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Increase speed, encourage innovation – can the giants do it?

Apparently so. Heard of FastWorks, GE’s approach to speeding up innovation? Here are two examples of FastWorks in action, offered by Leader of GE Culture, Janice Sempe:

  1. A new product (an engine) gets to market 2 years ahead of competitors, with significant cost savings to the company, positioned very well with customers as a result.
  2. An efficient low-cost energy solution is developed for a power and water business, at a 60% reducation in development costs.

There are 100s of FastWorks programmes across GE. FastWorks is a set of tools and practices designed to build better products for customers, more quickly. In place of having thinly-spread teams, GE builds dedicated teams. They don’t just focus on activity, or getting things done. That risks wasting time perfecting what hasn’t been validated. Instead they build minimum viable products, test, learn and pivot as they go along. It’s evidence of the rapid innovation movement sparked by Eric Reis, the lean startup way, and it employs a Build-Measure-Learn loop. Long-winded projects are replaced by rapid experimenation. “The bigger and scarier the project, the more you benefit from these techniques because the costs of getting it wrong are so high.” says Reis.
Fastworks decreases the cycle time for product development, and uses it to get closer to customers, encourage innovation, increase speed to market, improve chances of success, and, generally, to make it easier to get things done. Using FastWorks, GE has sped up innovation in a non-tech environment, within a highly-regulated industry. And it is embedded into the into the mindest and the culture of GE.
“We had a culture of being addicted to being right, … we had a culture of perfection.” – Leader of GE Culture, Janice Sempe
It would be naïve to think that an organisational change like this is easy. Sempe says they are learning as they go, and she admits that it is hard. There has been considerable commitment to the programme. In the first year of implementation, Ries trained around 1 000 GE executives on Lean Startup. There are also numerous coaches in the organisation. Semple stresses that this programme is way beyond a training exercise however. Leaders had to start asking questions in place of providing answers all the time, and push a partnership model with customers to appreciate their perspective and understand their problems. Success comes down to thinking and acting on your organisations ability, in terms of behaviours and cultures, to support applying a lean startup approach.

  • What new skills need to be and can be developed?
  • What new behaviours will be rewarded?
  • How will our performance management system support this?
  • What are the new expectations we have of employees?

So far, there have been tangible results. But Reis himself does not claim that FastWorks is a cure-all. Rather, he says it’s a component of a multi-facetted strategy. Management trends come and go, and this wont sove GEs problems forever.
If you are interested in learning more about the challenges and successs of creating a culture of experimentation, listen to this podcast: How An Enterprise Makes Lean Startup Part of The Mindset And Culture.
Eric Reis has also just published his latest book called The StartUp Way. It’s a guide to driving innovation, no matter how big or small you are.

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