Archive for the Tag 'Case study'

Intuit’s High-Velocity Experiments

Point: Fast-cycle experiments let companies create the best product/service offering with the least risk.

Story: At the World Innovation Forum, Scott Cook, co-founder of Intuit, described his company’s culture of high-velocity experimentation. Intuit uses an experiment-driven decision-making process throughout the organization. Rather than expect executives and managers to know all the answers, Intuit uses large numbers of low-cost experiments to test new product, service, and marketing ideas.

To illustrate how high-velocity experimentation works in organizations, Cook described how the concept works in Intuit’s 20-person online TurboTax unit.  In the past, this unit ran about 7 experiments during the annual three-month tax filing season.  Now they run 140 experiments.  Not only do they run more experiments, but they run each experiment on a fast cycle so that they can accumulate results and grow more knowledge during each season. Intuit created a weekly cycle for developing, testing, and analyzing experiments that lets each experiment create new information that feeds into the next set of experiments the next week.

Fast experimentation also improves employees’ sense of engagement and ownership.  In the past when the 20-person team did only seven experiments per year, the average team member might only have one of “their” experiments run once every three years.  But with new high-velocity approach, each employee creates and tests a new idea once every two weeks.

Paradoxially, running more experiments and getting more failures lowers the fear and cost of failure.  When a company runs only a few experiments — and every change or new product really is an experiment — then each experiment matters a lot more to the company and to the employees working on that experiment.  If an employee works for more than a year on a single big experiment, then the failure of that experiment surely has an impact on the employee’s career, even if the company professes to permit failure.  But if an employee works on many quick experiments that steadily improve organizational performance, then the success or failure of individual experiments matters little.

In Intuit’s case, 89% of experiments fail, and yet the online TurboTax unit increased conversions by 50% and successfully created a widely-lauded smartphone app that lets people do their entire tax preparation — from taking photos of tax documents, to automatically putting numbers in the right boxes, to electronically filing their forms — all on a smartphone.  The hundreds of tiny experiments let the TurboTax unit tweak and test many variations to come up with the best offering.


  • Trust experiments rather than experts to find the truth in a dynamic and volatile business environment.
  • Teach individuals how to perform cheap experiments by finding and testing the key assumptions behind every new idea rather than building one big new product.
  • Use large numbers of low-cost experiments to both grow knowledge and improve employee engagement.
  • Create an accelerated cycle of experiments to reduce time-to-knowledge and time-to-market.
  • Coach executives to become experiment-seekers — to use experimentation as a key decision-making tool.

1 Comment »Case study, CEO, Customers, Growth, How-to, Innovation, New Product Development, Software tool

Breaking the Rules to Create a Bestseller

Point: Rule-breaking products may require business model innovations.

Story: At BIF7, Alex Osterwalder told his story of breaking the rules when creating his book, Business Model Generation, now an international bestseller. Creating this book meant taking a lot of risks.

The current business model for business books is broken, Osterwalder said. There are too many books and too few readers. Every year, another 11,000 new business books pile on top the 250,000-space of competing titles. The average book sells only 250 copies per year. Worse, book sales are declining: a 12% drop from 2007 to 2009. If Osterwalder wanted to create a book on business models that people would love to buy,  he would need to innovate the business model for business book production and sales.

From the start, Osterwalder asked people what they hated about current business books. People said existing books were too fat with turgid prose but at the same time too light on substance. Second, people found the books impractical because they lacked useful “Monday morning” actions items. Finally, the books were too text-heavy, missing the richer, reinforcing learning experience of a text-and-graphics combination.

To address these problems, Osterwalder envisioned something more like a coffee-table book akin to architecture books, being simultaneously informative and beautiful.

Osterwalder also faced a business problem: no book publisher wanted to break the rules of traditional business books to publish his book. At the time, Osterwalder was an unknown author from Switzerland wanting to create a book with high production values, expensive color printing, and a very un-business-book approach. The only solution was self-publishing.

