5 Best Practices for Building a Team When In-Market Prototyping?

I was recently asked to speak on in market prototyping at an innovation conference. Much of the conference was centered around data and analytics driving decision making. My presentation had a slightly different focus; the people.

At Steelcase, Inc. we prefer to run in-market prototypes whenever possible. Firsthand feedback and encountering the day to day realities allow us to learn faster and provide more value to our customers.

Here are a few best practices we follow:

  1. The concept lead is a Steelcase employee with the skills to work IN the business and ON the business. Our concept leads need to know how to use LEAN startup methodologies to design learning cycles to truly test all aspects of a business. Then take those learnings and look at the business in the context of the ecosystem to determine User Desirability, Technical Feasibility and Business Viability. Concept Leads are a Steelcase employee because understanding your investor’s strategy is important when designing a right-fit business model.
  2. Structure the team like a movie production company would. You would hire very different people in key roles to create a horror film than you would a romantic comedy, for example. Be sure to pick the right talent to give your prototype business the best chance for success.
  3. The further away from the core business, the harder it is to find the right industry talent. In many cases your name will mean nothing in this new industry and will make it more difficult to find and recruit the right talent. Using recruitment firms that are not associated with your core company, rather from the industry you are prototyping in, will help you not only find good talent, and find them quicker, but can also be a good way to learn about the norms around employee needs and desires in that industry.
  4. You may have to have one set of standards for your company and another for your prototype business. Some industries have a structure of titles and compensation that may not match what you have in your core business. We tend to align the individual with a title and compensation within Steelcase, but what we put on our business cards directly reflects the industry we are prototyping in.
  5. The skills you need at the beginning of a prototype will likely not be the skills you need when it’s a viable, efficient business. Many of you may have heard the analogy of the fortress and the ship. The fortress being the core business, where the skills you hire for are for operational efficiency and low risk. The ship is where you want your employees that iterate and learns from experimentation, and takes smart risks looking for market feedback. Being quick to change course to adapt. Once you have moved from a heuristic to a repeatable algorithm that is ready to scale, you need to evolve toward the skill set of the more fortress employees.  One best practice is to use contract-to-hire. This allows the employee to see if they can still be energized and engaged as the business gets to be more repeatable and less about trial and testing. It also allows you to protect the company on extra costs like severance if the business doesn’t ultimately succeed.

Innovation isn’t something companies do, it’s something people do. Building an A team, even if your prototype is a B idea, will allow you to win over a B team with an A idea every day of the week.

Innovation, Insights, Leadership