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How fear is holding back Aussie businesses

You and your team are busy at work. Operational demands drain your resources and rob you of precious time, but to stay relevant, innovation and continual change are required.

So you have identified a project that needs to be done. It is important for the business, but not urgent…yet! How do you muster the resources to get the project off the ground without months of effort? How do you test customer reactions before making an expensive commitment?

The lack of consistency in answering these questions is something that has frustrated me at different organisations. At one retail company, the head of operations and I put aside an hour each day for a month to scope out a full ERP and e-commerce integration project.

This was a huge commitment, and we still had to iterate our requirements afterwards, which meant months of work. It only worked because the ops manager and I were on the same page, but sometimes you end up working with staff who couldn’t care less about the project, even though their employment future could depend on it!

That’s why I was eager to hear Kyla Robinson of Saks Fifth Avenue (Saks) talk about the five-day design sprint at this year’s Online Retailer conference in Sydney.

The design sprint is a method used at Google Ventures, Google’s investment arm, to help startups get their concept to market fast. Robinson borrowed the concept when she was tasked with developing a new app at Saks.

She already knew that customers used their phone for five hours per day. It was clear that putting mobile first would enable Saks to put their customers first. But given her limited budget, how could she refine her requirements and get to the nitty gritty parts of research and development to ensure they were travelling in the right direction?

The solution was the Google Design Sprint. Here’s how it works: a group of people have five days to identify a concept, build a prototype and test it with customers.

Day 1: Define the challenge and map the customer journey
Day 2: Sketch solutions to the problem in wireframes (avoid group meetings, which cause groupthink)
Day 3: Decide on final wireframe and draw it out
Day 4: Build a prototype (a variety of design apps are available to do this)

Day 5: Compile questions and test the concept with the customer

Once Robinson’s team had completed these steps, they were able to move forward with customer feedback. Over the next six months, they tested new features and versions with 60 customers, who agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements, with the overarching goal of reducing the number of taps it takes for customers to get to a product.

The testing process involved continuous releases of new features, weekly customer reviews, monthly user tests and feedback rounds measured against KPIs, a marketing task force and a rolling 90-day plan.

Looking back, Robinson said three things were critical to the success of the project:

  • Understanding that customer first = mobile first
  • Using the Google Ventures design sprint
  • Focusing on customers

She also came up with a set of questions to determine whether an organisation has truly adopted a mobile-first mentality or just says the words. (In fact, we asked many of these same questions when we redesigned the Internet Retailing website in 2015.)

  1.  Do you start with the smallest screen when building concepts and design initiatives?
  2. When presenting concepts across your organisation, are you presenting mobile screens as the primary or secondary screen?
  3. When Teams are doing QA across merchandising, design, marketing product and engineering, are they incorporating mobile devices in reviews?
  4. Are teams consistently considering complexity and weight for rendering over carrier networks and importance of building services or mobile?

The design sprint method is quick, the benchmarks are understandable and the process is easy for anyone to grasp. I have hope that Gen Y (also known as millennials) and Gen Z will adopt these methods, along with the few odd futurists.

And yet, I think these concepts will be met with resistance from almost everyone else. There is a fear to test anything different in the Australian business sector, especially among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Sadly, it is to their detriment.

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