Despite our expectations that new ventures will succeed and eventually scale, the harsh reality is that approximately 90% of them will eventually fail to find their market-product fit. This is as true for startups as it is for ventures from within established corporations.
Although the ambition may be clear, the path to achieving it remains highly uncertain, and there are relatively few objective reference points for deciding what to do. That’s particularly hard for established companies that are used to managing businesses with existing customers and historic performance metrics. Ventures operate in immature markets, without such data.
This makes decision making hard. There are few data on which everyone can agree, so executives make choices based on intuition, perception, or experience rather than solid evidence and facts. Some executives find it hard to decide what to do, so do nothing, others get impatient, investing without evidence in unproven businesses with the mistaken belief that this is “acting like a startup.” Both paths lead to wasted resources and unfulfilled ambitions.
Recognizing this problem, Agile methodology emerged as a structured approach to gathering data and evidence in the face of significant uncertainty, such as that encountered in launching a new venture. Agile relies on time-boxed iterations known as Agile Sprints, typically lasting between one week and one month. These sprints allow organizations to invest in unproven business models while continuously collecting data.
At Change Logic, we have designed, managed, and co-run an Agile Sprint Cycle-based approach with our clients. This approach engages Corporate Explorers, project teams, and key project stakeholders, including business owners, sponsors, and decision-makers, at predefined intervals. This regular cadence facilitates the gathering of evidence, the sharing of learnings, and the making of evidence-based decisions. Each Agile Sprint Cycle and Sprint’s objectives are collaboratively established with the business owners during dedicated kick-off and planning sessions. Progress, achievements, and any requested changes to the scope of these objectives undergo monthly reviews with business owners, Corporate Explorers, and project teams. These shared decision-making moments empower project teams to align their actions with the agreed-upon objectives while retaining a degree of autonomy.
Sprint teams use a disciplined problem-solving method to do the following:
- Discovery – understand the challenge and the opportunity to satisfy unmet customer needs
- Ideation – generate ideas and articulate their offering’s value proposition
- Design – develop minimally viable solutions to gather feedback
- Experiment – break work into smaller parts to test and learn (vs. Big Bang approaches)
- Learn – develop insight, adapt solutions, and accelerate execution
Corporate Explorers who adopt Agile Business Building as a structured iterative learning approach find themselves making faster and more informed decisions across their innovation disciplines—ideation, incubation, and scaling. They lead teams through a series of 30, 60, 90-day sprint cycles to gather evidence and systematically “de-risk” a new value proposition. This contributes to a continuous reduction of risk associated with future company investments, including the ability to pivot or terminate new ventures when necessary.
In early 2022, General Motors Premium Import (GMPI) in China embraced Agile Business Building to address the inherent risks and uncertainties tied to developing GM’s first Direct-to-Consumer business model, The Durant Guild. This ambitious venture aimed to reach affluent Chinese consumers with a unique offering composed of iconic GM vehicles imported from the US. Through the systematic application of Agile Sprints, GMPI project teams achieved remarkable progress within a few months. They developed and validated innovative, asset-light customer touchpoints, created new lifestyle offerings, and successfully cultivated a digital community.
Agile sprints at General Motors and elsewhere start by asking the question: what needs to be true for this business to achieve our ambition? The answers to that question are the initial assumptions that the team needs to test. Corporate Explorers test the most critical of these assumptions in a structured process that generates evidence about the opportunity. The sprint process also has a social process, it involves people in the work of innovation, creating transparency about progress and helping to ensure a focus on the problem the customer wants to solve.
The evidence from the sprints is what senior executives can use to make more informed investment decisions. It counters a lack of decision-making by breaking the problem into smaller increments that are easier to understand. It reduces impatience by demonstrating progress in short, rapid cycles of learning, that counter the impulse for immediate action. Agile Business Building with Sprints replaces risk taking with learning, making explicit what is known and unknown about the market for the proposed innovation.