The Continuous Innovation Framework
A lot of people think that we, at LEANSTACK, are building a business modeling company. And we certainly started that way…
Our vision, however, was never to just build a business modeling tool or a better business model canvas.
Over the last 5 years we’ve been building the foundation, piece by piece, for a new Continuous Innovation platform.
We started with a lightweight business modeling tool because that’s the first step when deconstructing an idea.
First, there was the business model canvas, which we found a very powerful tool, but as we began to use it more ourselves, we felt that
it was too company-centric and not customer-centric enough.
and as a result it didn’t address what we considered as the riskiest assumptions in a business model for a new project…
So we changed a few boxes and came up with the Lean Canvas and it took off.
The power of the Lean Canvas lies in its simplicity.
When creating the Lean Canvas, we tested it in hundreds of workshops and across thousands of teams to ensure that all the boxes on the canvas were intuitive and easy to understand and that you didn’t need a business degree or a PhD to fill one out.
That testing paid off…
Today you see the Lean Canvas used, not just by business folks, but also engineers and designers and product managers at thousands of startups, accelerators, and large companies.
It is even taught in many of the top business and engineering schools around the world, and I learned recently, even at the high school level, which is great to see.
We quickly learned that a Lean Canvas by itself was not enough to replace the business plan.
The Lean Canvas did a good job replacing the business model story that you find in the pages of a typical business plan, but stakeholders still wanted to see the numbers side of the story which is a reasonable ask, because they want to ensure that the idea represents a big enough problem worth solving to justify the investment.
So investors and stakeholders would still make teams spend many countless hours on a financial forecast spreadsheet.
If you’ve ever created one of these, you know it’s very easy to get lost in the numbers. But more important, you end up back in the old world: executing a plan.
Now you can’t learn and move fast, if you’re stuck executing and defending a plan. So there was a problem…
We strongly believe that unless you can completely break away from the business plan, you can’t truly practice continuous innovation because the paradigms just don’t fit.
To solve this problem, we introduced a new traction-centric metrics model that we call “The Customer Factory Blueprint”.
The Customer Factory Blueprint uses just 7 key metrics to replace all the numbers in a financial forecast spreadsheet. Fans of Pirate metrics, should recognize 5 of the metrics on this slide.
We used these 7 key metrics to build a metrics modeler tool that allows you to quickly test the viability of your idea and build a traction roadmap. Not only can the traction roadmap completely eliminate the financial forecast spreadsheets, but as your project gets underway, you can use these same 7 metrics to effectively define, measure and communicate progress on your projects to your internal and external stakeholders.
Next we turned our attention on techniques for uncovering problems worth solving to avoid simply throwing a bunch of solutions over the fence and seeing what sticks.
This is key for improving the quality of your ideas.
One of the key differences from the start between the Lean Canvas and the Business Model Canvas has been our emphasis on customer problems.
Simply getting innovators to describe, not just what they are building, but also what customer problems they are solving is transformative.
We also don’t advocate that teams start with an MVP, but instead with an offer.
We developed a problem/solution fit process that shows teams how to systematically define, test, and build an MVP that customers want — by starting with problems before solutions.
Yes, this process does have more steps than simply rushing to build an MVP which a lot of teams do. But when done right, you end up with an MVP that your customers cannot refuse because it nails a must-have problem.
We have also learned over the years that uncovering problems worth solving isn’t just something you do at the start of a project. Like running experiments, this a key activity that you have to do throughout the product lifecycle from ideation through scale.
In order to continuously outlearn your competition and stay relevant to your customers, you need to be uncovering problems worth solving continuously. As you grow your product from early adopters to mainstream customers, these problems continue to evolve and change.
Towards that end, we recently released a new canvas that some of you I’m sure have seen: The Customer Forces Canvas.
This canvas builds on several key concepts from Design Thinking and Jobs-to-be-done and provides a powerful template that can be used to continuously uncover problems worth solving at every stage of your product development cycle.
Everything we’ve discussed until now helps you generate better ideas or hypotheses.
For Continuous Innovation, you also need a process to test these hypotheses which is where a rapid experimentation framework comes in.
Now here too, we found that a lot of people simply run a bunch of experiments by going around the Build/Measure/Learn loop, but simply running a bunch of experiments is not enough. You need a more robust process for sourcing, ranking, and testing your ideas.
For this, we built a Lean Sprint process that allows teams to better structure their experiments.
As you can probably guess, Lean Sprints were inspired by Agile and Design sprints, and draw a lot from them. The key difference between them is that while Agile and Design sprints are primarily focused on build velocity or how much stuff you’re building, the lean sprint is primary focused on traction velocity or how much the business model is growing.
The Lean Sprint uses all the artifacts we have discussed so far - the Lean Canvas, the traction model, the customer forces canvas, to help teams prioritize their backlog of ideas or validation plans based on the biggest bottlenecks or problems in their business model.
They then use 2-3 week iterations or sprints to test these validation plans using small and fast experiments, and double down on those ideas that drive the best results.
And finally, we have rolled out a number of training resources over the years.
These include our bestselling books: Running Lean and Scaling Lean
In addition to these books, we frequently host
Hands-on workshops, that are run by me along with certified coaches, in different cities around the world, and
10 week LEAN Sprint bootcamps that help you put this continuous innovation framework to practice using an immersive coaching program where you learn by doing.
We believe that if the world is moving towards a Continuous Innovation model, a new platform needs to be built. Just like we have platforms for practicing Agile and Waterfall, we need a new platform for practicing Continuous Innovation.
Our vision is to build the world’s first platform, built from the ground up, for Continuous Innovation and we already have the basic foundational pieces in place.