Platforming! performing by aggregating projects into an exploratory platform
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
What do you do when you have brought a successful project to the market ?
A logical next step is to use all learning you have on market, customers and technology development process to start a similar project that would carry much more value !
The risk of course is while you scale your business with the first project you need to explore and derisk on the wave of potential next ones... and accept some will have very low maturity and will take time, some other will fail... but overall your chance to be successful are much higher than sourcing a project from scratch and when successful, spillovers of projects belonging to the same platform will create many additional value streams.
Think about Space X falcon, when established led to the next generation Starship shuttle with many more complex issues to solve, but a clear upside to enable 'New Space' business and capture outstanding value on the long run.
Illustration: SpaceX Starship SN10 has 60% chance of landing. This is the tip of the iceberg behind the race for 'New Space' business trillions dollars business - Link
Corporate Innovation best practices
Managing the sourcing and maturation of serendipity projects is a unique expertise that only few corporate innovation units really master (recent article). What is even more unique is to transform those project into an exploratory platform. The difficulty here is that most of the team members should be looking forward to grow the business and get to the market while few team members are recycling all customer and market learning to seed early maturity concepts that could develop later into independent projects and aggregate the first one into a platform. The logic of extending an opportunity/project into portfolio/platform is very well described by Babson College's Professor Gina O'Connor. You can watch the executive education lecture online with concept explain at minute 21' in the video: Link
1 - Leading project
First you need to identify a leading project that has the potential to expand into a platform, this often occurs when talking to customers you learn that they have adjacent more urgent or unmet needs and that your current capabilities would enable such new applications fields without disturbing the leading project trajectory. Second is that your team is ambidextrous enough to scale the leading project while exploring and maturing new opportunities in a strategic domain.
2 - Exploratory new concepts
Seeding early concepts from the leading project can easily be done following a strategic domain concept generation approach we have described previously (recent article). You can start with two or three concepts to seed, even at early maturity knowing most of uncertainty will be mitigated using the learning cumulated between new concepts and the leading project. When its done, we recommend then to follow the reverse pipeline approach to expend and pivot from the few initial concepts. Reversing the pipeline is well described by Philippe Méda: Link
Just remember that each every effort in exploration within the strategic domain contribute with some learning to the leading project, therefore the R.OI. regarding creating knowledge is high. A reminder on Innovation R.O.I. from Philippe Méda: Link
3 - Expanding project into platform
Seeding a few concepts and looking at pipeline reversion will create a large amount of knowledge transferable to the platform. Because of the low maturity, many of the new concepts are meant to be stopped, a few will pivot and only a couple will join the leading project to aggregate in a platform. After reaching some progress the new concept will turn itself into a second leading project. At this stage you are aiming to aggregate 3-4 projects to build a platform within a strategic domain platform. After you reach a critical mass, you are not looking for new projects anymore, you want to build coherence in the different business streams, synergies and spillovers. Usually individual projects within an incubator have limited upside but all the similar operating costs. A platform reduce on operating costs while multiplying revenue streams, this is extremely powerful. Evolving your platform into a new business field is the aim you find in many corporate incubators. A classic is mistake is to believe you multiply risks in aggregating uncertain projects while it is the opposite... the more knowledge and learning the more chance your platform will get successfully to the market.
Most of platform are usually derived from strategic domain analysis around well defined focus field. In our case we are building a platform from a serendipity sourced project that has demonstrate the potential to aggregate much more value around it.
We are usually working in a well defined funnel with a strategy behind. That is why, building a platform opportunistically from a project is counter-intuitive to many R&D specialist. Here you agregate concepts into a platform, all driven by market and customer insight and knowledge collected from a unique project in the field, a probe of new trends, new customer behaviors.
Only few serendipity projects have a potential to be re-explored as a platform, it is a unique opportunity and it requires clear strategic support and understanding of innovation management mechanics. This also need ambidexterity of the project team and a mindset for transforming learning into new opportunities with a way to capture further value from the initial projects.
This mechanic is complexe and for those few bets, it is important to have an environment of trust and calculated risk taking. Building opportunistically the next platform is a goal that each every innovation unit should aim for, a goal to get buy-in from main stakeholders and sponsors. Because you can't predict the future, having only strategy on prospective and focus fields is a risk. Therefore, having in addition dozen of serendipity project failing while only a few are getting from a platform into a new business, is what makes a difference. This would sustain your company and prepare it for continuously economical and societal changes.