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November 17th 2016

7 ways to embed a test and learn culture in your organisation

Written by Andy McKenna

Innovation is the key to success. The companies that are succeeding today are the ones that have recognised that they cannot stand still. They need to adapt and innovate with new products and services, and be able to bring them to market quicker than their competitors.

Einstein said “we cannot solve the problem with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

These days if you fail to innovate you will almost certainly fail. Companies need to be flexible and adapt in unpredictable markets, and adopt approaches that allow them to do this.

The ability to test and learn is critical for businesses, as it allows them to:

  • Limit financial risk
  • Limit exposure to new markets
  • Try new ideas and ‘fail fast’

So how do you get your company to embrace a test and learn culture? Here are seven ways you can try:

1. Get senior management/board backing. Instilling a test and learn culture needs to come from the top down. If the CEO and executive team aren’t tuned in then it won't happen. There needs to be an appetite for a change in culture, and they need to communicate that. It’s wise to have a sponsor who owns the initiative, and who will fight your corner in the face of any pushback. I talked about this in another blog post.

2. Set yourself up to succeed. You can’t decide overnight that you are going to be a test and learn organisation. You need to have the right structures and processes in place first if it's going to work for you. A good number of large companies these days use the Agile or Scrum methodology, and this tends to work well for experimentation. If you don't, then you can definitely still be successful with experimentation, as long as you plan and prioritise effectively.

3. Test everything. In order to make sure you practise what you preach, you shouldn't push anything live across websites or apps without subjecting it to at least an A/B test. This should be the case with non-digital initiatives too. Get into a habit of launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and then improving it in increments – also known as 'shipping and iterating' - rather than getting bogged down by internal committees and sign-off loops. You can even split test new site launches against existing websites. Just make sure you’re clear on your success criteria.

4. Agree that there's no such thing as failure. A fear of failure stifles creativity and growth. So try to get into the mindset that it's OK to test options that might not work. The most important thing is to learn from experimentation – it’s called test and learn after all. Often it’s a good idea to change the vocabulary you use in your company. Rather than saying ‘that A/B test failed’, for example, say instead ‘the existing version beat the challenger’. It’s a subtle difference, but it can help prevent negativity from creeping in, while reminding people that experimentation is the fastest way to learn what your customers want.

5. Eliminate 'gut feel'. A hypothesis-based approach to all your web projects (not just A/B tests) will help shift your colleagues over to a more 'scientific' mindset. You may have heard about HiPPos, or the highest paid person’s opinion. The classic scenario of a CEO dictating a major design change on the back of a hunch can become a thing of the past with the introduction of steadfast experimentation. This eliminates design-led opinion using scientific methods.

6. Nurture interest through gamification. A highly effective way to create a buzz around an initiative is to turn it into a game. People are competitive by nature, so getting them to predict the outcome of an experiment is a great way to get them interested in what you’re doing. Be sure to involve as many people and teams as possible, and before long your test and learn efforts could well be going viral.

7. Get the right tools in place. I’m not just talking about your A/B testing software here. You need to have a suite of different tools at your disposal if you want to succeed, such as a good, simple analytics dashboard, reporting templates, a data visualisation package, heatmapping, and survey software, to name a few. Project management tools like Jira, Trello or Basecamp can also be invaluable.

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