That’s Jeff Bezos, speaking in 2016 to his shareholders about Amazon’s innovation engine. Take it from the richest man in the world, experimentation is an essential part of innovation, something that will set your design apart from the competition.
Experimentation may be key, but what does implementing it actually entail? How can product managers take advantage of this to spark ideas in their team and encourage product innovation? Follow these steps to run an effective experimentation hypothesis workshop that will engage your staff and boost your product schema.
- Define the terms
Before you begin, have a clear definition of the problem. Without clear parameters, your experimentation will wander into territory that is either unrelated to the issues at hand or difficult to implement effectively. Usabilitygeek highlights the importance of framing vision and outcomes in a testable, comparable form.
When setting up the workshops, involve team-members that have a close knowledge of product issues and customer complaints, or better yet make sure the whole team has detailed knowledge of the issues they are hoping to solve. This means customer-facing roles, who are often removed from experimentation workshops.
“The second important precursor point is to define the roles of each workshop participant. This is basically divided into workshop facilitator — normally the team leader or head product manager — who will structure the workshop and monitor its outcomes, and the participants who will be coming up with solutions,” says Vincent Adams, a tech blogger at Essay Writing Services.
We assume if you’re reading this that you are the facilitator. Welcome!
- No idea is a bad idea
Now that you have parameters set and roles are given out, make your experimentation workshop a safe space for dreaming. Allow the participants to understand that all ideas are safe within the bounds of the workshop. The point of this is to encourage a wide variety of solutions to product issues and customer problems, no matter how unfeasible or far-fetched. If you’ve set adequate parameters, as per the first point, then all ideas will be related to the problem at hand, so they are all potential solutions to be discussed.
- Come prepared
Make sure you’ve laid the groundwork for the workshop by asking participants to prepare customer problems that need solutions. This is the material from which your workshop will be built, so it’s important that participants approach this with care and attention.
However, just because participants do the prep, doesn’t mean it’s always usefuly. At this stage, it’s common for participants to put the solution into the problem statement. “Customers want to do x with y” is not a legitimate statement of a problem, it’s a solution disguised as a complaint.
Encourage participants to find a problem and back it up with statistics on what the problem loses you. Even if a customer suggests a solution (“I want to be able to scan my card with my camera”), try to get to the root cause of the problem instead (“Customers find entering their payment details frustrating.”)
You’ve now met and collected all problem statements and are ready to start the workshop. In order to structure it, you as the facilitator must get the group to decide on a hierarchy in which to approach the problems.
There are lots of ways to prioritize problems, so what you use depends on how your team works. Setting up a prioritization matrix is a great way to track multiple variables and give each participant a say on what they think is more important for the business. Use these systems to pick one problem statement to tackle first.
Once you have your core initial problem, your participants can begin discussing possible solutions. This is where the “no bad idea” comes into its own: let loose and have fun with this stage. This might be the first time this group have come together, use this time to break the ice and make people comfortable to suggest anything they think might be relevant.
As the facilitator, it’s important you allow all participants to have equal time to participate. Some people will naturally talk more and some will automatically stay quiet, so ensure you make a comfortable environment for all participants to contribute and have some system to share the speaking time across the room.
- Prioritize again
Once you’ve had some time to discuss possible solutions, return to your matrix from point 4 and decide as a team which ideas you want to pursue first. You can choose which scale you use to rank the solutions — it might be by cost, time to implement, the number of workers needed — and it may well be different from the first instance of prioritization.
Bear in mind that your decisions need not be final. With every stage of this workshop you can return and change your mind about the order of problems or the metrics of analysis. This can happen in the moment or days, weeks or months down the line. Allowing for flexibility is shown to improve experimentation outcomes.
From your second ranking, pick which solution to test first, and make it into a hypothesis. Essentially, this means combining the problem statement with the solution in a statement like “We believe x will achieve y for z.” In this example, x is the solution, y the problem and z the intended audience.
It’s important to be as specific as possible in this hypothesis stage. It allows you to confirm (or disconfirm) one specific aspect of a problem or solution, giving you more detailed information about how your problem functions. If you are too vague about the x and y points you might end up inaccurately solving a problem or throwing away a perfectly viable solution to a different issue.
The final, and most important stage, of the workshop is to finish by developing a testable empirical experiment with which you can test your hypothesis. This is where the specificity of your hypothesis is really important. Find a way to measure your inputs and outcomes so that you can make an honest judgment of whether you’ve solved your problem.
- Do it all again
Finding your testable hypothesis and beginning experimentation might be the end of this particular stage of the workshop, but it’s not the end of the workshop as a whole. A successful facilitator will continue to build on the information gained from experimentation and use it for building follow-up meetings, measuring progress and even evaluating the success of the problem-solving challenge as a whole. Not to mention you now have a whole list of problems and various solutions that your team can continue to experiment with to make your company’s design more efficient.
Re-running the workshop from the top is also a great way to embrace failure. If you tried a solution and it doesn’t work this failed initiative can be great data for the next round of experimentation, allowing you to build on your past efforts again and again.