Experimentation at Scale: Are We Getting there?

Expert: Sonja KresojevicCurator: Simone Ahuja

Co-founder of Spinnaker and a senior executive with 20 years of experience building products and driving agile and lean transformation for large, global companies.

01 // Why is experimentation important, and what’s the best approach?

02 // Across the board, it seems hard to scale. Why is that?

03 // How important is prototyping to the advancement of intrapreneurial initiatives?

// Summary

As the pace of change has rapidly increased over the past 10 years, traditional large enterprises have struggled with market disruption, changing consumer expectations and internal resistance to change.

Experimentation and innovation have emerged as a clear way to adapt in this uncertain marketplace. Yet tasking a team with running experiments or implementing lean startup prinicples at the product level isn’t enough for long-term success. Sonja Kresojevic spoke with Simone Ahuja about the process of embracing experimentation and lean principles of continuous learning and adaptation.

Embrace experimentation to scale

The best way for organizations to leverage innovation is to undergo systematic cultural transformation and help entire teams shift their mindset. An innovation mindset means a dedication to customer-centricity, continuous learning, collecting data and reacting nimbly to evidence-based information.

But anyone looking to scale transformation is bound to run into a few systemic hurdles. This is what Sonja calls running into the “walls” of the enterprise. Here are a few of those all-too-common walls that need to be systematically addressed in order to seed enthusiasm and set an example for change.

  • Traditional funding models that require a business case to allocate funds
  • Decision-making bureaucracy that asks people to jump through several hoops before getting a decision
  • A culture that’s afraid to fail fast and that could cost you your job
  • An impulse to over-protect customers, making them difficult to engage
  • Rigid HR processes that can’t hire fast enough or reassign resources if an experiment fails fast
  • Unaligned leadership expecting 3-5 year projections before greenlighting anything

Build ecosystems for experimentation

Sonja emphasizes that innovation has to serve the purpose of growing and transforming the entire organization; it can’t be considered something abstract to be done on the side. Experimentation and innovation usually fail when they’re done in isolation within the organizational hierarchy, creating a dual internal culture that can foster counterproductive divides.

“One part of the organization is perceived by the other business-as-usual part as ‘those kids over there having too much fun and not really contributing to the bottom line.’ And then all of the great principles and practices that you’re introducing are lost to the rest of the organization.”

The solution: build a cohesive ecosystem and culture that supports innovation across the board and invests in it systematically by regularly collecting data, measuring results and closely attributing them to specific projects or initiatives.

That shift in culture usually requires a decentralization of decision making, so that ideas don’t get bottlenecked on their way to upper management, but can be overseen and evaluated by people closer to the project and team.

Another tip to feed the ecosystem? Encourage people to look at ideas both big and small. If we know that 90 percent of startups and projects fail, says Sonja, then we need to generate a lot of ideas to get to that 10 percent. You won’t just stumble upon them miraculously, you need a clear framework to funnel, evaluate, fund, categorize, measure, hypothesize, test and validate them.

Lean enterprise: a goal, not a solution

When organizations come to Sonja with the intention of becoming lean enterprise or implementing lean principles, she’s quick to remind them that this isn’t about reading a book and applying it as is; it’s about adapting lean principles that make sense for your business.

To innovate and transform at the same time, build lean startup principles into your core competency as an organization. This allows you to become so adaptable that no matter what’s thrown your way or who disrupts your industry, you’re ready to adjust quickly, reassign resources and react systematically to data, evidence and experimentation.

That means not only having a good strategic hypothesis, but applying lean principles to systematically prove or disprove it, gathering enough data to support results, intentionally selecting new spheres for growth, and continuing to apply those principles at every level of innovation.

Lean enterprise logic

Every organization wanting to become a lean enterprise shares the same goal: be able to operate at core competencies and core businesses at scale. Simultaneously, it must adapt to change through experimentation, continuous learning, self-disruption and a focus on the customer.

Lean Product Lifecycle

At Pearson, Sonja helped develop the Lean Product Lifestyle, a systematic framework for building and bringing products to market from idea to retirement. This framework gives product teams autonomy to define every aspect of the innovation process, from financing, to pilots, to roll-out — all informed by data.