But, self-publishing wouldn’t be easy because Osterwalder had neither the cash, book production resources (editors, designers, etc.), marketing department, nor  distribution assets of a publishing house.

To solve the problem, Osterwalder recruited peers to co-create the book. Ultimately, 470 people contributed to the book in a wide variety of ways. People joined Osterwalder for early access to the ideas, to be part of something bigger, and for the stimulating collaborative process of working on the topic. Not only did this community of contributors help make the book, but they were also its best sales force.

To raise money, Osterwalder offered advanced sales under a “pay me now to reserve a copy” philosophy. Demand for the book proved higher than expected, so he raised the price from $24 to $36 to $54 to $81. And, just before publication, he offered a last-minute premium deal: for $250, the buyer would be listed in the book as a contributor who helped make it happen. For distribution, Osterwalder ultimately chose Fulfillment by Amazon.

The book quickly became a bestseller in business and in the top 100 of all books selling on Amazon. Osterwalder’s success in self-publishing attracted the attention of Wiley and other traditional publishers, who would never have taken a risk on Osterwalder’s book. “Once you’re successful, everyone wants in,” Osterwalder said. After tough negotiations, he signed with Wiley. To date, over 200,000 copies have sold and the book has been translated into 22 languages.


  • Listen to customers and partners to uncover why competitors fail.
  • Look for lateral inspiration; that is, look for out-of-category products that evidence desirable characteristics.
  • Pre-build customers through a co-creation community in advance of the product release.
  • Play with the pricing and offering to maximize revenues and volume.
  • Find service partners and community members to handle or support the critical secondary tasks of the business.

6 Comments »Case study, Innovation

The Search for Innovations

Point:  Use roving cross-functional teams to hunt for promising new product and service ideas.

In a world of large organizations and diverse global hotspots for R&D, innovation occurs everywhere.  Companies can tap those innovations through search processes, which may be cheaper and more effective than only using traditional “start from square one” R&D efforts.  The rationale: there may be no need to re-invent the wheel if the wheel already exists somewhere inside (or outside) your organization.

Here’s how multinationals General Mills and Whirlpool approached the search for innovations. General Mills formed two “innovation squads” consisting of six-to-eight employees selected from multiple functions. The squads are tasked with hunting for ideas from inside and outside the organization – one squad focuses on finding ideas internally, the other focuses on looking outside the organization.  The squads present the best ideas they’ve found to division heads. Once a quarter, the squads give their top 10 ideas to the company chairman.

For example, one squad found a patent for a new method of encapsulating calcium. The patent had been donated to a university. The squad converted it into a very successful new line of orange juice with added calcium that doesn’t taste chalky.

Similarly, Whirlpool designates some employees as innovation mentors – “i-mentors” – training them in innovation and tasking them with identifying promising new product ideas from across the organization. Whirlpool has 1000 i-mentors globally.  Most of the individuals self-identified and asked for the training, which consists of a formal training program that creates a common language for innovation and embeds innovation into an organizational competency the way Six Sigma training does. Whirlpool developed “how-to” guides for its innovators, including analysis of who has contact with whom [network analysis].


  • Explicitly designate individuals or teams to look for innovations
  • Provide innovation training to these cross-functional teams
  • Cast a wide net when searching for good ideas
  • Filter, refine, and present the best ideas for funding/implementation decisions


“Unleashing Innovation,” Research-Technology Management,

Mason Carpenter and Sanjyot P. Dunung, “Harnessing the Engine of Global Innovation” in International Business, Flatworld Knowledge, August 2011

Jessie Scanlon, “How Whirlpool Puts New Ideas Through the Wringer,”

Peter Erickson, “Innovating on Innovation” Keynote Presentation at the Front End of Innovation Conference, Boston, MA, May 2009

Comments Off on The Search for InnovationsCase study, Growth, How-to, Innovation, International, New Product Development, R&D

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