Top 5 Ways to Make Your Development Process a Strategic Advantage

Rhonda Honke Innovation

Have you ever been really excited about an idea, only to see it die a slow, painful death through a rigid, cumbersome, and ultimately, expensive development process? You are not alone. Over and over again we see organizations invest time, money and effort generating ideas that don’t see the light of day. Some see that as a problem, but if we learn to deal with those quickly and with minimal investment, it can be a strategic advantage. How do you do that? Well, here are five ways to get there.

1. Be sure there is a business case to support moving an idea into development.

Avoid moving pet projects or ideas that are based on ‘gut’ alone into development. Every idea going into development should have a positive business case, even it if it is based on assumptions. We can test assumptions in the development phase, but if we don’t start working the math early, we may be assigning scarce resources to work on something that had no chance of being viable.

Part of that business case should also include a test for the meaningful uniqueness of the idea. If all you are doing is copying someone else in your industry, you may be too late to the party to generate the margin you need out of a product or service if others are first to market and you are still incurring cost to get the idea to market.

2. Focus, focus, focus.

Before taking a project into development, whether it is internally focused (ex. systems) or externally focused (product/service), set hard and fast rules for what is in and out of scope. Make it difficult to adjust the scope so that it cannot grow so large that execution becomes difficult. If necessary, phase implementation to allow you to get a minimal viable product (MVP) out first before adding additional features and benefits.

Getting an MVP out early serves multiple purposes.

1. It allows you to start generating revenue or cost savings immediately.
2. It provides you with feedback and learning from the field so you can improve the performance/user experience sooner (usually with less investment).
3. It helps maintain momentum as there are successes to drive continued efforts.

3. Engage potential customers/users early.

There is a mental hurdle that we often need to overcome here. We are so worried about putting a concept or idea in front of potential customers or employees before it is ‘perfect’, that we generally don’t engage them until the project is almost complete. Then we roll out something new and within hours, it seems, we have a list of ‘fixes’ that need to be generated and we scramble resources to minimize any negative impacts.

Let’s dream for a moment… What if we could share an idea with a sampling of customers or employees and get their initial feedback, thoughts, roadblocks, etc. so we can develop the idea with that insight in mind? How about if we came back to customers and employees a few times throughout the development process to get feedback on features/benefits we are developing so that we are focusing our efforts in the areas that matter to them? What if we could get their help in testing the finished product, service or system so we ‘break’ it before it goes live and can address bugs before the big release? Here’s the thing. We can do all of those things if we are brave enough to engage people outside of our development team and learn from them.

Not only do we get great feedback and reduce the cost of development (by reducing re-work and focusing efforts on only the most important work,) but who doesn’t like to feel as if their opinion matters?

4. Leverage a learning mindset vs a fixed mindset.

If we approach the development of an idea with a fixed mindset, we know what we want to create (product, service, system) and we become fixated in making that specific vision a reality. As we have seen, the drive to make that vision a perfect reality is fraught with cost, and sometimes is not viable in its original form. (Have you seen some of the Dragon’s Den episodes where people feel so strongly about their product that they leverage their entire life savings??) This approach may yield some successes, but it is equally likely to yield some massive failures.

Approaching development with a learning mindset allows us to be enamoured with the problem we are solving more than the identified solution. Pair that mindset with the previous point of engaging people early and you generate a vortex of power. We engage customers/employees by sharing our idea, asking for feedback and learning from them. We adapt the idea based on our learning and test the adaptations before we go back to them again. Lather, rinse and repeat. By learning from our small mistakes, we can pivot and adjust quicker, allowing us to get to market faster than traditional approaches. That speed not only lets us get to market faster, but allows us to allocate scarce resources on the right things – those things that add value in the eyes of the customers or users.

5. Make decisions based on the right data.

Throughout the development process, be sure you are collecting and analyzing the right data. Look at costs, revenue projections, market sizing, etc. As your concept evolves, so does your business case. If at any point things are looking off-side, stop and take a deeper look. In addition, there are always trade-offs that occur in the development process. Keep checking to ensure the trade-off decisions you are making are not actually eroding the meaningful uniqueness of your concept. The only thing that is more painful than killing a project is taking it live only to realize that it is a slightly modified version of something others are already doing (especially after all of that investment).

If the data is telling you to stop, don’t let your passion for the idea overstep your sense. If the business case changes and is not there, stop the project. While killing it may not feel good, it may be the best thing for the organization.

To win at development takes what I refer to as intestinal fortitude. I have faith that you can do it with the right systems to keep you focused. If you are needing a system to enable your team to make development a strategic advantage, check out Innovation Engineering here.