Innovation Strategy

How Large Companies Can Innovate Like Startups

Recently, we launched a mission-critical website for a new startup company. The company doesn’t resemble a typical startup—small team aspiring to take a new product concept to market with no established customer base. It is a large, well-known company with a sizable global customer base and an existing product line spanning thousands of SKUs.

What makes the company seem more like a startup, however, is a new owner, new company name & identity, and a corporate structure which makes the company fully independent for the first time.

When we kicked off, there were still a lot of unknowns. No company name or logo. No confirmed buyer. Yet, we needed to take steps forward using hypotheses to drive the product vision and evolution. We made enough assumptions to get us started and knew that a lean approach would ultimately get us to the right solution for launch. Months later and on time, we launched the new website for Vertiv, formerly known as Emerson Network Power.

Here are some key lessons learned and ways to apply a lean, agile methodology even within a large organization:

  • Apply the right mindset—large companies are not startups.

    Large companies may want to move at the speed of a startup, but they shouldn’t be treated exactly like a startup. They have more employees and customers to consider, and while future state improvements are highly desired, near-term disruptions in service are not. For Vertiv, we delivered the website in 2-week sprints, providing incremental outputs that could be tested or refined (and adopted) each step of the way.

  • Establish a strategic product framework up front, but keep it light.

    Define objectives at the beginning but don’t be afraid to change them. Quickstart the project with a lean canvas and keep it light—this is just a starting point. There’s no need to do months of analysis and discovery work up front. We used our CatalystGo accelerator process to establish key business objectives, metrics, user personas, product definition, and gain alignment with a large stakeholder group in less than a week.

  • Hypothesize in the midst of ambiguity—large companies already have the experience advantage.

    Start with a series of hypotheses around the right solution or product. Think of the MVP and how it could deliver immediate value for the user and the company. Large companies come with a history of best practices and user feedback, which makes the hypothesizing less daunting. With Vertiv, we were able to get through multiple rounds of design iterations and user testing with existing customers across the globe—these sprints took place well before the actual name of the company was confirmed.

  • Evaluate concepts based on desired metrics and business results.

    Don’t hesitate to experiment and tie the experiments to core KPIs and metrics. Determine whether a feature or concept will actually yield the desired result. But think minimal effort for maximum learning. Vertiv’s vast customer base was involved across the globe, in various roles and satisfying different user personas. Virtual technologies that simplified testing were used to accommodate different time zones and geographies.

  • Remember the employee audience—they count too.

    Large companies have a unique user base with real world lessons to learn from. Their jobs are designed around supporting the product and this can’t be overlooked. Since the Vertiv solution was a new website, some sprints were focused on testing and showcasing new authoring features, the publishing workflow, and actual content migration. We were reminded that the product and solution are oftentimes not just for customers.

  • Predict risks and plan for them up front.

    Large companies come with a more complex environment with lots of competing priorities and dependencies. Spot out the risks up front so you can build in the mitigation strategy proactively. We conducted a collaborative Code Red session at project kickoff, as we do with all of our projects. Several risks were identified pertaining to overall launch timing, fluctuations in the corporate environment, the new web platform, and overall project dependencies. Since the risks were identified up front, we were able to dedicate specific sprints to mitigating the risks before they became issues.

  • Embrace agility and accelerate product development, by knowing how to preserve or pivot.

    Conduct Research, Strategy, Design, and Build in an agile, sprint-based fashion, developing the product iteratively and incrementally. While failure and risk-taking are often fully embraced at startups with the intent of learning and continuous improvement, note that failure at a large company can be a problem and perhaps career limiting, especially if it effects real customers. Surface these failures fast and pivot so that the end product includes features that have a higher likelihood for success.

Are you a large company needing to innovate like a startup? Contact us to learn how our approach can help you.

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