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Try before you trust – testing times in the world of retail innovation

Dan Hartveld | June 27, 2016
It’s just important to track and prove whether your assumptions are correct as it is to deliver new functionality - and admit it if something doesn't work.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Back in 2013, John Lewis did something quite remarkable for the time. Amid all the hype surrounding the use of the latest technology to give customers an enhanced shopping experience, the retail giant admitted that one of its much-lauded innovations - introducing 'magic' virtual mirrors to its stores - hadn't worked, and dropped it.  

As it turned out, John Lewis' willingness to 'fail fast' and move on was ahead of its time - in 2016, with tech developments accelerating at an unprecedented pace, smart retailers are beginning to realise it's the most strategically sensible way to approach innovation.

Applying 'lean startup' principles to facilitate innovation

The 'lean startup' method for business and product development, first coined by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Reis, was originally proposed as a way for new companies to get their products off the ground through short development cycles, swift iterations and learning through experimenting.

The idea is that development teams carry out the smallest amount of work possible to prove an assumption, learn what works and what doesn't, build on those learnings to prove the next assumption and so on, until they have an offering that has been proven to achieve the overall goal they are looking for.

The key difference between 'lean startup' and developing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) using traditional agile methodology is:

Agile - you try to keep your development 'ready for release' from an early stage, and target an MVP for release that you believe customers will want and will deliver the KPIs required by the business (increased sales, more users etc).

Lean startup - you do the minimum amount of work possible to prove an assumption you have (via an experiment) and then you iterate based on the results of that experiment.

Example - the business wants to build an app which helps people get taxis more quickly

With agile, this means the development team will release an app as soon as they have built one that helps people get taxis more quickly.

With lean startup, this means:

  • The business believes people want to get taxis more quickly
  • The development team will first prove this is true, probably by building a sign-up website saying 'sign up here for quicker taxis in the future and we'll keep you updated'
  • If enough people sign up, the next assumption is people will want to download an app to do it, so the team will build an app that lets users see nearby taxis
  • If enough people download it, the next assumption is they'll want to use the app to hail those taxis - and so on, until the app has been shown to meet the needs of the user and the goals of the business


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