation

Many large organizations are exploring how to accelerate innovation through lean and design thinking approaches. They often find that traditional new product and market development approaches get mired with cost and schedule over runs. Clareo’s FastPath, a lean and rapid innovation approach, addresses these issues. Learning Plans are a key aspect of that approach. They document the plan to validate assumptions and uncertainties that are critical to success, typically measured through metrics such as customer or market acceptance and business value. Assumptions and uncertainties represent the unknowns that pose risks to the success of an effort, and Learning Plans should address the most critical ones. Learning Plans should be designed to achieve maximum learning at the lowest possible cost. They may be used with milestone-based funding, where continued funding of the effort depends on successful validation of learning plans.

Learning Plans are not substitutes for project plans. Project plans detail tasks required to accomplish something and can break down the work to the granular level. Learning Plans should focus on the key learning elements – what you need to learn regarding your critical assumptions and uncertainties; and how you’re going to learn, such as through customer/user input, which specific customers, and what aspects. Learning reports document progress against Learning Plans, and indicate if you should pivot, and how.

Learning Plans should focus on the key learning elements - what you need to learn regarding your critical assumptions and uncertainties; and how you're going to learn.

There are many examples of Learning Plans available in publications and texts, and we’ve included a few as reference. However, these examples are typically from smaller startups, and the approach needs to be modified for larger organizations, as discussed below.

Validation Approaches Used in Learning Plans

There is no universal approach to validate or test assumptions and uncertainties, and it can get confusing when writing a Learning Plan for the first time. The key to a successful Learning Plan is to maximize learning at minimal cost. Customer or end user input is usually the best approach, especially when it involves a better understanding of their needs, or other qualitative aspects such as how they may use a product or feature. Where learning can be validated quantitatively, such as in a test environment, it may not be necessary to seek direct customer input. Other approaches can involve simulation or prototyping, where validation may be shown in a computer-simulated model or a lab before proving it in the field.

Customer/User Input: Customer input is one of the best ways to validate key assumptions in the viability of a product or feature. It is important that the true customer or user, and not just a proxy, validates your assumption. There are many ways to achieve this:

  • Discussion with customers and end users to understand their problems and validate assumptions, especially around what they value
  • Testing usability (UX/UI) early and often with customers/users
  • Determining customer’s actual usage through usage statistics from alpha and beta customers, or shadow usage where the new product/solution runs in parallel with the existing solution

Test Environment or Research: This is recommended when a new product or solution is first developed, and its desired performance attributes can be validated quantitatively. Of course, customer input into assumptions around value is still an important first step. Some of these approaches are illustrated below:

  • Validation against a quantifiable performance metric, such as Castrol validating the speed, in minutes, to change an oil cartridge using a minimum viable prototype
  • Validation of achieving desired condition, such as determining the amount of fan cooling required for new server hardware design
  • Validation through research or benchmarking, such as a stationary energy storage manufacturer benchmarking manufacturing costs and assembly time with competitors

Note that such validation will not replace testing of the product against specification; that is expected, of course. Rather, based on the desired outcome (e.g. prototype vs. fully functional product), the emphasis on such traditional testing may be appropriately sized for validation vs. a perfected solution.

Examples of Successful Learning Plans

Castrol used a minimum viable prototype to validate that it took only 90 seconds to change an oil cartridge.

Validating Customer and Market Demand

Zappos is the largest online shoe retailer, with sales over $2 billion. Zappos’ founder, Nick Swinmurn, originally started an online shoe store called Shoesite.com which he quickly changed and scaled to Zappos. Nick started in a lean and rapid manner. Initially, he visited local shoe stores, and with the owner’s permission, photographed shoes and put them up on his website. He didn’t start with a huge investment to build an e-commerce company. In the beginning, he manually shipped orders and handled payments and returns. It was an experiment designed to answer a key uncertainty at the time: Would consumers be willing to buy shoes online when promised a superior customer experience? He was able to validate this uncertainty with very little investment. It was only after that initial validation that he went about building a scalable business.

