Saturday, January 21, 2012

Iteration Speed Controls Innovation Speed

I was talking to some colleagues at my work and trying to explain some of the benefits in the speed at which we can iterate out product. The underlying point is that the faster we can iterate our product, the faster we can innovate for our customers. If we can build certain high-speed processes, it would give us the ability to do things that our competitors simply could not duplicate.

Think of it this way. It you have a process that takes a week to complete, then you could probably only repeat that process maybe 2-3 times/month. Since the process takes so long to complete, it forces longer preparation and analysis phases because you don't want to run a week-long process without making sure you are well prepared.

If you could take that same process and reduce that week of time down to an hour, it fundamentally transforms how fast you can innovate. You can now run your process multiple times per day if you want and still have time to analyze your results. You can also reduce the time between runs now that you can run so quickly. It now becomes economical to make small, incremental changes to the process and re-run and check the results. You can experiment as much as you want.

I think a really great example of this is Google Chrome versus Microsoft IE. The IE release cycle is typically measured in years while the Chrome release cycle is about 1 or 2 months. Chrome is able to react to the market and add features at a rate that is currently not possible for IE. The result is that Chrome has been gaining browser market share at an incredible rate, and much of that at the expense of IE.

Microsoft is trying to increase their release rate and hence their innovation rate. IE 8, 9, and now 10 have been coming out at much faster rates than has been typical for them. However, they are no where near the rate at which Chrome is innovating and improving. The Firefox team has also been generating releases at a much faster rate than they have historically, and hence innovating at a much faster rate.

I think the question becomes, how do you increase your rate of iteration and hence innovation. I think it really depends on the organization. It's easy enough to improve certain processes and make even considerable gains. However, in order to make gains that drive 1, 2 or even 3 orders of magnitude in iteration speed, you have to fundamentally transform how you approach and tackle problems.

At my company, we have been discussing some ways that we can operate that are fundamentally different from our competitors. The idea is to try and transform our industry in ways that our competitors can not. We can do this by drastically increasing our iteration rate and hence the rate at which we can innovate.

  - Craig