Using testable hypotheses to bring lean startup into the enterprise


Last week I ran a brief workshop at the strategy offsite of a professional services organization, with their top 100 executives in attendance. They wanted to understand major business trends and the implications for both their own organization as well as the services that will be valuable for their clients.

In a highly interactive session I ran through major trends in technology, business, and society, went into depth on the lessons emerging from lean startups and crowd-based models, and then facilitated groups in generating high-potential ideas for new service lines and creating a high-performance organization.

While many of the concepts of lean startups feel quite foreign within many established organizations, a useful way to help shift thinking is to focus on the concept of ‘testable hypotheses’. This is central to how dynamic startups function, and can fairly readily be introduced into large organizations – and their clients – without seeming overly radical.

In introducing the idea into enterprise I have found it useful to frame testable hypotheses as 5 steps:

1. What do you believe customers will respond to positively?

This could be for either existing or new customers, and helps define potential initiatives as well as emphasizing customer value.

2. How can I test this as quickly and inexpensively as possible?

Idea seeding and brainstorming can often help managers identify quicker, cheaper approaches than they might initially consider.

3. What specific measurement will tell me my hypothesis is correct?

Identifying both measurable outcomes and pre-defined levels for validation facilitates more rapid iteration.

4. Hypothesis validated or not, what have I learned?

There is always success if something is learned at low cost and effort which can be applied to subsequent initiatives.

5. What is the next assumption to test?

Early identification of next hypotheses and steps allows for faster progress.

There are plenty of processes and approaches that can be readily brought to bear in making large organizations far more agile in innovation and growth initiatives.

However the first step is often to get executives and managers to try a different approach to small projects and see the benefits.

This can quickly defuse objections and allow new processes to be applied more broadly, particularly to initiatives that are explicitly framed around growth.