Service Optimization and Scaling

Food on the Table provides easy-to-cook recipes and grocery lists based on sales at local stores. This requires a complex algorithm with a lot of data crunching – lists of stores, what they sell, weekly updates on sales and discounts, recipes, and finally the ability to match consumer preferences to recipes and store promotions. However, Founder and CEO Manuel Rosso and his team didn’t start by building all this software. They first visited local grocery stores in Austin and interviewed shoppers to identify one that was interested in their service. They visited this customer every week, with shopping lists and recipes chosen based on her preferences and local store promotions. The list was updated with her feedback. Manuel charged her $9.95 for this service as a way to test consumers’ willingness to pay. This was not a scalable business, yet. The team learned more each week, adding customers as they went. They continued their manual process until they couldn’t handle the load any more. That’s when they started developing software, beginning with emailing lists and recipes, and eventually taking payments online. After initial validation at their first store, they created software that could parse store promotions, added more stores in their region, and eventually expanded coverage nationwide.

References

  • Innovating through Radical Efficiency; http://www.clareo.com/blog/2016/5/13/innovating-through-radical-efficiency
  • The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Reis
  • The Ultimate Guide to Minimum Viable Products; http://scalemybusiness.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-minimum-viable-products/

Branding Mining 101

By Manisha Singh for Clareo

Mining has a terrible reputation as being an extractive, exploitative industry. When the general population thinks of mining, they think of men covered in soot working underground throughout daylight hours; craters in the ground that ruin the landscape; a death zone where nothing grows or lives. For much of history, mining has indeed been a selfish industry focused primarily on taking without concern for what remains after.

But in our modern world, the products we mine are the building blocks of the lifestyles we maintain. Without mining, we could not sustain our population growth, our standard of living, or our technological advances. Consider the number of electronic devices you have with an on/off switch. Not one could exist without the minerals produced from mining. Apple uses over 40 elements to manufacture the iPhone alone.

As social consciousness has risen, consumer expectations surrounding a company’s social and environmental responsibility have increased. The mining industry has made progress over the past decade; however, these expectations have moved at a faster pace than the industry has been able to change. Further, social media has enabled individuals to voice their opinions anywhere, at any time, and has increased the power of community. This combination has led to greater activism in multiple countries around the world and accelerating negative press for mining in particular.

Because mining has traditionally been viewed as a commodity business, most companies within the sector have not invested in branding.

Some mining companies are ahead of the curve and have worked diligently towards improving their social and environmental impact in the communities where they operate, yet they have not been able to benefit from their efforts primarily due to a lack of branding. Because mining has traditionally been viewed as a commodity business, most companies within the sector have not invested in branding. One notable exception is De Beers, which built a strong global brand with unforgettable ad campaigns such as ‘A Diamond is Forever’. Mining’s general lack of branding means that when a negative event such as community protests/riots or a tailing dam incident occurs at one mine, mining as an industry and all companies within it take a hit, whether they have a connection to the event or not.

De Beers proved that being in a commodity business does not rule out the possibility of branding. Starbucks, Intel, and CEMEX have seen similar successes. Each company chose to focus on a particular aspect of the product or service offering to differentiate from the pack. In doing so, they became highly profitable leaders that revolutionized how customers and consumers think of the commodity.

Implementing the Development Partner Approach can help responsible companies develop a brand of their own, one that ensures they are recognized for the good they do.

Mining companies can follow this example. A key opportunity for individual mining companies to differentiate is to become the preferred partner for industry by embedding the Development Partner Approach (DPA). This approach leverages a new mindset as to how mining secures, nurtures and progressively revitalizes its social license to operate by cultivating partnerships amongst the collective set of stakeholders, including communities, indigenous people, businesses, employees, governments, NGOs and investors. Implementing the DPA can help responsible companies develop a brand of their own, one that ensures they are recognized for the good they do and not penalized for the mistakes of others.

Powering Up the NOW! Economy with Corporate Venturing

The NOW! Economy is upon us, with new technologies emerging that enable companies to push the production and provision of products and services closer and closer to the moment of demand. Even in its early stages, this force is having a powerful affect on traditional business models – companies like Airbnb and Uber are capitalizing on this new landscape, disrupting entire industries, and positioning themselves to transition to future business models as technologies and customer expectations evolve.   

