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28 February 2019 3 min read

Experimentation is the key to unlocking business agility

Will Goodman

Will Goodman
Manager | People and process excellence | London

“I have not failed, I have just learned 10,000 ways that don’t work” – Thomas Edison. 

In a world defined by technical innovation, ambiguity and rapidly changing customer demands, speed of response, creativity and empowerment are key weapons for success.  However, a common challenge we see amongst our clients is a fear of failure paralysing decision making while increased regulation leads them to strive for more up-front certainty and control.  This conflict often stifles creativity, slows progress and drives organisations down a path of projects becoming ‘too big to fail’.

Our answer to avoiding this – experimentation.  When delivering change, organisations often won’t know what the final outcome should look like, how they will deliver it, or the challenges they will face along the way. Taking an experimental approach to delivering projects enables organisations to handle this ambiguity and maintain control, while delivering an outcome that is often better than originally anticipated.What do we mean by an experiment? To us an experiment is testing a theory or idea in a controlled environment, to gain evidence for its likely viability of success ahead of a wider implementation.

Here are our top five reasons why an experimental approach works:

1. You’re more likely to get the right answer.

Experimentation allows you to trial and test a number of ideas to find the ones that work. You will fail along the way, however, you increase your chance of finding the right answer and also learn a lot more. You will also fail faster, meaning that you are more likely to find out that a solution doesn’t work, before it becomes too big to fail and results in a sub-optimal solution being forced into the business

2. It is more cost effective.

Traditional approaches to change programmes will use business cases to focus funding on one big bet. However, if you look at most good investment strategies, they de-risk their investment by spreading the money they have across multiple investments, continuing to invest in the successful ones and not in the rest. Experimentation uses the same concept; we back several ideas, regularly review them and focus our investment on those that are delivering the value desired. You don’t necessarily invest less money, but your odds of seeing a sustainable return increases

3. It enables bigger, more innovative thinking while maintaining reduced risk.

People rarely risk a lot on the unknown; preferring to stay within their comfort zones. Experimentation enables you to test those crazy theories, prove that they work and de-risk these ideas by being able to showcase real evidence that they work before scaling them up in a sustainable manner

4. Benefits start to occur sooner.

Being able to spin up an experiment and prove a working theory more quickly than a full project, enables you to demonstrate value much sooner.  As a result, you can start to implement changes almost immediately and ‘roll-in’ the business to the new way of working as you scale, delivering quicker benefits

5. It improves your culture.

Many people feel like they struggle to get their ideas heard; even rarer is seeing one of their ideas implemented and growing in their organisation.  Experimentation provides organisations with a fantastic platform upon which to create a culture of mutual ownership for business success among their people, and creates engagement by enabling their people to deliver the changes that they see the business needs.

You can try this concept today with your team. Take a problem, ask for their ideas and give them the support to go and test them!  Start small, experiment to find out what works for you and remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!