You learn to build by building. I’m convinced this is a fact. We all create daily in some capacity because creativity is in our DNA. Creativity is also an infinite resource; the more you spend the more you have. I’m working with my team to create a new business model that captures ideas and guides them through a process. It’s a workflow to turn ideas into realty. We call this process the Idea Machine. The Idea Machine will reduce the variability of an idea becoming a viable business through a workflow that validates the vision, articulates the market, and sets up teams to execute.
Establishing the idea machine
Our main concern is finding the best way to align our ideas with our principals. This sourcing problem seemed to be where major breakdown occurs. Ideas are abundant. While magical and inspiring, ideas are unable to change the world in our heads. Stuck in our head, ideas steal our attention. I’ve had ideas from 10 years ago that I’ve never properly dealt with. They may not take up space in my working memory, but the open loop still exists. One of our goals in creating this process is to find a place for these ideas. A room that exists that we can drop them off at, like kids at pre-school. We’ll know they’ll be safe until we can go pick them up. It’s a space to move our ideas out of our head and into the world.
Practically, we started with a Trello board; a application we’ve used in the past. Trello is a tool for creating Kanban Boards, a workflow visualization. The purpose of this workflow is to take ideas and put them through the gauntlet to stress test them. Each step of the workflow consists of different checkpoints that have a defined set of criteria. Each checkpoint’s goal is to further define the idea and creates a standard for unbiased, repeatable evaluations of each idea.
The first step in the workflow is an inbox to capture ideas. The inbox carries no judgement. Nothing is good or bad in the inbox. It has infinite potential. The process of capturing ideas is important because it usually happens when we are thinking in the diffuse mode. Ideas are often lost due to our working memory’s inability to maintaining them. While that’s ok about 99% of the time, these ideas could be great. Better to capture them and discard, than lose them and never know of their potential.
The inbox also acts as our agenda for project meetings. Automation in one of our goals and this step helps us create an automated agenda. We work the inbox, first in first out, unless a priority topic is brought to the top. Anyone can create a priority by pulling the card in Trello to the top of the inbox. The clarity keeps us on track.
Each item discussed in the inbox goes through processing. Some items are two minute talking points, we discuss those and then mark them as complete. Other topics are items we can’t do anything about, which we store in a hold list or a reference list. The hold list are ideas we can’t take action on but may want to revisit in the future. The reference is a list for records retention. A good example of this would be the results to the StrengthFinders assessment. Each of us took the assessment and discussed the results when we built our charter. We store this in the reference file so we can access it.
If the item is actionable and takes more than two minutes, we start to talk through it. Whoever came up with the idea presents it. Using the ethos of our charter as the North Star, we discuss the implications of pursuing the idea. This could take a couple minutes or it could take more than a half hour. Working through these brand new ideas acts as the initial stage gate for what will take our time. We know that if an idea makes it past the inbox, there will be a considerable amount of time and thought poured into it. We don’t take this lightly.
An idea’s next step is Validate. For accountability, an owner is assigned. The owner’s job is to guide and tend the idea as it goes through the process. A series of questions further articulate the idea. Each question aligns with guidelines we’ve established. No solutions are considered. The idea must live up to the guidelines or it will be killed.
The validation questions:
- Define what we want to learn
- Can we operate this now within available time / life stage constraints?
- What will it take to achieve net profit of $1M in 5 years?
- Does it play to our strengths and or skills?
- Are we willing to commit 5 years of our lives, start to finish?
Each question is evaluated and answered. The answers are documented in a Google Document linked to the Trello card. At the next meeting, we’ll walk through each question and talk through the answers. If the idea still seems like a good one through the lens of the validation criteria, it will move on into the Discover/Research phase.
The discovery and research step allows us to evaluate the market and all aspects of the high level business model. This far into the process of evaluating the idea, we still have not done any detailed discussion of the solution. A solution to a problem is not the most important part of exploring the idea. We have to understand all the aspects that will indirectly affect the idea before we can go to plan and build a solution. From experience, I’m confident that we can build a solution that will address the idea. That is part of the competitive advantage that our team brings. Focusing those efforts on the ideas that have the best potential and align with our purpose and goals is the real challenge.
Discovery and research has 2 deliverables. The Product Opportunity Assessment, as developed by Marty Cagan, and the Business Model Canvas. The Product Opportunity Assessment (POA) and Business Model Canvas are artifacts we use to make decisions. So far, we’ve only started one idea through this step. I’ve found it helpful to do the homework and begin to develop the POA document while creating touch points for alignment. This allows the team to get on the same page before deviation can occur.
Just the start
This is how far we’ve progressed. We are building the ship as we sail it. We don’t have the data points to address the back half of the workflow yet. We’ll put together another analysis once we’ve pulled a idea or two through. Our team has been operators of both startups and established businesses. We have a unique ability to not only see the upside opportunity, but objectively value that opportunity and execute on it. We can extrapolate from numerous success to build a viable execution plan; reducing the risk of non-performance. We believe the process is the way.