Business teams often struggle to achieve marketplace action, whether it’s new products or services, changes to their customer offerings or even basic sales materials.
One limiting factor may be a sort of impossible quest for perfection. That’s why I’ve come to embrace the philosophy of seeking excellence.
I was reminded of this when reading that the US Department of Defense has a division called Rapid Fielding. Yes, there is a “Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Rapid Fielding” in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering. It’s intriguing because while US armed forces are rightfully known for many great things, rapid weapons development and deployment are not high on the list.
“The Rapid Fielding mission is to identify, develop, demonstrate, assess & rapidly field innovative concepts and technologies that supply critical capabilities to meet time-sensitive operational needs.”
Rapid Fielding was neatly summarized by reporter Julian E. Barnes in The Wall Street Journal:
“The rapid-fielding office is in large measure trying to follow the guidance of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who argued that too many defense-acquisition projects spent too much trying to develop a perfect weapon. Instead, Mr. Gates argued, the Pentagon should try to focus on cheaper technologies that offered “70% solutions.””
There’s a lot for business leaders to take from the 70 percent solution concept, which comes from the US Marine Corps.
“Everyone is always looking for the perfect truth, but you never have it. Even if you did have it, the other guy is up to something, so by the time you execute it your truth isn’t perfect anymore.” (Colonel Thomas Moore, quoted in Corps Business – The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines by David H. Freedman).
Basically, the 70 percent solution is a primer for making the best possible decision in an environment where information is imprecise and changing, and time delays can lead to negative opportunity costs. Freedman explains:
“By promoting the 70 percent solution, Marines do not advocate shoot-from-the-hip decision-making. Neither do they condone fast, foolish plans. But they do caution against waiting until all the angles are figured out. Instead, when time is of the essence, Marines act as soon as they have a plan with a good chance of working.”
Somewhat related to rapid fielding is rapid prototyping, which has many technical definitions including computer aided design (CAD) and 3D printing. I prefer a much simpler definition that’s applicable in a wider array of situations: a rapid prototype demonstrates the viability or potential viability of a technology/service/product, even if the prototype is not in final, finished form.
When it comes to new products, doing things differently and/or implementing change, it’s also critical to embrace experimentation and iteration. Sometimes it’s better to get started with “good enough” and make it better going forward, often with direct end-user feedback and input, than to suffer through delay after delay with no presence in the market.
Obviously, all of these concepts and approaches have to be customized and appropriately applied to your situation and regulatory environment. End-user requirements and time sensitivity are critical considerations. In some cases, these ideas will not apply. Overall, though, it’s good to keep in mind that “perfection” may not get out your warehouse door, but “excellent” can!
Get comfortable with a 70 percent solution decision-making process that makes sense for you and your company. Collaborate with your technical teams to build a rapid fielding capability and leverage appropriately. These can be business differentiators. Spread this way of thinking across the company and make it a valuable addition to your go-to-market toolbox.
Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.