Leadership Lesson: Bumpy or smooth? The road from dream to done

Published in the Phoenix Business Journal on September 7, 2018

Brainstorm. You have an idea for a new product or service. You might be an entrepreneur with a startup business. Or, more likely, an “intrapreneur” – an entrepreneur inside a larger organization. In either case, don’t build the idea. Yet.

Before rushing to implement the idea, avoid a bad ride to the marketplace. Instead, take a little time to create a smoother path to success. Answer a few questions to clarify the idea and its implementation.

From Inc. Magazine, here are some of the worst product ideas of all time: New Coke, Ford’s Edsel, Apple Newton, Heinz Purple Ketchup, Cheetos Lip Balm, Google Glass. Lost cost? Too much.

The power is in the question

Answer these ten questions to confirm your idea. Or kill it before wasting resources. Senior executives will ask these same questions before making an investment in the dream:

Background and Opportunity – what gave rise to the idea in the first place? What opportunity does it create? Why hasn’t it been done before? Why is this idea better?

Problem – what need does the idea address? Where is the need, how large is it, and how important is it? What are the negative impacts of this problem?

Solution – how is the problem solved in a general view? What is new about this solution vs. others that have been tried before? Is the solution documented in detail?

Strategic Fit – in what ways does the idea support the vision, mission, values, goals, and strategy of the existing or new business? How could it damage the business?

Buyers – who and where is the market? What are their needs? Proof? What about competition? How many products can be sold at what cost and price? When?

Resources – what will be needed to implement the idea, start to finish? Monetary investment, staffing, capital equipment, materials, facilities, IT? 

Organizational Impact – if implemented, what parts of the organization will be effected? In what ways, positive or negative? Could this idea be done outside the organization?

Milestones – what are the key events that must take place, when, and where? What is the critical path to completion? When is financial breakeven? What can go wrong?

Project Management – who are the people, existing and new hires, that will be needed to implement the idea on time? Who is the leader? Are there alternatives.

Benefits – how does the company benefit? Customer experience, process streamlining, employee experience? Profitability? Are there any negative consequences?

And, these are the same questions that investors will ask a startup business. Deeply.

And a few more questions …

What will happen if we do not implement this idea? Can we sell or license the idea to someone else? Can it be patented? What is the biggest risk?

What would happen if we spend the same amount of money and other resources on a different idea? Or, the same amount of money to accelerate something that is already working? What else do we need to know?

And, one of the best questions ever in nearly every situation: “What are we pretending not to know?” 

The bottom lines

Risk. It is pervasive in new ideas. Good questions minimize the risk of implementing bad ideas. Asking these ten fundamental questions can clear the road for a better ride to success. Take a little time to avoid a big failure. First. 

Click here to read this article on the Phoenix Business Journal site.