Tomorrow’s Too Late: Rapid Time to Market is Table Stakes for Digital Innovation
Tomorrow’s Too Late: Rapid Time to Market is Table Stakes for Digital Innovation by Roald Kruit
This series outlines the core capabilities every organization needs in order to drive digital innovation. In our first post, we discussed unleashing creativity through greater collaboration between IT and business. In this post, we highlight the importance of rapid time to market.
The number one lesson Adrian Cockcroft, now Technology Fellow at Battery Ventures, learned from his tenure as cloud architect at Netflix is that “Speed wins in the marketplace.”
That’s because the pace of change and innovation is accelerating rapidly, as digital technologies radically transform our lives and our expectations, both personally and professionally. For example, it took the telephone 75 years to reach 100 million users while Instagram accomplished that feat in just two years.
To compete on the digital battlefield and capitalize on new opportunities, you must able to bring new ideas to market at unprecedented speeds, in weeks or even days. If a project takes months or years to deliver, you’re already too late. A competitor will have beat you to it, or the market will have shifted.
Thus, you need to dramatically shorten the time between innovative new ideas and the digital applications they embody. Key is making each step in the application lifecycle as fast and as frictionless as possible. Let’s look at some ways you can do that, to minimize your time to market.
In most companies, you need budget approval to pursue an idea. And to secure budget, you need a well-defined business case justifying the investment. Unfortunately, because it’s often difficult to predict the outcome of digital applications, it can take months to build an approved business case.
For this reason, it’s important to have a dedicated budget and phased approach to managing digital projects. By defining success criteria and budget guidelines for each stage—generally, the earlier the phase, the lower the budget—you’re able to keep the cost and risk of exploring new ideas low and eliminate red tape that prevents projects from getting off the ground.
For instance, one of our customers established an Idea Factory. If employees have an idea, they need the approval of just one manager to get budget for one day of development to do a high-level feasibility check. If the idea is deemed feasible, they automatically get budget for three days to build a first demo, which they can then bring to the business to secure budget for a pilot.
To minimize time to market, it’s important to kick-start your project and begin working towards a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) as quickly as possible. There’s no need to spend months (or even a year, as was the case with MassHousing) writing upfront specifications that are likely unclear and subject to change. Instead, you can shrink your Design phase to just a couple of days by focusing on two key deliverables:
- A one or two page document outlining the high-level project goals, instead of detailed specifications. This document is your guiding “north star” for the project.
- A kickoff workshop that brings the entire team together, including the business. During this meeting, the team should write the first set of user stories based on the one pager.
From there, the team can take the user stories and immediately begin building small pieces of functionality, getting user feedback, and iterating.
Once you have your initial design, you’ll want to maintain the same speed throughout the development process and bring your MVP to market as quickly as possible. This can be achieved through visual, model-driven development, which applies a higher level of abstraction and automation than 3GL programming languages, enabling significantly faster build and change cycles. In addition, visual models create a common language for business and IT to collaborate more effectively, which helps ensure first time right delivery and minimizes rework.
As your team matures, you can add a layer of reusability on top of model-driven development that further reduces time to market. For instance, LV= Insurance developed a starter-kit with all the required components to kick-start a new project that they published in their private app store. LV=’s new approach had already reduced new product introductions from 18 to 3 months. But through reusability, they were able to shrink time to market even further, down to an impressive three weeks!
In the old world, if it took six to 12 months to develop an application, waiting three months for the infrastructure (e.g. database, webservers, firewalls, ITD, etc.) for on-premises deployment wasn’t an issue. But when you shrink the design and development phases significantly, rapid deployment becomes critical path. We’ve seen large organizations, in particular, crank through development only to wait months for hardware, grinding the project to a halt.
To release quickly, you need cloud or private cloud capabilities for instant provisioning and deployment of applications. Instant deployment enables easy sharing of prototypes during development, seamless staging across the DTAP cycle, and continuous delivery as you iterate on your MVP. In the (private) cloud, everything is designed for sharing and reuse, and automated provisioning, scalability and maintenance.
Lastly, it’s very important to communicate clearly to the business that with this new approach, you’ll deliver an MVP and then frequent, ongoing releases. You have to overcome the perception—stemming from traditional IT projects—that users have to jam all feature requests in or else wait for the next yearly release. Otherwise, your MVP will become too bloated and time to market will suffer.
At the same time, you need good processes and tooling to cope with all the user feedback that will flow from the release of your MVP. For instance, the Mendix platform includes capabilities for capturing user feedback within the application and feeding it directly into the development environment. DevOps practices also become important to ensure the team can cope with continuous, incremental change.
The key is always moving fast, even if you’re not always first
It’s important not to confuse rapid time to market with always being first to market. Certainly, there’s a lot to be gained by gaining a first-mover advantage with a new innovation. But in many cases, it’s equally important to react quickly to competitive threats in order to protect market share.
For instance, one of our customers built a customer self-service portal in six weeks, only to discover a week before go-live that their biggest competitor launched a mobile app. They delayed the launch a few weeks to build their own mobile app. Thanks to their speed and agility, they were able to quickly achieve parity with their competitor.
More than ever, speed is essential to gaining and maintaining a competitive edge in today’s digital world. In many organizations, however, these capabilities are at odds with the traditional IT mandate of efficiency and reliability. For more insight into balancing the competing priorities of maintaining mission-critical systems with delivering innovative applications, read my post on how to implement bimodal IT.