Corporate venturing is a powerful approach to navigating the opportunities and threats posed by the NOW! Economy. Combining the capabilities and assets of the corporation with the speed, resilience, and innovative thinking of the startup world, can fast-track innovation, create optionality for the future, and catalyze an ecosystem around new problems to be solved.

In this paper, Scott Bowman describes how corporate venturing can serve as an invaluable tool to drive innovation, shares case examples of companies that are using their venturing units to powerful effect, and provides insights into why corporate venturing is an imperative for firms that don’t want to be left behind. 

Download the White Paper

Achieving Radical Efficiency Gains in a Tough Environment

While at the Mining Strategic Excellence conference in Toronto this summer, Clareo's Satish Rao sat down with Metal Bulletin Events to discuss the imperative for radical efficiency in the mining industry, how mining companies can incorporate successful strategies from other industries to their own businesses, and the implications of radical efficiency for the mine of the future.

Read the Article

Reinventing the Electric Utility

The electric utility industry is at a crossroads. Utility customers and regulatory bodies are demanding more from electric utilities, and the future of power belongs to those companies who can adapt to meet demands for more renewable energy, improved system reliability, and lower energy costs. 

Over the last several years, Clareo has helped companies like Exelon, Johnson Controls and Baker Hughes adopt new approaches to innovation to help them meet these challenges.

In this paper, Paul Donnellan identifies four areas key to utilities' ability to adapt and thrive in a new world of renewable energy mandates and distributed energy resources, and provides case examples of what industry leaders are doing so to ensure they're not left behind.

Download the White Paper

Innovating Through Radical Efficiency

Innovation is a critical capability for all organizations. But for many companies, the need to cut costs leaves them stuck in an innovation paradox, struggling to fund innovation when it can have the greatest impact. 

Radical efficiency, which lies between continuous operational improvements and large-scale business transformations on the innovation spectrum, has the potential to significantly impact a company's bottom line and unlock sustainable business value by expanding its portfolio and producing step change improvements. However, it is often overlooked. 

In this paper, Satish Rao and Peter Bryant describe why radical efficiency is an essential part of the innovator's toolbox, and provide steps for successful identification and implementation of radical efficiency approaches. 

Download the White Paper

The Industry is Rife for New Mining Entrepreneurs

While at the Mining Indaba conference this year, Peter Bryant, Clareo managing partner and a senior fellow at the Kellogg Innovation Network, sat down with CNBC Africa to discuss the future of mining in Africa, the imperative for long-term innovation in the industry, and how mining companies can utilize existing technologies and collaborative approaches like the development partner framework to achieve radical impact. 

Lessons in Innovation from the World’s Newest Country

Seven Key Principles of Leading Innovation in New Areas

By Scott Bowman

I am in the business of helping leaders of organizations create new value—that’s the job of innovation.  As a managing partner at an innovation and strategy consulting firm, I have come to learn that creating new value demands new thinking, which often requires a change in context. Bold new thinking often comes from unexpected places.  I experienced that first-hand this year. 

A short time ago, I had the privilege of accompanying my father and seven others to South Sudan—the world’s newest country. Less than 10 years ago, my dad’s organization, Partners in Compassionate Care (PCC), founded and built Memorial Christian Hospital just outside of Bor—capital of the Jonglei state, South Sudan’s largest state by population.  Since opening, the hospital has treated over 80,000 people and is now staffed entirely by Sudanese. It also has the only X-ray and ultrasound system in this impoverished state.  All of this is mind-bending.

Scott Bowman mentors a Team of entrepreneurs from John Garang University of Science & Technology in South Sudan.

Scott Bowman mentors a Team of entrepreneurs from John Garang University of Science & Technology in South Sudan.

