Articles & Case Studies by Topic

Lean Startup & Pilots

Topic Overview: Lean Startup

As companies build innovation programs, they tend to notice a major blockade facing new ideas: regardless of whether they come from front-line employees or PhDs in the research and development division, it’s typically time-consuming and very expensive to actually get them in front of customers, and many ideas get killed by committees before a single customer ever gets to weigh in.

One of the major benefits of bringing the customer’s voice into the process earlier is combatting some of the internal beliefs and biases about what the customer wants that naturally build up over decades in any organization. And it can also radically reduce the spending on projects that haven’t yet received a green light or red light from a customer. We’re seeing companies use various techniques, including design thinking and lean startup, to get things in front of customers faster, and let feedback and actual data guide the process from there.

A good starting place in this section is our 2016 report, “Lean startup: Making it work in large organizations,” which includes survey data on the challenges and benefits of lean startup, as well as real-world examples and advice from companies such as Adobe, W.L. Gore, General Mills, Intuit, Alaska Airlines, and Goodyear.

Editor's Picks: Recommended articles on lean startup & pilots
Innovation Leader Live

Our live conference calls that have focused on lean startup & pilots:

Downloadable resources shared by our members

Relevant documents from our Resource Center, shared by members:

All Innovation Leader articles & case studies on lean startup & pilots:

How design thinking and lean startup are changing the way Adobe builds new products

Adobe exec Aubrey Cattell says that the lean startup approach – build, measure, learn, accelerate – has changed the way Adobe thinks about innovation.

Getting leadership buy-in, ‘no time syndrome,’ and premature scaling: Stories from Humana, GE, Intuit

Why do employees and executives in large organizations resist participating in innovation efforts? Sometimes it’s about fear of failure, not having a safe environment to try new things, or no-time syndrome: “Oh, we don’t have enough time to innovate.” Downloadable audio and more insights inside…

What Google, Genentech, and Facebook have in common

We talk to MIT instructor Luis Perez-Breva, author of the new book “Innovating: A Doer’s Manifesto,” about hunches, testing ideas, collecting feedback, and getting ready to scale. “I don’t like the buzzword ‘experimentation,’” Perez-Breva says. “The way it has been used the last 10 years, it leads people to think that you’re doing a random experiment here and there to try things out.”

Connecting corporate venture capital to the business at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts

Tuoyo Louis has a very clear objective at Zaffre Investments, a corporate venture team that is part of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts: Finding healthcare startups that can solve a problem for someone in the insurance company’s ecosystem, whether that’s a patient, an employer, or an administrator sitting behind a doctor’s front desk. Louis explains how he works with business-side leaders inside Blue Cross Blue Shield to get pilot tests underway that leverage new technologies from the startups.

Why Groupe Galeries Lafayette launched an accelerator for retail and fashion startups

“I was trying to shove innovation down their throat,” says Edoardo Manitto of Groupe Galeries Lafayette, the 120-year old French retailer. “That, in my case, didn’t lead to anything very productive.” Here’s what he’s doing instead.

How NRG Energy’s portable power kiosks made it from concept to the Super Bowl

NRG Go’s automated kiosks rent out fully-charged battery packs at places like nightclubs, concert venues, and shopping malls so that people can recharge their phones and tablets — without hunting for an outlet and plopping down next to it for an hour or so. Senior Manager Stacey Butler discusses how the kiosks went from concept to launch in less than 18 months.

Webcast replay: What top corporate innovators are doing in 2016

Innovation Leader editor and co-founder Scott Kirsner shares seven examples of how companies like Toyota, Disney, GE, and Amazon are working to innovate better, faster, cheaper — and more collaboratively. The webcast also explores some of the factors that lead to premature death for innovation initiatives.

Photos: How Lululemon Athletica is bringing designers closer to customers

At a new “lab” store in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood, customers come in to peruse merchandise in the front of the store, and when they head to the fitting rooms to try it on, or to a counter to pay for it, they’re just a few steps away from the designers who work in the back half of the space. Photos inside…

The secret of corporate innovation is …

Here are seven things we see having a big impact inside large organizations, and seven things that set you up for failure.

‘Go where you’re loved’: Intuit executive shares advice on rolling out lean startup for maximum impact

If you’ve been debating whether and how to roll out the lean startup methodology in your organization, Bennett Blank of Intuit has a question: What are you waiting for? “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked [about lean] with other executives who are like, ‘OK, we’ll spend four or five months benchmarking it, and then we’ll put together a program, and then we’ll spend eight months creating the curriculum, and then we’ll launch it next year.'” Here’s how Blank did it at Intuit…

Lean startup: Making it work in large organizations

Our 83-page downloadable report is filled with advice, case studies, articles, interviews, and results from our recent survey of Innovation Leader members on lean startup deployment.

