Lessons in Rapid Experiments and Learning from Failure

In 1943, the U.S. Airforce met with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to express their need for a fighter plane to counter a rapidly growing Nazi jet threat. Because of the need for secrecy “Skunk Works”, as it became known, was allowed to operate undercover. No rules and no bureaucracy that could stifle innovation and hinder progress.

It built the XP-80 in only 143 days, seven less than was required, and was given a full time remit to “break the rules in a safe environment”. 

I’ve given three talks this week to very different audiences – but they shared strong themes:

  • How can you kickstart different behaviours within the confines of an organisational structure?
  • How can we do experiments in public without falling flat on our face?
  • How do we make a business case for bright ideas in cash conscious times?

My simplistic advice is Think Big, Start Small.

The evolution of the Bromford Deal, featured in the slide deck above – began with just four people in a room talking about creating a new ‘deal’. We soon took three colleagues out of their operational roles and gave them a special remit – “what would we do if we started again?”

They operated in complete isolation for 12 weeks with a couple of ‘mentors’ dropping in occasionally. It was our own Skunk Works and a forerunner of what evolved into Bromford Lab.

After a raft of tests, pilots and detailed evaluation , Bromford has scaled the proposal, changed strategy, mobilised 130 new roles and is launching a transformed service.

Small empowered teams, bold tests, pilots demonstrating increased value to customers and improved cashflows have given us persuasive data to inform the business case.

More important than that is a culture that values the lessons learned when you are bold enough to attempt something that hasn’t been done before.

This week I spent a lot of time talking about rapid experiments.

Sometimes we need to scrap the comforting safety of product planning and project management. Instead, we should learn to practice high‐speed experimentation. 

The examples I give in the slides of frugal experiments are deliberately frivolous.

What happens if:

  • You stick Amazon Alexa in the office?
  • You put Google Glass on customers for home viewings?
  • You give people access to 3D Printing?
  • You install home sensors that can track the occupancy of homes?
  • You make video gaming available at work?
  • You get kids to redesign communities with Minecraft?
  • You use Whatsapp in place of team email?
  • You let your development team use drones to photograph land?

As I said to one of the groups I spoke to. We know the answer to all of these things. That puts us ahead on the learning and adoption curve of new technologies at work.

It’s these practical experiments that show whether the fundamental assumptions about radical innovation are correct and what they mean for your business.

The challenge? Shifting our learning from slow and expensive to fast and cheap.

How can you get your team to learn 10x  faster than everyone else?


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