When is a speedboat not a speedboat anymore and how to scale?

By Puk Falkenberg, 16. September 2019

For almost two years, we’ve been talking about speedboats as a modern and popular approach to radical innovation in large organizations. Speedboats are small experiments easy to test, and the opposite to large supertankers that’s hard to turn and navigate.

When making speedboats, you look at how you can scale a real problem down and make a small experiment in a set time frame. The question is then: when do you know, when a speedboat isn’t a speedboat anymore, and instead it needs to be implemented as an important part of your ways of working?

Start by evaluating your speedboat

Before you launched your speedboat, you (off cause) made a hypothesis log, a speedboat checklist or something like it. In this document, you wrote down: 1) the quest of the speedboat, 2) the crew, 3) a set time frame, 4) a learning objective and 5) secured freedom from sponsors and the organization.

The reason you wrote this down was to better evaluate the success – or failure – from your speedboat. If you need an example, take a look at my hypothesis log from Hacktober 2018. I wrote it down before we had the event and revisited the log afterwards. The hypothesis log gave me a better understanding of what we had gained from throwing Hacktober 2018, as a wrote the following quote under ‘Adaption – what did we learn’: “The group dynamic was magical. Everyone seemed to gain insight, inspiration and exchange experience. 35+ problems end up as 5 solutions. We should have more breakout rooms next time.” And in the next column I wrote: “See y’all next October!”

Hacktober 2018 was a successful speedboat. But it could have been a failure. We once made a speedboat on creating video content, but it failed. That speedboat never became a part of our ways of working. But Hacktober has – or is it still a speedboat even though it’s the second time around?

A speedboat can sail two ways: Failure or Success

If your speedboat is a failure, it’s easy to say this: You should stop your speedboat, your project, and let the speedboat rest.

But if your speedboat – as Hacktober – is a success, you have a couple of options deciding where to go from here.

Firstly, I would recommend you hold an evaluation with your speedboat team, including data of any kind that shows the level of success of the speedboat. Comparing your hypothesis with your result will help you determined the future of your speedboat.

Secondly, if it’s a failure, close it. If it’s a success, I suggest you go forth as following:

  1. Gather sponsors, stakeholders or key employees in a short workshop session.
  2. Present the hypothesis, the evaluation, data and explain the value and feelings your speedboat have generated. What did you learn? What was the impact? And how much did it cost?
  3. Then, play Business Value Poker. Business Value Poker is a card game used to determine the business value in a tangible way. Is the value a 10 or a 1000? When you agree on a number, you’ll have a strong indicator on whether or not the process or product you tested with your speedboat is something that you will continue to follow or produce – but now as an integrated part of your business.

How do you then scale and implement a speedboat?

If you decide to make the speedboat an integrated part of your business, you’ll most likely face an implementation phase. To be able to scale a speedboat you must take “local cultures” or subcultures in different areas, departments or teams into account. Your speedboat might not be as useful in every area or be the holy grail to every department or even creating a feeling of meaning in every team.

That’s why I suggest you move from a speedboat phase to a change intervention phase focusing on local implementation and adoption. This can be done in two steps: 1) Mapping change, impact and innovation type, and 2) Making interventions and experimenting in the local teams.

Step 1: Mapping change, impact and innovation

You must know how big or small of an impact and change your speedboat will make when adopted in the organization. This first step will help you identify this, and thereby secure you level of engagement in step 2; laying the groundwork.

The tool Blast Radius will help you identify which areas, department, teams or individuals are affected by this implementation. Who are affected directly and who are affected more indirectly?

With that mapped out, I’ll bet you have a clear felling of where to start your implementation.

The next questions are: Is this changing the way we work? Are we making everyday improvements or radical pivoting with this speedboat? For this, I suggest you take a look at the Innovation Matrix and map out in which innovation square your speedboat is placed.

Be aware that to some departments or teams it might feeling like a radical innovation, and to others like everyday improvements. This is why you must map the blast radius before mapping innovation type.

Step 2: Create a rhythm of interventions and experimentation

These two mappings provide you with knowledge and insight on how to start planning your change and implementation efforts for rolling it out and scaling it up in your organization. It helps you answer questions on where to start and to whom you should go first.

Next up is making assumptions. Assumptions on how to implement your speedboat in this local culture and context. I suggest you do this by gathering leaders and key employees from the area or department (or the whole team). Tell them about your speedboat, evaluation and results. And then ask them if they see this useful in their context. You want to establish a connection and dialogue, having them as experts and ambassadors.

With a filled “backlog” of assumptions, your next step is to prioritize where to start. Which assumptions are easy to implement and create the most business value? After that carry out experiments deduced from your interventions. Set a rhythm – define sprints – to keep creating momentum. The last step is to evaluate and adjust; did we carry out the right intervention and was it a success?

Maybe you’ll feel like you already did this part when you made your speedboat in the first place. But remember, a large organization have subcultures and local contexts that might mean something new or different to your speedboat. So, if you want to scale a speedboat, being an integrated part of your business, you must make interventions to secure implementations and adoption.

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