Survey highlights: How large organizations are deploying the lean startup approach

Slide presentation that shares some of the data, comments, and advice from our 2016 survey on how large organizations are using the lean startup methodology. Based on 170 qualified responses, with 82.4 percent of respondents saying they’ve already deployed lean startup in some form at their companies.

At Ericsson, using the lean startup approach to validate and prioritize new ideas

“We have way more ideas than we can possibly implement,” says Ken Durand, the head of Ericsson’s Atlanta Idea Factory, “so one of the reasons that we’ve really focused on the lean methodologies was because we need a way to evaluate whether an idea was worth doing.” Durand shares slides, advice, and an example project inside…

How W.L. Gore is training employees to explore new business opportunities

Head of Innovation Greg Hannon says you need to be realistic about the friction that often exists in organizations between innovation-oriented groups and the majority of more operationally-focused departments. A new lean startup skills program at Gore addresses the friction, while training employees to explore new market opportunities.

How Viacom is using lean startup and agile development to keep viewers engaged

Kimberly Hicks, Viacom’s vice president for user platform product management, says that in an arena where people’s media consumption behaviors and the devices they use are changing so quickly, the lean startup approach is extremely helpful. “We can’t just get a requirement, walk away and come back in six months, because the world’s changed,” she says.

Why India’s Tata Communications sends employees to Silicon Valley for ‘immersion week’

“We want to show people that there are different ways of growing a business, defining customer problems, and becoming more customer-centric,” says Alex Pelletier, Head of Innovation at $3 billion Tata Communications, part of India’s Tata Group. “In the old telco world, that is historically not so true.” Pelletier explains how his company’s Shape the Future program works, and shares slides…

How Telefónica is using lean startup — without risking reputation or reliability

The Spanish telecom company, with 123,000 employees around the world, has been embracing the lean startup practices made famous by author and entrepreneur Eric Ries — quickly building prototypes of new ideas developed in conjunction with customers, iterating fast to refine those prototypes, and speedily killing projects that don’t pan out. Here’s how they make it work in an organization obsessed with reliability…

How chipmaker Qualcomm is building an internal startup-venture capital ecosystem

Plenty of corporate innovation programs struggle to produce tangible impact in areas that really matter to senior leadership. The San Diego-based chipmaker Qualcomm put that challenge front-and-center by dubbing its innovation initiative ImpaQt. In its first 18 months, says head of innovation Navrina Singh, it delivered a new surround-sound application for HTC smartphones and launched a robotics program to rival Intel, its biggest competitor. Singh explains how they’ve been doing it…

Alex Osterwalder: ‘Business models expire like yogurt in the fridge’

We talk with Alex Osterwalder, one of the developers of the Business Model Canvas, about how he sees large companies using the tool; its relationship to the lean startup methodology; and the challenges companies face in building growth engines that are as powerful as their execution engines. Includes downloadable audio…

How the accelerator program at Daimler Trucks trains intrapreneurs

A three-month long accelerator program at Daimler Trucks North America gets employee teams talking to customers, cultivating ideas, and then pitching the board. Lori Heino-Royer, director of the company’s Business Innovation and Program Management Office, talks about the objectives and one of the projects that resulted. Includes slides…

Steve Blank on how to put lean startup in action inside big companies

On our latest Innovation Leader Live call, lean startup guru Steve Blank talked about the challenges of bringing the lean startup approach into a large company; and the decisions that should be made before setting up an “innovation outpost.” Article includes 30 minutes of audio. (Not a subscriber? Here’s an excerpt.)

Six innovation agenda items for 2016

How are you going to make change and deliver results in 2016? Whether you work in an innovation group, new product development, strategy, or R&D, we believe that these issues deserve a place on your agenda for the year ahead.

General Mills VP on getting to the first dollar fast, failure, key metrics

Few companies have as strong a track record when it comes to open innovation and pilot testing as General Mills. In a recent Innovation Leader Live call, Jim Kirkwood, Chief Science and Technology Development Officer, explained how the company “gets to the first dollar fast” with pilot tests. Includes 30 minutes of audio. (Not a subscriber? Get an excerpt here »)

How GE is using crowdfunding site to test demand for new products

The story of the Opal ice maker is an early case study of how a large organization leveraged crowdsourcing and crowdfunding to get a new concept in front of consumers fast.

How appliance-maker Jarden is testing new business models

Our October Innovation Leader Live call guest was Asoka Veeravagu, VP of Business Development for Transformational Innovation at Jarden Consumer Solutions. The Boca Raton, Fla. company owns brands like Mr. Coffee, Aerobed, and Sunbeam.

Q&A: Elements of lean innovation

We’re about to embark on a “lean innovation” journey at our company, and I was wondering if you’d seen any studies or best practices that large corporations should consider?

