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COVID-19 Brief: Lean times call for Lean Innovation

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Running a disciplined innovation process to develop a new venture helps firms explore new ideas by giving them the tools to analyze the most critical risks and exploit the most promising opportunities.


But the innovation process isn’t only a magnifying glass, it can also be a mirror, helping us reflect on our current processes and look inward for the next big idea. In fact, the same Lean principles and entrepreneurial best practices pioneered by the world’s leading innovators can be leveraged by any company, regardless of industry, to optimize operations and improve project success rates.

Taking time to reflect has perhaps never been more critical. During the COVID-19 crisis many organizations have shifted into a period of operational contraction in which they must make hard decisions on what to prioritize and what to eliminate. In times of growth, even the best firms can become lax in their ability to execute a standardized methodology by which projects are evaluated. But now, when the new normal is anything but, organizations need new ways to focus execution and sustain internal alignment. As a quick thought experiment, ask yourself the following question. How likely is it that a majority of people in your organization, across lines of business and seniority levels, would give the same answers to questions like: How are our current projects supporting our long-term strategy? What are the criteria which will be used to measure success? Why was project "A" ended while project "B" was allowed to continue? If these sound like questions you've heard around the virtual water cooler, then the Lean Innovation process can help.

Lean methodology emphasizes iteration and experimentation towards a defined goal which represents a quantifiable opportunity to the business. Too often we are guilty of articulating a vision or mission rather than a goal. We aspire to be a “leader in the industry” or the “dominant player” in our market segment, but these grandiose statements are nebulous, long-term, and impossible to measure. Rather than evaluating projects on their aspirations, or an all-or-nothing bet on success, take time to convert development into smaller atomic units of provable impact. Regardless of the size of the initiative, it can be broken down into monthly or quarterly iterations in which progress can be proven against defined objectives.

Consider these iterations your Minimum Viable Products (MVPs). An MVP is startup speak for the earliest complete version of your solution, one that is designed to get the most learnings from the least amount of expense. So, instead of spending a year building a new process and hoping for the best, shorten your time to market: Conduct focus groups internally with your customers (employees), complete an internal market scan to see if anyone has attempted a similar project in the past or is doing something similar which could be leveraged, or even develop wireframe mockups of your idea and test them with users to measure engagement and improve your launch version.

In this way your company is like a solution or app, and each new or pre-existing project can be evaluated like a feature. Features solve distinct problems and deliver material value; their success can be measured by click-throughs, data-sharing, number of downloads, etc. Work as a team to define what your metrics of success are for each of your "features" and challenge their fit within the larger ecosystem. By operating in this way, your team is free to experiment because the guardrails are in place to allow for features to come and go based on need, but the process and core value stream remains uninterrupted.

Summary

By leveraging Lean Innovation to evaluate and optimize your operations, your team can have productive conversations on what is in scope and how success will be measured.  While prioritization and resource conversations are rarely enjoyable, ultimately it will give your team greater clarity and alignment around what should be prioritized. These can also help build in go/no-go decision points along the way, ensuring you have an exit strategy throughout development and that you are always able to allocate support to the most promising ideas.

If you think Lean Innovation could help your team come out of the COVID-19 crisis stronger, RGAX regularly facilitates Life Design Sprints with clients to help define problems and develop solutions. The Life Design Sprint process built by RGAX takes the best practices from leading global technology companies and adapts them to meet the unique needs of the life and health insurance industry. Contact RGAX if you are interested in learning more.

The Author

  • Chase Huey
    Executive Director
    Innovation Studio
    RGAX

Summary

Chase Huey of RGAX, RGA’s transformation engine, explains how the implementation of the lean methodology can optimize processes and improve project success rates during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • Chase Huey
  • Huey
  • innovation
  • innovation process
  • lean methodology
  • life design sprints
  • RGAX