In this series, Dimagi’s Co-Founder & CEO Jonathan Jackson (@jonathanleej) and Senior Director of New Business Shabnam Aggarwal (@shabnamaggarwal) discuss how we continue to look for ways to innovate with the help of a dedicated entrepreneur within the company.
In this piece, Jon explains how we evaluate our new projects and revisit them often.
When we first started, Shabnam and I would iterate on business plans for various ideas to look at the return on capital, the payback period, the potential impact, and how quickly we could get the ideas profitable.
After building models for several ideas, we learned what everyone working on early stage business models knows:
- there were a lot of unknowns, and
- we could force the numbers to say whatever we wanted.
While we have a key requirement in New Business that each new product idea should be financially viable, we also didn’t feel that iterating on the business models at such an early stage was making us any smarter or more confident in which products or problems we wanted to tackle.
So, Shabnam created a lean, repeatable process that we could use as a template for exploring each idea for ourselves. The goal was to have one major innovation project in the pre-launch stage, while also grooming the top of the backlog as potential competition for our time and focus.
Building Our Business Plans
Initially, we set our innovation budget such that we would be able to fund a small engineering team or small sales and marketing team each quarter. We kept this fixed to ensure that we would have to be disciplined in making trade-offs within our relatively consistent budget quarter to quarter. Because this budget is fairly fixed and tight, this gives us a large incentive to be lean to maximize the value we are creating in the innovation budget.
Our process has resulted in two launched products from New Business: FocusMDM and CloudWorks. We killed several ideas in the pre-launch phase, and we transitioned one product out to the core business after we couldn’t validate product-market fit within New Business. We’ll go into our validation process for New Business as compared to Core Business innovations in a future update.
A good sign that our approach is helping our decision making and learning is that we have successfully killed or migrated projects even after they survived several reviews—even ones that I, as the CEO, really liked.
Planning Quarterly Reviews
Shabnam and I were both aware that we needed to make sure we avoided the sunk-cost fallacy.
Obviously, we have a tendency to wish our previous bets were still good ideas, so we wanted to force ourselves to consistently re-evaluate the New Business portfolio each quarter—even when we are deep into execution mode on an idea.
Each time, we re-evaluate whether continuing to pursue the idea is still the best value compared to beginning the process with a new idea. This is both a great brainstorming opportunity to revisit ideas that we’ve assessed in the past and a chance to evaluate new ideas and their potential.
Further, it has a large benefit on the execution of the current portfolio, because it forces us to ask ourselves about the relative value, not just whether we are executing against the current plan.
Finally, our quarterly review process helps broaden our perspective when it comes to evaluating other core business investments. While innovation and core business are explicitly not competing for the same resource allocations every quarter, the constant evaluation of our innovation portfolio generates a healthy tension of resources across innovation and core business that improves both.
Catch up on the rest of the posts in the Innovation at Dimagi series, including the last one, where Dimagi Sr Director of New Business Shabnam Aggarwal explained how she views the stages of innovation and introduced her Innovation Lifecycle.