How U.S. Bank is pushing the edge on voice biometrics

The bank’s mobile app already allowed customers to use spoken commands to check their balance, available interest rates, and make payments. Could it allow them to speak a phrase that would replace their password, too?

Mondelez shares new approach to pilot testing with startups, retailers

Kim Yansen of Mondelez (think Chips Ahoy and Trident gum) talks with Innovation Leader about latest iteration of the $34 billion food company’s Shopper Futures program; the risks involved in working with startups; and the ways that consumers’ changing habits are forcing companies to be more nimble and forward-looking.

FedEx innovation exec shares slides, story behind SenseAware service

A FedEx innovation team has been at the center of building businesses that leverage “Internet of Things” technologies. The first is called SenseAware, and it allows FedEx customers to know about the temperature, light exposure, and humidity of a package in transit — not to mention its precise location and whether or not it has been opened.

Steve Blank: Are you having impact, or performing ‘innovation theater’?

Our conversation with “lean startup” proponent Steve Blank focused on several things necessary to take pilot experiments and turn them into significant new products — including supportive management teams, proper metrics, and sufficient funding. Without those, Blank says, many innovation teams will simply be performing “innovation theater.” Includes audio and slides…

Case study: Alaska Airlines’ lean startup test in airport lounges

Two members of the airline’s Customer Innovation R&D team talk about a recent test of new system aimed at delivering a more personalized travel experience. Includes slides and lessons learned…

Hallmark innovation exec on retail pop-ups and new brands

Patti Streeper’s job at $3.9 billion Hallmark Cards is to help cultivate businesses that may not fit with the 105-year old company’s brand image — but ones that speak to new groups of customers. We talked with her about two examples: Easy, Tiger, a line of offbeat cards targeted at Millennials, and 5 Points, a pop-up retail concept that Hallmark launched last year.

What are your peers doing to move the innovation needle?

We worked with a group of 15 innovation executives recently to develop this list of “Innovation Approaches.” It endeavors to capture what innovation leaders are doing when they are setting strategy; trying to change company culture; building capabilities for cultivating and testing new ideas; or investing in promising startups.

Inside MassMutual’s radical new learning initiative

Organizing supper clubs and offering classes on how to plan for the zombie apocalypse, a spin-out from $27 billion MassMutual tries to target the future consumer. Here’s how it works…

Webcast replay: Fidelity VP on tools for innovation teams

“If you just talk a lot about innovation and make a lot of noise, it can backfire,” says Rick Smyers, VP of the Center for Accelerated Innovation at Fidelity Investments. “People can hear a lot about it and think, ‘It’s just another management fad. It’ll go away.'” Smyers explains in this webcast how you can put the right strategy, tools, and people in place to make a real impact — and details some of his team’s successful projects.

Kelly Services exec on impact payments and disruptive ideas

Kelly Chief Innovation Officer Rolf Kleiner talks about his CEO’s expectations; developing a process for collecting incremental and disruptive ideas; creating an incentive system for idea submitters; and one high-potential idea Kelly Services is preparing to roll out. Includes 30 minutes of audio from our Innovation Leader Live call…

Why Adobe gives employees a red box with $1,000 inside

Nearly 1,000 employees of Adobe Systems have participated in the Silicon Valley software company’s Kickbox Innovation Workshop, where they learn how to develop ideas and collect customer feedback. Participants get $1,000 to spend, no questions asked. Adobe exec Mark Randall explains how it works, and shares the program’s scorecard.

Why Intuit says ‘you never know’ about ideas — until you test ’em

At plenty of companies, persuasive PowerPoints and buy-in from top executives are required to move ideas forward. Intuit executive Bennett Blank explains how his company is creating an infrastructure that encourages teams of employees to test ideas in the market, and gather data, to help determine which ideas hold real promise. Includes a graphic explaining how “Innovation via Rapid Experiments” works at Intuit…

Advice on opening up to innovation from GE’s chief marketing officer

Beth Comstock talks about how the $146 billion behemoth is pursuing speed and growth through partnerships: investing in startups, crowdsourcing solutions, inviting inventors to use selected patents to create new products, and more. “You have to recognize that no matter how good you are, you don’t have all the answers,” Comstock says. Here’s our exclusive interview…

How Constant Contact blends lean startup & design thinking

Andy Miller, Chief Innovation Architect at the digital marketing company, shares slides and a video that offer a look at Constant Contact’s approach to developing new offerings.

Fidelity VP: Pick the right innovation tools for your trip

Rick Smyers, who runs the Center for Accelerated Innovation at Fidelity Investments, likens running a successful innovation program to planning a mountaineering expedition: you don’t want to leave base camp without a plan of attack, the right people, and the proper equipment. Details, slides, and video inside…