Companies struggle with deadlines for new product builds. It can take a long time to get everybody around the table agreed on a product — so much so that nobody dares let it fail. They throw money, time and effort against the wall, and launches get postponed again and again.
In a recent survey of managers across 500 major U.S. companies, 67 percent admitted that their companies were too risk-averse, with a whopping 82 percent saying they don’t distinguish their approaches between long-term and incremental innovation. Every project follows the same laborious formula that drains time and money.
For some large companies, it can take 18 months to get a product ready for market. But a lot can change in 18 months, and what seemed revolutionary might soon be a thing of the past. To avoid this scenario, entrepreneurs must embrace tight schedules and deadlines — two things large companies struggle to maintain.
Every time my team works with a client, we set ourselves a one-week deadline for opportunity identification. We start on Monday; by Friday, we’re ready to present a demonstration to senior management.
One week is perfect for our approach. It’s long enough to produce meaningful work, but it’s also short enough that we can borrow senior domain experts from the company, pulling them away from their day-to-day responsibilities to lend their minds to the project. We work together to identify the product, powering through the night to hit that Friday deadline.
Once the team has landed that Friday pitch, we aim to deliver a minimum viable product within 100 days. By keeping to this strict timetable, we force ourselves to limit our focus.
An 18-month product build will always sprawl. Tens or hundreds of new components are developed, and testing becomes overwhelming. By cutting down to 100 days, we ensure that we focus on solving a single problem — and don’t overwhelm ourselves in the process.
Here are four tips to get you started on the 100-day goal:
Systems are more powerful than ideas.
A good idea will only go so far. As far back as 2008, Yahoo recognized that mobile would be huge, but the company lacked the necessary systems to put that knowledge to use.
Ideas require implementation. Setting intermediary deadlines and an innovation schedule will establish the right system for success.
Every thesis requires rigorous testing.
Not every concept is viable, and not every product is worth pursuing. The way to establish whether you’ve got a winner is to get testing. Even PlentyOfFish, the internet dating site with more than 90 million users, continues regular testing to ensure it’s offering the most viable product it can to its customer base.
Buy banner ads. Talk to existing clients. See whether potential users are willing to put their money on the table. If nobody shows any interest, drop that concept and look for a new one.
Incubation breeds innovation.
When your testing shows you’ve found a credible product, get incubating. Establish a budget and set a timetable for success. Google X, the internet juggernaut’s scrappy innovation wing, makes large investments in projects that can prove their viability — then provides teams with the autonomy needed to incubate quickly.
Success needs level-headed analysis.
Once your product is built and tested, you should devote a year to turning it into a business. But don’t be afraid to shut down a project that fails. Nordic company Lantmännen sets a financial guide for innovative projects — 6 percent growth in the primary business and 2 percent in new projects — and those that don’t make the cut are dropped.
Some products might require additional investment of money or time, but this leniency can’t be the default. Keep a cool head, evaluating whether a product can spin back into the organization or develop into a new business and dropping any that jeopardize your success.
Innovation doesn’t come from good ideas and a refusal to let bad products fail. It requires a structured approach with strict timetables and budgets. Wasting 18 months trying to force the issue will only put your business at risk.