This was my first trip.  I’ve been a long-time Advisory Board member and have assisted the organization at key points, but I had never visited the war-torn land. I went there to experience the work, and to engage in meetings with local leaders.  I also went there to teach classes in entrepreneurship & new business creation at John Garang Memorial University of Science and Technology and meet with entrepreneurs

Being in South Sudan, talking with entrepreneurs and meeting with local leaders was a radical change in context. I expected to be moved, to grieve quietly, to return challenged and grateful.  I did not expect to gain so many fresh insights.  I should have known to expect the unexpected.

The most surprising thing was the unexpected parallels that exist between my family’s work in South Sudan and the work of innovation leaders in large organizations.  Reflecting on my family’s experience in South Sudan, I discovered seven key principles of leading innovation in totally new areas—regardless of the context:

Principle 1

Set a bold and compelling aspiration that will motivate others and demand new thinking. At Clareo, I regularly work with senior executives who are exploring, defining and building bold new business innovation, and at times, entirely new businesses. A powerful aspiration is central. Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect and urban planner, famously said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood. Put another way, if it’s clear how you’ll get from where you are today to your long-term vision, you’re not thinking big enough. Modest aspirations lead to incremental thinking; audacious aspirations lead to new and breakthrough thinking. When our team went into Sudan in the mid-2000s, everyone told us to focus on temporary medical clinics, staffed by teams of western practitioners. Instead, and in response to local community feedback, our leadership set a much bolder vision: Establish a surgical hospital, staff it with local African medical teams, and make it self-sustaining. That vision was audacious and required a new level of partnership with community leaders and likeminded NGOs, developing a sustainable revenue model for the hospital rather than merely relying on western funding sources. It also required investing in capability development and infrastructure, including technology. We’re not there yet, but progress to date has been astounding. 

Principle 2

The context of change is as vital as the change itself. Often as leaders we focus on the development of strategies and plans to drive innovation, but fail to realize that innovation happens with and through people, and must be accomplished within a given cultural and environmental context. Since achieving independence from the Sudan in July 2011, South Sudanese leaders have been seeking ways to create unity, rally its people around a cause greater than themselves or their intra-tribal differences, and empower their people to build their new nation. And, while the government plays a certain role, it is the community religious leaders who are most influential in moving the hearts of people and motivating change at the local level. By bringing together religious leaders from diverse communities and tribes, PCC has been able to build a more sustainable base of support for its efforts in the country, and in so doing, win the support of county and state government leaders in the process. The pastors and community leaders drove people to get involved to help co-create and build the hospital, and have maintained community involvement at key points. Because of this anchor of support, local government leaders have stepped up and made co-investments, such as the development of an airstrip, donating land, and providing security forces at critical points. None of this would have happened without engaging the right influencers who have the ability to win the hearts and minds of their people and motivate change at a local level. To achieve success, innovation leaders should carefully consider the context of change, as well as the formal and informal networks that are able to influence adoption of new ideas.

The Women & Children's Ward at MCH Hospital in south Sudan.

The Women & Children's Ward at MCH Hospital in south Sudan.

Principle 3

Start with their needs, not your ideas, and focus on how to enable them.  All too often as innovation leaders, we begin with the solution, when we should begin with the customer, and the problem to be solved. Getting there requires asking the right questions. When PCC began its work, they didn’t begin with the western solution (medical aid, revolving clinics); they began by probing deeply with community leaders to uncover their needs, and to co-create the solution (a surgical hospital with satellite healthcare clinics). Additionally, along the way, PCC has challenged local leaders to take ownership over their hospital—inspiring them to step up and invest, and enabling them with the resources and capabilities needed. In the early years, the community built tukels (housing) on the compound and helped build the wall around the compound. Today, they are the ones coming up with new ways to drive financial sustainability through new revenue models.  In the same way, innovation should begin with the customer, with well-articulated and high value problems to be solved.

Principle 4

In the early stages, small, targeted projects can be more effective than “big bang” efforts.  This may seem to be at odds with my point about a bold vision, but it’s not. A vision sets the aspiration, strategic frame and boundaries. However, within that frame there is value in starting small and earning the right to do more. Innovation leaders often seek out large, transformational, reputation-forming projects.  However, large projects can be difficult to sustain, and often end up abandoned. Smaller projects can generate positive momentum, or wind in the sails, and earn the team the right to do more.  PCC took this approach in South Sudan: a small hospital, well staffed, and a model that could be proven out, rather than a large capital-intensive project at the outset.  Achieving early success can be a path to momentum in the NGO world and the corporate world.

