Six Secrets of Rapid Learning
The pace of consumer and market change is increasing. Businesses need to evolve their offer at ever faster rates, in line with what their customers want, and ahead of the competition.
Easier said than done. And having scale doesn't help. The more outlets a consumer business has, the harder it is to rapidly evolve the offer coherently across all those sites, and the more difficult it becomes to stay ahead of smaller, swifter rivals.
The fact that most innovations fail, and that funding is increasingly tight for most businesses, means finding ways to test and learn quickly and cheaply becomes ever more valuable. In these straightened times, using low-cost, flexible, rapid learning trials is a far more effective way of developing new or evolved formats, than expensive traditional design-and-test approaches.
The key difference of rapid learning from classic design-and-test is the knowledge that the solution will never, ever be right first time. The whole philosophy is to get something on the ground quickly that you can change and evolve from day one. This forces a real focus on minimising cost and working on the most important elements first. It is completely driven by listening to and engaging with the customer, and observing their behaviours first hand in a live trial environment.
Here's my simple, six-step approach to delivering this capability in your business.
1. Fix the Focus
Rapid learning trials are fluid and messy, with lots of changes on-the-fly, so it's easy to lose focus and start chasing too many opportunities. It's essential that the scope and purpose of the trial remains simple and clearly expressed. Is it to reduce costs? Improve cusomer experience? Attract a new customer group? If there's more than one objective, what's the most important? It's often better to split different objectives into phases and focus on cracking them one at a time. Capture the other ideas and ambitions as they emerge, and put them in other trials. Don't muddy the picture and confuse the scope of this one.
2. Pick your Pilots
The selection of sites is absolutely paramount. They need to have the qualities required for the opportunity, whether that's the physical space and facilities, location or access to the right customer groups. There needs to be no more than a handful, as they will have to be intensively supported. But most importantly, they need to be run by flexible, open-minded, positive, capable and objective managers and teams, whose opinions are respected and listened to across the organisation.
3. Open up Options
Right from the beginning, the team need to be identifying and de-constructing the things that are and aren't working, creating options and controlling their implementation on the ground. With such rapid change, measurement is minimal, and focused only on the key metrics. The design calls are based directly on observations and feedback, hence the need for intensive on-site support.
4. Clarify Choices
Within a few iteration cycles, specific solutions will start to emerge in the trial sites. A critical success factor for rapid learning trials is the ability to identify these solutions, pull them out and define them for the next phase. The trial site is not there to perfect the model, that is for the proof stage. The purpose of the trial is to find a range of potential solutions that the team are confident will deliver the original objectives when rolled out. These need to be defined as discrete choices to take through to the next stage, to be proven in a fresh set of sites.
5. Prove the Product
The proof phase of a rapid learning trial is a more traditional, measured test environment. There will be a degree of refinement, but it should be immediate and minimal. Having the original team on-hand as the first sites go live is always useful, as they carry the knowledge with them, and will feel empowered to use it. But it's important that, at this stage, all of the teams involved align stongly behind the model that is being proven so the trial sites are consistent, the measurement is real, and the conclusions robust. Learning objectives are: model refinement, stress testing and rollout methodology.
6. Roll the Remainder
Now is the time to bring out the vocal evangelists from the earlier sites, and to put them centre stage. Use the learnings from roll out in the proof phase, and put the internal PR and comms machines into overdrive. The ability, and appetite, to roll out waves of proven innovation with high levels of engagement and execution is a core strength for operations - one that will get stronger with each wave of change that is successfully delivered.
If you want more information on how to build this capability, give me a call.
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