How to maintain your culture of experimentation as you scale
Scaling businesses face dozens of challenges — from growing at the right time and pace to staying focused to bringing in the right talent.
As teams expand and begin to separate from one another, it’s easy to lose the agility, nimbleness, and innovation that often mark smaller organizations. Similarly, it can become increasingly difficult to maintain a culture of experimentation in growing businesses, as the perceived pressure for marketing and product teams to produce more and more outweighs the allowance to focus on quality, creativity, and iteration.
A strong culture of experimentation and innovation is crucial for brands to succeed in our rapidly evolving tech, media, and commerce landscape. But cultivating and keeping one isn’t always so simple. We’re discussing how organizations can maintain an experimental lens as they scale from start-up to enterprise and through the stages in between.
What is a culture of experimentation?
Whether you call it a culture of innovation or experimentation, the premise is the same.
It’s an organization-wide way of thinking and working in which everyone agrees: everything should be questioned, tested, and optimized.
From top level management to individual team contributors, you have a shared commitment to integrate testing into the creation process, making experimentation second nature. Everything put out into the world — content, products, paid media, etc. — is an opportunity to gather insights, optimize performance, and continuously innovate.
The challenge of scaling experimentation
A successful culture of experimentation requires enthusiastic and purposeful buy-in from everyone. Naturally, this is easier to cultivate in smaller organizations where communication and cross-team collaboration is more seamless and folks are less siloed in their individual roles.
Leaders tend to be more receptive to challenges to the status quo and celebrate creative solutions — critical components of an innovation-focused culture — and team members often feel greater permission to take ownership of new, experimental projects and ideas along with their standard tasks.
With growth can come increased structural roadblocks that make experimentation feel both less approachable and like less of a necessity, from organizational infrastructure and bureaucracy to more rigid silos and reduced prioritization of future-focused change.
Experiment, innovate, and optimize at scale
“It’s part of the natural growth that happens when businesses and teams expand,” said Jeffrey Cheal, VP of Product Strategy at Optimizely. “Experimentation goes from a ‘thing we do’ to a ‘nice to have’ to ‘oh god, we still have to do that?’”
But the team of experimentation experts at Optimizely said it best: Experimenting at scale is a superpower — and it’s certainly not impossible. For organizations to do it, they need four essential components to come together:
Make results available, shareable, and scream them from the roof.
Jeffrey Cheal, VP of Product Strategy at Optimizely
Concerted top-down buy-in
Like most facets of company culture, facilitating a standard of experimentation must start at the top level of leadership. CRO leaders need to champion an environment where experimentation is not only encouraged, but a non-negotiable for all teams. Individuals need not only the permission to test — and fail — but also the support to do so.
That means establishing a workplace where folks are given the time and freedom to think creatively and set innovation goals that may not be clearly defined from the start.
Investment in tools and training
Cheal emphasizes that experimentation isn’t difficult to start, it’s hard to continue. When scaling an experimentation program, teams need tools that can handle a greater volume of simultaneous experiments and data, and they need to understand how to properly run and interpret the experiments and results. Optimizely is built to scale alongside organizations, with features that allow for flexibility and help businesses strategically expand their experimentation practice as they increase in size.
But even with the best tools, leaders must invest in their teams’ knowledge, teaching the methodology behind continuous experimentation and ensuring it’s adopted into their practices.
Thorough processes and documentation
Experimentation allows businesses to test creativity and push their own boundaries.
But to truly allow ingenuity and innovation to thrive, teams need a solid, structured foundation. Especially as CRO programs grow, experiment volume increases, and more stakeholders get involved, it’s imperative to have clear, formalized processes for all the stages of an experiment, from planning and launching to monitoring progress, analyzing data, and sharing results.
By defining a framework for the steps involved, teams can approach experiments more efficiently and effectively, focusing on the specific goals of the experiment itself, rather than spending valuable time figuring out how to go about each step.
Plus, aligning on one standard process allows cross-functional teams to more consistently collaborate on experiments at scale.
To further streamline a scaling experimentation program, documentation is key. Every test should be documented and available to access across the organization, not only to allow teams to easily share their results and learnings, but to prevent the same experiments from being unnecessarily duplicated.
Regular acknowledgment of work and results
Formal documentation is a key component of a well-oiled experimentation program — but perhaps even more important to solidify a culture of experimentation is regularly sharing results, celebrating successes, and learning from failures as an organization.
“Make results available, shareable, and scream them from the roof,” Cheal said. “There is nothing more addictive and exciting that sharing successes and failures.”
When it comes to motivating teams to continue experimenting, little is more effective than giving everyone an opportunity to be a part of the process. Crowdsource buy-in by opening up less formal avenues to get everyone involved in the testing process, whether it’s a Slack channel, experiment recaps during all-hands calls, or periodic open brainstorming sessions.
Take testing to a new level
No matter the size of your business, organizations that prioritize and foster a culture of experimentation position themselves to push boundaries, drive innovation, and achieve new levels of success.
By nurturing an experimental mindset across your business and investing in the time and tools required to successfully test while scaling, you can ensure that experimentation remains at the heart of your organization’s DNA through all phases of growth.
To learn more about how DEPT® can help your organization build its experimentation practice alongside Optimizely, get in touch with with a member of our team.