Principle 5

Foster a culture of testing, adaptation and learning. At my firm, Clareo, we apply the principles of design and “Lean Startup” when working on new innovations—especially those that are further out from a company’s core business. We focus on possibilities, not probabilities; and we begin with hypotheses we can test, not business cases we can prove. In South Sudan, tactics on the ground continually change and evolve. Organizations that succeed are the ones that are able to pivot, while staying true to their mission.

Africa has 30 percent of the world’s natural resources and some of the best climate conditions, rainfall and soil in the world, and an abundance of arable land. And yet 35 percent of Africa’s population is chronically under-nourished and the entire continent contributes just 1.3 percent of the world’s production.
— Kofi Anan

Principle 6

Maintain a relentless focus on eradicating dependency.  The world has created a massive crisis of dependency in Africa. The Western model of huge outside investment, supported largely by expatriate staff, simply does not work over the long run. Local markets are disrupted, creating more harm than good. Large NGOs are incentivized to maintain significant in-country resources and defend their core operations. Nationals are conditioned over time to seek handouts and aid instead of solutions that empower them. PCC’s approach has been precisely the opposite, working with leaders and focusing on empowerment, self-sufficiency and sustainability. Corporate leaders, especially those seeking to innovate within and around an established core business, should take a page from this book.  Rather than bringing in large teams from the outside to create the strategy for them, we find it far more effective to involve and empower the leaders responsible for carrying innovation and change efforts forward.  Failing to do so results in binders of material doing little more than sitting on the shelves of leaders who sponsored the work, abandoned like failed projects in the developing world.

A patient receives a vaccination at the MCH Clinic in South Sudan.

A patient receives a vaccination at the MCH Clinic in South Sudan.

Principle 7

Accelerate value creation through partnerships with like-minded organizations. Don’t try to go it alone. Pick reliable partners that are motivated to act. PCC made this mistake early on, but thankfully learned this lesson. Innovation is a people-business, and the people you work with must be aligned with your mission and values or the partnership will break down over time. The cost of failure is significant.

As I’ve reflected on these seven principles, I’ve found broad applicability to my corporate clients. I went to South Sudan a teacher, and returned a student.

I am now half a world away from South Sudan, both figuratively and literally.  And yet, somehow the lessons I learned there transcend geography, culture, and organizational context.  As a practitioner of innovation, I should have known to expect the unexpected. I guess I’m still learning.  That, too, is the job of an innovator.

See also: Clareo and Client Partner to Improve Healthcare in South Sudan  

Clareo and Client Partner to Improve Healthcare in South Sudan

By Scott Bowman

I applaud Scott for the work he is doing to address that nagging problem that in our lifetime, one billion people will go to their graves prematurely because they never had access to a healthcare worker. This problem can only be addressed through collaborative partnerships, and my thanks to Clareo Partners for recognizing this.
— Donato Tramuto, Founder, Health eVillages and CEO, Healthways

Experiencing the world's newest country, first-hand.

Scott Bowman (RIGHT), a managing partner at Clareo, with Gnong, an orphan from the village surrounding Memorial Christian Hospital in Bor, South Sudan. 

Scott Bowman (RIGHT), a managing partner at Clareo, with Gnong, an orphan from the village surrounding Memorial Christian Hospital in Bor, South Sudan. 

In 2015 I had the privilege to travel to the world’s newest countrySouth Sudan. I accompanied my dad and seven others from his organization, Partners in Compassionate Care (PCC),  which had founded and built Memorial Christian Hospital (MCH) just outside the capital city of Bor. Since opening its doors in 2008, MCH has treated over 80,000 people and performed more than 3,000 life-saving surgeries. It has also installed the only X-ray system in the state, and has brought clean water and multiple community-based training initiatives to the surrounding community.

We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s impossible to go to South Sudan and remain unchanged.

