Strategy & Business Development

Are you ready to "fail faster”? 4 steps that let you do it successfully

Does it really pay of to “fail faster”? Many companies don’t find their right path until they have been down a couple of wrong ones.  They often need to scrap perfectly good projects and ideas which they have already invested lots of time and effort in. But actually, these mistakes let us know our business even better and they lead us closer to success. It’s about failing a lot, failing fast and moving on.

Fail faster is often used as a mantra and a piece of advice for entrepreneurs. “Your business may not succeed the first time, but keep trying!”

It also applies to project management, innovational processes and concept development. Fail faster means that we need to fail fast, learn from our mistakes and try again.

Following this terminology, mistakes can mean a lot of things. We could be talking about the business plan. It can be a product, a new concept, cooperation, a marketing campaign, recruitment or even the whole business!

Regardless of the subject, what's important is that you keep evolving. Certain elements of your product, service or the company will survive, others will not. By failing fast you can quickly identify unsustainable ideas, get rid of them and move on to those that are sustainable.


Why fail faster?

You could prepare your new product by analyzing the market, talking to stakeholders, arrange focus groups and talking to sales and marketing before developing it. Or you can use the fail faster philosophy and just develop the product and launch it.

If it doesn’t match the intention or the need you call it back and try something different. At least you won’t be wasting any more time and effort on a failed idea.

Or imagine that your new sales employee doesn’t deliver. You have been patient up until now, but nothing happens. Should you give him another chance? Does he need coaching or further training? Alternatively, you could realize that perhaps he wasn’t the right hire and that you need to “fail fast” and move on to another candidate who can fulfil your company’s needs.

Fail faster is a philosophy that applies to a lot of areas in our business. Lots of companies and customers cannot afford to wait a long time for a new concept that might not even work or do the job. With fail faster, companies can test, adjust and discard projects or solutions much quicker.

It’s a bold approach because you are launching something that might not have any value. On the other hand, it’s the fastest way to locate problems in your solutions which can then reach their complete form much sooner.

Here we bring you 4 steps to fail fast efficiently:


1. Think of disruptive innovation when you hear fail fast.

The process for both disruptive innovation and fail fast invites you to explore instead of exploit. It’s about keeping pace from idea to execution and with lots of willingness to take risks. It’s quite alright to make lots of mistakes as long as you do it fast. So, the essence of both disruption and fail fast is your mindset.

Throw away linear thinking throughout the process. Instead, all phases must be dealt with simultaneously: Idea, development, financing, marketing, sales etc. You must dive into it without fear but with plenty of curiosity and willingness to learn from your experience.

See our videos with Henrik Sonnenberg and Jonathan Løw where they talk about disruptive innovation as a phenomenon and a process.    


2. Think of it as learning and discovering instead of failing!

Fail faster is becoming more and more of a standard advice for entrepreneurs. “It’s okay that you stumble along the way. It’s good when you learn that some things don’t work and just move on!”

Meanwhile, global innovation chief of PwC, Rob Shelton, highlights in this article for Business Insider that even though this is the right idea, it certainly is the wrong attitude!

He refers to a study conducted by PwC about the characteristics of innovative companies, and it turns out that the most important factors are a formalized innovation process along with the ability to quickly test new ideas and dismiss failing ones. But it’s very important, claims Shelton, not to confuse this with failing!

Instead, the process is to make a hypothesis which is then tested. If the result doesn’t match the hypotheses, then we aren’t dealing with a mistake. Instead, we are now gathering data. If the result do match, on the other hand, we have made a discovery.

To focus on data and discovery instead of failing can give the company a stronger mindset that is robust enough to view failed projects as valuable learning and then quickly continue chasing the right solution.


3. Get inspired by design thinking

Based on design thinking, successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have written the book Designing your Life (2016). In this they express how product design is filled with errors, problems and surprises. Resources are often few, but in return, the goal is critical. Therefor a positive mindset is important for the whole picture.

Problems that cannot be solved must simply be pushed aside. Only a constructive and positive focus counts. By navigating towards goals and quickly developing the best possible product at the moment, you can deliver something fast which can then be tested, remade and relaunched.

The important thing is getting a fast result. It creates motivation and provides invaluable experience. There are no mistakes. No victories. Only issues and learning.

Burnett and Evans recommend that you begin your idea phase by identifying your goal/dream for the product and then write down how you imagine the process is going to look like. For every stage in the process you list the expected level of engagement and energy.

This way, you’ll get a sense of which areas that seem straightforward and which areas that might halt the idea. It gives your idea/dream a more realistic touch because qualities as well as challenges are emphasized.

During the actual process, create a chart that contains all the mistakes your prototype is showing and also whether you are dealing with a mistake, a challenge or a development opportunity. This way, you get to visualize how your mistakes are actually often new insight along with how problems are in fact opportunities. Then you are able to adjust and relaunch a new version of the product. Fail faster and then move on!


4. Use Pretotyping when you need to launch an idea

Design thinking encourages you to produce a quick prototype which you can then modify. Pretotyping, on the other hand, is the stage between an abstract idea and a tangible and functional prototype. Pretotyping is a very efficient tool for realizing the fail faster concept.

The term is a blend of the words “pretending” and “prototype”, and as such it means that you pretend to have a prototype. This is done with the help of small low-cost experiments that either confirm or deny your ideas appropriateness. The experiments imitate the core service of the idea for your product, service etc.

Pretotyping is a tool that lets you increase the pace of innovation and product development while you are also saving resources. You can learn more about 6 different pretotyping techniques and how you put them into use in our article: What’s pretotyping?