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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.

The same principles can equally be applied to innovation projects in established businesses:

  • Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Innovation should focus on proving your next key assumption, beginning with 'I think that implementing function X will improve customer experience'. Retailers should focus on goals that enhance customer experience and contribute to increased sales or operational efficiency.
  • It's just important to track and prove whether your assumptions are correct as it is to deliver new functionality. If the new offering doesn't do what you hoped, the business should have the courage to move on - as John Lewis did with its 'magic mirrors'. This isn't wasted money or effort - your business (and teams) has learned what doesn't work in the most efficient manner possible, rather than making a more costly assumption later down the line.
  • The technology (mobile devices, digital signage, contactless commerce, virtual assistants, augmented reality and more) and wealth of data (customers' purchase history, wishlists, feedback, coupon use etc) available to today's retailers combined with innovation platforms designed to connect them together allow for high-speed development of an MVP. It's possible to put together a streamlined version of a product or process innovation in a matter of weeks, where more traditional methods might take months.
  • The ability to quickly develop a streamlined MVP enables retailers to build, measure and learn what works and what doesn't in a 'real world' environment. They can then either tweak any features which don't contribute to either customer experience or business results, or get rid of them altogether and use what they learned to try something that might work better.

Low cost, low risk, high impact

'Lean' doesn't only apply to the development process - this way of working cuts a lot of the fat from costs and resources. It also keeps strategic risk to a minimum; it shouldn't affect business as usual if it's done properly, and there's always a way out of experiments that don't work before they become an expensive mistake.

Where lean methodology does have significant impact is in the introduction of brand new ways of doing things which have practical benefits. Telefónica, for example, used lean startup methodology to develop Mobile Connect, which revolutionised user authentication through their mobile SIM card. It's a project which could conceivably have been years in the making if it followed a traditional task and activity-based project management format which doesn't allow for trying, testing, learning and failing and instead attempts to control all issues and outcomes from the start.

Lean and agile?

Of course, the leaner you become, the more agile you become. These methods for development and innovation go hand in hand - synchronising lean iterations with agile development cycles speeds up MVP development and allows for quicker testing, learning and adjusting.


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