South Sudan has 1.6 million internally displaced persons, 60% more than the number of Syrian refugees that have poured into Europe as of January 2016.  South Sudan has had over two million war-related deaths over the past 30 years (pre & post-independence)—more than all the U.S. war-related deaths in our country’s history, Revolutionary War to present. Today, over half of all women die prematurely from maternal causes and more than a third of all children die before the age of 15. Preventable diseases such as malaria, food- and waterborne illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases and the like have created a healthcare crisis of epic proportions. And yet, our emotions are anesthetized by 24/7 news, so statistics like these often fail to move us. Being there is very different; it changes you.

A physician at Memorial Christian Hospital provides medical aid to a child in South Sudan.

A physician at Memorial Christian Hospital provides medical aid to a child in South Sudan.

I returned grateful for the blessings of life, big and small. I returned deeply moved, and developed pathos for people who have suffered so much, lost so much. I returned inspired by the joy they demonstrated, and their hope in God for a better future. And I returned motivated to follow the example of my father and take action, bringing hope and healing.

Partnering with Health eVillages to improve healthcare in South Sudan.

South Sudanese health workers, even those at MCH, lack access to medical textbooks, reference guides, point-of-care diagnostic support tools and other resources needed to provide the right care for the right person at the right time. Technology and innovation can play a role in improving quality of care and outcomes.

Scott Bowman (right) presents a tablet with the Health eVillages platform to Dr. Gai at Memorial Christian Hospital in Bor, South Sudan.

Scott Bowman (right) presents a tablet with the Health eVillages platform to Dr. Gai at Memorial Christian Hospital in Bor, South Sudan.

My firm, Clareo, has partnered with my client, Donato Tramuto, CEO of Healthways, and the organization he founded—Health eVillages, a program of Aptus Health and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights—to bring the Health eVillages digital health platform to Memorial Christian Hospital in South Sudan. The Health eVillages platform provides state-of-the-art mobile health technology, including medical reference and clinical decision support resources, to resource-starved nations. It empowers local healthcare staff, enabling them to improve quality of care, benefit from ongoing learning, and improve engagement & communication with patients. The Health eVillages platform includes a digital medical library stored directly on the device, reducing the need for reliable Internet access. It also includes illustrations, videos and other content that enables healthcare practitioners to engage with and educate consumers and patients about their health needs.

Clareo and Health eVillages are enabling and empowering the doctor, nurses and pharmacy staff at Memorial Christian Hospital to deliver improved quality of care, provide much-needed education and save lives. Since implementing the new platform in summer 2015, it has already delivered tangible benefits and promise for the future:

The Health eVillages platform has provided immediate value, from day one of implementation. It has helped us diagnose conditions faster and make better decisions. We’ve already found areas where our protocols were not in line with the latest medical research, and have made changes. These are resources we never thought would be possible for us to access in South Sudan.
— Deng Jongkuch, MPH, PCC Executive Director and Former MCH Hospital Site Administrator
We believe the Health eVillages platform could become a key enabler of our future vision: creating a network of remote clinics in smaller surrounding communities, supported by MCH.
— David Bowman, Chairman, PCC

Innovation, Stewardship and Partnership

This initiative represents a commitment we have at Clareo and the KIN to connect innovation with prosperity and improve the lives of people globally. It also represents the deep partnership we seek to maintain with clients, enabling them to achieve their mission.

Donato Tramuto (left), pictured with Scott Bowman after Donato received the RFK Ripple of Hope Award.

Donato Tramuto (left), pictured with Scott Bowman after Donato received the RFK Ripple of Hope Award.

Donato Tramuto launched Health eVillages to help “heal the villages” in the developing world. His mission is to enable safe and efficient medical care in the most challenging clinical environments, anywhere in the world, by providing the latest in mobile healthcare technology. In 2014, he was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope award for his work with Health eVillages. We are deeply proud of Donato, inspired by his work, and grateful for the opportunity to partner with his organization to bring hope and healing to the world’s newest country.

To learn more about Health eVillages, please visit healthevillages.org

See also: Lessons in Innovation from the World's Newest Country