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  • Danny

Never Ass-u-me...aka dont be a jack ass!

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In the last email we discussed the importance of applying experimentation to internal innovation and employee experience. We also looked at why experimentation is so valuable when it comes to creating new HR and EX products, if you haven't read that head over here first.

So how do we identify where to experiment and stop ourselves from blowing all the budget, like a child in a sweet shop, on something that nobody wants? Well, my little sweet peas that's what today is all about.

Let's pretend that we work for a big organisation (org) and this org feels it has a Peter problem at the middle leadership level. The org wants to create a leadership product for its mid-level leaders but, before we even slip into solution mode, we first need to challenge the thinking. Below are some areas that are ripe for blindspots in thinking and design. It also means they are ripe to identify assumptions/hypotheses and test them with experimentation.

In a simple, fun equation it is:

Demographics - The Who (not the band)

The business thinks the people using this product are going to just be mid-level managers, but isn't that an assumption or guess? Here are some areas based on how that could be good for experimentation:

  • Do other non-middle layer managers want this, what about new leaders

  • What about people wanting to level up and become a leader

  • Who owns the products and relationships afterwards

  • Who are the partners in the business who will help support this, do they want to, and what is their gain from it?

What's the value, does it matter

Understanding the what behind the product is vital, here again is a list of simple assumptions

  • What is the challenge/problem it is going to fix for the leader

  • Would leaders sign up off their own backs without prompt

  • Is this leadership product desirable does it fix a real pain point for them

  • Do the leaders gain something they value from it

  • Would the resource spent be justified by the signup and impact seen

  • Will your messaging of the product land, will BAU comms work

How are we going to approach this, it it the best way

Just because we can do it a certain way, it doesn't mean we should below are a few prompts to help uproot some assumptions

  • Is this best served as a digital-first approach, would they use it.

  • How does digital first over other methods make leaders feel

  • Think 4c’s do they want - Content, Coaching, Context, or Connection, maybe none, maybe all how do you know

  • How does this scale across the business think: People, Props, process, Physical space

  • What are the key tasks and activities that need to happen to spin it up

  • what's the cost vs reward of this is it worth it how do we know

  • How would it stand out, how would employees find it how do we know that

While the above isn't an exhaustive list, and we haven't even looked at how to create a measurement engine or map. The prompts should start to help you identify where you may have unchecked assumptions, which, if not validated or disproven could bite you in the bum later on.

Example: I was once asked to create an internal playbook that focused on HR innovation product design, team dynamics and ways of working. Knowing the effort roughly it would take to build this, I decided first to see if there was any desire for it from leadership. Through a set of experiments, it was pretty easy to see at that moment in time the demand just wasn’t there. Fast forward a few months I decided to test again and the demand had increased to a point where the time spent building and socialising it was less than the impact it had. It was an instant success across the business

The next stage once you have identified the assumption (there will be many for each question) is to find which assumption is the most important to be proved or disproved quickly and which are critical to the Leadership product. Here the goal is to go from identified assumption to the experiment as fast as possible. For that, we will use a little play I call Crosshair Challenger.

Crosshair Challenger

The crosshair Challenger is a simple activity that feels accessible, easy to understand and actually enjoyable to do (so breaking from my usual approach of doing a play at the end, I will share it here)

First, we need to map out a big crosshair challenger template, it looks something like this:

The boxes labelled 123 and 4 are for you to put titles in, this could be known, unknown, critical, non-critical and so on it's up to you really for this example I’ve chosen to use Critical/non-critical and proof/no proof.

As you can see the crosshair has layers inside each section (green and purple), we will come to this later, for now, though just ignore these.

Your challenge at this point is to put all identified assumptions/hypotheses into the quadrant you think they should go by the end, you should have a crosshair challenger that looks like this.

This has given a clear visual that there are assumptions in the critical/No Proof quadrant where resource investment is required. That is because right now they are the biggest things that could make or break your HR/Leadership product and you have no proof if they are validated or not

Based on the image we can see we have three assumptions/guesses that we need to validate asap. Often in a real-life there would be way more than three and it is here where the colour comes in.

Sometimes we need to do another cycle of categorising within a quadrant, unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world with infinite time and resources. I've been in a large org which often only has the resource to run maybe two experiments (hopefully this isn't you) but if it is then the next step is for you

Your job and the team around you now is to discuss and unfortunately make a group educated guess on where you want to place the assumptions

Any that land in the green section of the quadrant is a lower priority than those that land in the purple, any that land in the purple is a lower priority than those that land in the sky blue. As you can see in the example below (you will have to trust me it says this) - Would our leaders proactively sign up for this

This is the assumption or guess that you as a collective feel is the most important to validate before anything else (well done I would agree, testing desirability should be a priority as without that you're creating something that has no demand (see playbook example above). In the next email, we will discuss how to convert the assumption to a hypothesis and how to create a number of experiments to prove/disprove it at pace

Tying up loose ends

Now you may be thinking what about the Post-its that fell into the:

  • Critical - proof

  • Non Critical - proof

  • Non-Critical - no proof

Also isn't the crosshair challenger just an Eisenhower matrix…

Ahh, you beautiful reader there's nothing getting past you eh? What we are trying to do with this whole process is identify any blindspots, assumptions and guesses. Then with this new insight, map them to where we should invest resources to validate quickly.

While the quadrants above are important they just are not as important at this stage as critical and no proof.

Any that fall within Critical/Have proof should fall within the design of the product, you know they exist (hopefully through audience insight and sense-making) they become something you acknowledge and design around later on

Any that fall within the Non-critical/Have proof are usually things like logistics and admin, these should also go into BAU when it comes to designing the product

The non-critical/no proof is one you need to watch out for, every now and again a non-critical/no proof over time sneaks up to a critical no proof. It's worth keeping tabs on these, and having a regular cadence of checking in on them as a team just to make sure they aren't creeping in the background.

As discussed in the last email and here, often the biggest barrier to driving new products, and innovation mindset is language. Often the simplest of words can be welcoming or off-putting. By humanising the language it becomes more welcoming and actually more enjoyable to run.

*Assumption: most people know what or have heard the word crosshair rather than Eisenhower matrix

Heres the rub:

Look back at a past piece of content, product, service or experience and see how many assumptions you made (there will be a lot) I know when I've done this in the past I've found a fair few.

But that's the point, we might never be able to validate all our guesses and assumptions but if we can catch just a few and validate and de-risk them as soon as possible then it's going to make for a better product and better accounting from a product resource point of view.

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