We are living in truly transformative times. Companies have more opportunities than ever before to use technology to improve organizational performance, productivity, and profit, and to launch themselves into new, previously inaccessible markets. Every day we hear stories of established businesses that have used technology to create unparalleled corporate advantage, or technology entrepreneurs achieving billion-dollar valuation just years or even months from launch. Technology should be among the most important focuses of CEOs or executive leaders; for company survival, not only must they adapt to technology, they must be on the forefront.
However, many CEOs and C-suite leaders struggle with determining how to choose and execute the right idea, sometimes with devastating effects: scope and budget blowout, low user adoption, staff frustration, and – worst of all – harm to their careers. This is not their fault; after all, most CEOs are not technology experts. They are business leaders, who must have their eyes on sales, marketing, financials, management, and a host of other factors that keep the business running effectively. The truth is, you’d have to maintain a single-minded focus on technological evolution to stay up to date on all that’s available to help you continually grow your business. And that just isn’t possible when you’re running an entire organization.
But this doesn’t mean a CEO should simply pick an idea that sounds good, or go with their gut and hope for the best. Before even speaking to a development team about your proposed technology implementation, there are three things you absolutely must do at the 10,000-foot level to ensure you’re betting on a winning horse.
Have you ever had an exciting technology idea that you knew would disrupt your industry? Or maybe you’ve just received a promotion and are tasked with driving market-leading advantage via technology. For those with an idea, this can be an exciting – and overwhelming – time. For those without one, it can be terrifying.
I’ve seen clients with ideas that are only partly formed, because they don’t completely recognize the full potential of the technology they’re trying to leverage. And sometimes they come to us with an idea that could have a totally different application that they can’t yet see. Whatever your situation, it’s crucial that you take the time to fully evaluate the idea from all angles before diving in. An exciting idea calls for due diligence, not fast action.
Fifty years ago, if you had an idea, you could pretty much just roll with it and, with decent execution, end up at the forefront of your industry. Today, you could hire a development team and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars executing an idea, only to discover that it already exists, and all you needed was a simple API to leverage it! Worse still, you could discover that not only is someone else doing it, but they’re doing it better than you…now you’ve wasted time and money on an idea with zero return, all because no one took a step back to examine the idea in its full context.
You might have a general awareness, for example, of how AI is transforming industries all over the globe; however, you may not currently have a complete understanding of how to leverage AI for massive efficiency improvements, or for modernizing your existing applications and IP. It just doesn’t make sense to move forward with an idea based on a limited understanding of what’s possible, when you could instead have your idea fully vetted, with a view to its total potential.
Two years ago, Mark came to us after being charged with driving his organization into the technological future, and was in search of the perfect idea to make it happen. He decided, after talking with colleagues, that the answer was to leverage their customer data. But what kind of data should they leverage? What should they do with it? How should they store it? How should it be analyzed?
Mark was overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information out there. He worried that he would move forward with a half-baked idea that would embarrass him and reflect badly on the company. Without a full understanding of the technology involved, he was concerned that anyone he hired to implement it would say whatever they had to in order to win the deal…or worse, that he’d pick the wrong company and end up with a technology flop that sank his organization entirely. In short, Mark knew he needed to sit down with a technologist – someone who wasn’t wearing a sales hat – before doing anything else.
We helped Mark understand the technology available, how he could apply it to his company’s data, and how that application could be used for profit. Excited by this independent, external point of view, he wanted to move forward with the project. We were excited by the idea too, so while we are first and foremost a consulting company, we agreed to work with him to implement his idea in-house, rather than referring him to an external developer.
The platform we built for Mark resulted in a 1000% return – it now generates 1M Euros annually (not bad for a $100K investment), all from data the company already owned.
Whether you have a general idea of the direction you’d like to take, like Mark did, or you need assistance with creating an idea from scratch, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain of where to even begin.
Fortunately, there are technology experts in every corner of the globe who can help you find the right path forward. Just don’t go into the tender process blind; your crucial first step is to work with someone who has the skills, experience, and context to fully evaluate your idea before you begin.
