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The three most important things I have learned while solving actual digitalisation challenges for 20+ years

World is not going to stop changing. Neither should we.

Disruptive startups, changing consumer trends and disappearing competitive advantages are shaking every business as we know them. Change and new ideas are needed everywhere. And sure: we have ideas, old and new.

But which ones will work? What does it take to make them fly?

In my experience, these are three things that you should concentrate on when creating an actual working business from a new idea.

Mechanical Turk - Chess Engine Hoax

1. Pretotyping (No, it’s not a typo)

When we talk about prototyping, you probably think it as has something to do with your app or maybe mock-up of your product. Maybe we should talk about Pretotyping instead.

So what is a pretotype?

In short, pretending we already have a working solution based on an idea, testing business before we build it. Pretotyping is about testing the initial appeal and actual usage of a potential new business/product/service by simulating it’s core experience with the smallest possible investment of time and money, with real customers.

Pretotyping answers the fundamental questions. If this product or service really existed, what real-world problems would it solve? Would customers pay for it? How much would it be worth to them? Is it something people really need or want?

Pretotyping is Agile Growth Hacking in order to find the Product/Market Fit.

Happy people. Old Photo. Public domain.

2. Design things for people to love

It’s still too common we still see concept creation done by the Old-World Diva Designer without any real user interaction. Change is on the way, however. Real design is being supplemented by end-user opinions and customer polls. That’s not the whole truth, though.

In this new age of UX/CX Design, we often fall into misconception about the role of Design itself. The new designer is someone who observes potential customers and finds uncovered needs and wants, and new ways to answer them. It’s rare to find a new concept just by asking from potential users what they need. Ask Henry Ford for details and quotes…

A lot of the time people really do not know what they want, and should be shown something you think they want. Design, Build, Show, Listen and Learn. Then do it again. Iterative development is about saving money by doing the right things early on. It’s ok to fail fast, but it’s even better to succeed early.

Too often an good idea is killed because of a bad implementation in the design phase. Try a few ways to solve the problem, test them. Don’t give up too easily. It may be that the idea is spot on, but the implementation is bad. Or vice versa.

Boxer - Jack Lester. Old Photo. Public domain.

3. Lean and Mean Start-up Culture

Become Agile. Foster agility. Breathe agility. Pick a good agile and lean process as a starting point, don’t deviate from that for a while. Agile methods are like training wheels on your child’s bike. They are great help to get you started, but you can take them off when they are no longer needed.

Methods like Scrum or Kanban don’t offer you everything you need, but when creating new ways to work they give you a structure to start with. Once the Lean way of development feels natural, it’s the time to take the training wheels off and streamline the work even more. That’s the core of agility, just Keep It Simple.

Make sure the cultural change happens company-wide. It might be tempting to start small – Create innovation center, internal start-up or Lab-of-New? That’s much easier to do, to find a few out-of-the-box thinkers in your organisation. It might even if they work with rest of the organisation. Lead by example, creating fast wins and visibility for the new way of working.

This way of introducing startup mentality is walking on a tightrope, however. It may be the few chosen ones in your Lab-of-all-things-New are just going to be envied and hated by the rest of your staff. Chances are your agile vanguard will face a lot of resistance to change, possibly even leave, getting frustrated with the lack of progress.

So — co-create. Slowly involve everybody. Take baby steps and huge leaps at the same time.

The last of the truths: You always get what you measure. So measure the right things.

Team photo - South Lester Wheelers. Old Photo. Public domain.

4. [bonus] Create ideas in cross-functional team

In my 20+ years of inventing, designing, testing and developing new ideas for businesses I’ve made countless mistakes on how to develop ideas, seen even more mistakes being made. I’ve also learned the hard way some good habits. This Fourth bonus advice just might be the most important one.

Never try to make a new product/service/business with a homogenous group of people. If you have hackathons, you need more than coders. If you organize brainstorming sessions your marketing staff isn’t going to be enough on their own. Cross functional teams produce better results. And never forget your end-users and your front-line employees. They are the ones who interact with the market — your customers — every day.

In order to help businesses test their ideas and create new ones, we’ve started a new type of a consultancy. Our teams always include a minimum of three experienced seniors: professionals of Business Insight, Agile IT and User Experience Design. We call our method Digital Discovery.