Unfolding plans 164 – challenging assumptions

The Lean Start-up training is paying dividends already.  No, I haven’t invented some new product that is going to cure world poverty or even make me a small fortune yet I have been able to apply some of the principles that I have learnt, especially around the use of assumptions.  I have come to realise that the things I think I know are often nothing more than assumptions.

I assume therefore I am.

I have now been taking a step back and trying to unpick my own beliefs.  I am asking myself the questions: what is the product that I am trying to sell; who are the intended customers and; what are the assumptions I have made about them or the product.  It is proving to be a useful approach.

I have used this technique when thinking about our New Ways of Working programme, our approach to business support and the launch of the new Apprentice Training Agency (ATA).  It is this last one that I’d like to refer to most.

In case you can’t remember the basic idea is that businesses are finding it difficult to take on apprentices due to a lack of understanding, the hurdles they have to jump through, the time it will take to get useful value out of their new recruits and that it is too much of a commitment.  There is a lag between investment and return which many businesses feel is not worth covering.  Our ATA will address these concerns as we’ll do the recruitment, we’ll get the apprentices work ready and we’ll underwrite any time that the host organisations aren’t able to commit to.  At least they are my assumptions.  To be honest I hadn’t actually asked anyone.  It was entirely a construction of my own mind.  Still it seemed like a good idea.

This week though I’ve managed to test my assumptions on two very different organisations.  I’ve released my idea into the wild and asked my intended target market whether or not the idea has wings.

The first company was a small app development one.  They liked the idea but would find it difficult to take anyone on without some of the wider understanding of their market.  The skills they required were ones that we are already involved in and so that wouldn’t be a problem.  So my first pivot was that for some customers, especially those with small numbers of employees, the apprentice will already need to have a good grounding in the skills they require.  They need to be able to hit the ground running.  This means that apprentices will need to have been with us for a year or so.

The second engagement was a collaboration between an established local IT firm and a third sector organisation.  Again the apprentice would need to be self-organised and be able to work, at times on their own across a variety of technical issues.  My second pivot was therefore that there is not one product that is required but rather several different types of apprenticeship to meet the needs of the market.

Meeting the potential customers has shown me that there is a need for the product but that there is some work to do before it is ready to go to market.

Beware that you don’t run aground on the rocks of assumption.

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