The second crucial area where people get tripped up in bringing their idea to life is the validation process, the most vital (and the most often forgotten) step. Too many development companies are in such a rush to get your business that they don’t actually care whether or not your idea will work, as long as you’ll pay them to build it.
Some ideas will need an internal validation process – that is, determining whether the proposed platform will actually provide the kind of data points that increase revenue, efficiency, and ROI. Customer-targeted ideas, on the other hand, need an external validation process: Are people going to purchase this? Is anyone else working on the same idea right now?
Earlier this year, Steven came to us with a well-formed idea for automated database extraction, but didn’t know whether the available technology was capable of achieving the company’s goals. We discussed what a successful validation would look like, and decided on a basic proof of concept: 85% accuracy for three core data points extracted from 4000 documents.
Without this validation process, the platform could certainly have been built, but it might not have delivered the results Steven was looking for. In fact, our validation and proof of concept led us to see that the idea could be adopted across the entire organization, not just Steven’s own silo, leading to much greater profit, efficiency, and ROI (and an obvious opportunity for promotion).
Spending a little time and money on this process upfront produces one of two outcomes: you’ll either be able to confidently move forward knowing your idea is viable, or you’ll discover you need to take a step back before sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into development.
Unfortunately, a very common problem in the industry, especially since the introduction of the Agile Method, is to accept a client’s poorly-formed, incomplete scope (sometimes as little as one page), usually with the goal of securing the client’s business. In fact, development companies often use a lighter, shorter, Agile-centered scope to their advantage, thinking that they’ll quote low and deal with any fallout later, because “projects always go out of scope anyway.” That’s when they tack on all those extra charges to make up for their initially low bid – they know that once you’re locked in with a development company, it’s difficult to switch to another, regardless of scope creep or any repercussions for you.
Even if your organization is Agile, you still need a clear scope for each building block of your project, especially an ROI analysis. The repercussions of a half-baked scope are many, and it is always the client who pays the literal and figurative price, whether in company bottom line, career trajectory, or both.
That’s why it’s so critical that you work with someone who fully understands the technology; it allows you to create a viable scope centered on your idea’s potential and your company’s overall goals. Think of it like building a house: Would you rather have an architect carefully and completely draw up the plan to take to your builder, or have them tell you halfway through that they forgot about the roof?
Recently, we were approached by Eric with a question we hear a lot: “I have a great idea for a mobile app – actually, a whole platform – for a well-defined niche market. How much would it cost to get this built?”
Let’s go back to the house idea. You could get a typical house built for anything from $50K to several million dollars, depending on exactly what you want. The same is true for app and platform development, which can generally run anywhere from $100K to $2 million. This is why the scoping phase is so important, and why defining your exact needs must come before price. I know this sounds like a lot of work. But think about the work involved in explaining to stakeholders and shareholders why the project cost and timeline has just increased by 150%, not to mention the effects on your credibility and stress level. All of this can be avoided by a scope done correctly from the beginning.
For Eric, as we do for all our clients, we undertook an intensive scope process that refined his vague idea. We clarified the idea’s full potential, along with applications of the technology that had not occurred to him, thus making a great idea even more powerful. We also discovered that there were some gaping holes in Eric’s initial ideas of functionality and application – gaps we filled in our plan for development. In essence, we made the idea viable, provided an accurate cost, and prevented the dreaded scope creep.
Armed with a full scope requirement, Eric was able to negotiate harder with development firms, and to manage the project timeline more effectively. The result was an on-budget development with deployment three months early, which, as you surely know, almost never happens in the development industry.
The bottom line is, before approaching a tech company salesperson to ask price, work with an internal or external team to fully flesh out your scope. A little effort now saves so much work, stress, and money in the future.
There are thousands of technology companies out there, but very few that are focused on your best interests and not just their sales numbers. That’s why, as the Innovation Lifeguards, we recommend taking the time to ensure full confidence in your development, instead of going into it with your fingers crossed.
If you’d like to know more about how to ensure successful digital initiatives, please click here to schedule a free consultation.