For large organizations, discovering whether or not a product or idea will be successful takes an average of 89 days. But with the right techniques, you can ideate and validate in just 5 days.

Why Business Agility is So Important

Whenever we talk about the ability of companies to adapt their products according to market needs, the word "agile" is one of the first we call to mind.

Agile methodologies help companies launch new products incrementally, at the same time adapting their chain of internal processes to support the maintenance services of their portfolio. Business agility is also a characteristic of companies with a high capacity to generate innovation and gain space in the market.

Nowadays, the term "Corporate Darwinism" is used to describe companies with the capacity to remain relevant in the market, or else to become an endangered species.

Larger companies that are in the process of digital transformation still have complex internal processes that are vital to their value delivery chain, though mature processes are very bureaucratic in many circumstances and full of interdependencies and chains of approval.

In these companies, which have business areas with high knowledge of the market and which map new opportunities for their consumers, it is essential that there is speed in the process of modeling new ideas so that an idea is transformed as quickly as possible into a minimum viable product (MVP) and its market traction can be validated. An MVP is the fastest and cheapest way possible to validate low-risk hypotheses.

The Problem: What Happens When Processes Aren't Agile

This is where businesses face many difficulties. The processes mentioned above are complex and require maturity, and in larger companies, ideas are subject to time-consuming approval chains. Getting the product or service ideation phase right is essential to a company's ability to deliver something new in time to capture a new market opportunity. 

For example, producing a new product requires stipulating a business case with a coherent idea model that is aligned with all business areas involved. Everything needs to be defined up front, including the financial resources and technical teams involved in creating the product, the amount of time that will be spent to start development, and when the work will begin. 

This is a phase that we will call Discovery. In larger companies, the discovery phase requires numerous alignment and approval meetings, and often the time spent on approval means that after the approval process is completed,  the innovation idea may already be obsolete. Real cases show that this stage can take an average of 89 days before the project is approved.

We can see that the time to market is compromised and the company misses several opportunities because they don't have agile processes. Imagine a massive transatlantic ship - the crew wants to change direction downwind, but because the ship is so large, the crew is so large, and communication takes so much time, the crew is unable to perform the maneuver in time to obtain the benefit of a favorable current. In this scenario, a smaller and more agile boat can do better, just as small companies often move faster.

A factor that contributes to this slow pace is that many of the professionals assigned to work on these projects have to manage their routine duties in addition to the new project, and the project, however important it is, is often not seen as a priority since people will continue to be assessed in the same way based on their normal work routine.

The Solution: Techniques that Change the Game

To create an initial product design that takes into account proposals and ideas from the business side and technical teams, exercises and specific group dynamics are recommended to generate constructive discussions in a safe environment. In this way, a single product view is generated to guide teams at the beginning of development.

By providing collaborative workshops and applying Design Thinking practices, teams can build a more coherent view of the MVP in just 5 days, with initial cost and time estimates included. In other words, when the entire team is focused and collaborating together, it's possible to reduce the discovery phase from 89 days to 5 days. This is because ideas are voiced and doubts are solved in real time. When key players aren't focused, the process takes an average of 89 days due to the unavailability of key players for the initial survey since whoever conducts the survey has to find the right people and connect their ideas separately.

Workshops help to get everyone in the same room at the same time to expedite the process. Beyond ensuring engagement, workshops are valuable because they allow for several techniques that stimulate the creation of ideas to be developed as product functionalities. 

All approaches favor the incremental development process, where new discoveries identified throughout the process are incorporated into the product's backlog and prioritized according to the value they provide.

Examples of a Fast Discovery

Let's look at some examples of workshops that make it possible to reduce the discovery stage:

Design Sprint - A set of exercises that make it possible to create and test a prototype in 5 days, following a set of brainstorming steps such as mapping, sketching, decision making, prototype creation, and testing. Design sprints are suitable for teams that need to validate ideas through analysis, testing prototypes, and experimentation for product modeling.

Story Mapping - A technique for building products that, through the visualization of cards containing the needs of users, enables the creation of proposals for product features. The technique can be used by any team that wants to start creating a new product, but it is recommended for teams already familiar with the agile mindset of incremental development.

Lean Inception - A workshop containing a sequence of dynamics for mapping objectives, identifying personas representing characteristics of product users, and suggesting functionalities through brainstorming exercises. Lean inceptions are suitable when business teams and technical teams are working together to better understand the user's needs.

It is important to note that these discovery and ideation-focused sessions generate many benefits, even if their results are simply discovering that the project is not worth creating, that it may eventually cost twice as much as expected, or even that the company does not have the resources necessary for its development. These discoveries are a success because in 3 to 5 days you will know if it's worth moving forward with an idea. As important as knowing where to go is knowing where not to go!

How long has the product ideation stage taken in your company? Share your experience in the comments.

Note: this post was co-written by Michel Duarte Correa.


Moacir Otavio Di Pietro

Moacir Otavio Di Pietro is an Agile and Digital Transformation specialist at Avenue Code, with more than 20 year of experience in the IT industry in the e-commerce and online business segments.

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