Speed as unfair advantage
Last week I had the opportunity to listen to an exchange of views on Lean Canvas. Some participants argued that it was a refinement of the Business Model Canvas, others recognised a clever adaptation. After a while the discussion turned to the “Unfair Advantage”, that a product idea or product has over other ideas or products. “Unfair Advantage” – how does that sound to you? I think the expression is really good. And I know of an unfair advantage that many organisations nowadays unfortunately overlook: speed. The speed in recognising, thinking, acting, producing, delivering, supporting, adapting and communicating. Time for a quick article about speed as a competitive advantage. Time for an appeal for more speed in organisations.
Speed as a parameter
There are numerous ways to approach the subject of speed. One of the most fundamental is man and his transience. We do not live infinitely. We only have a limited amount of time at our disposal. For this reason alone, we pay attention to time and have done so since childhood. Remember:
“Daddy, how long till we get there?”
“We only left 10 minutes ago, we still have almost 2,000 km to go, so it will take us another 20 hours!”
An hour later:
“Dad, how much longer?”
Such an anecdote tells a lot about the innocence and impatience of children, the behaviour of parents and the time when it was not uncommon in West Germany to simply drive across Europe in the summer holidays just to lie down on a beach. But: time is short, so let’s quickly get back to transience and speed.
Transience – although for different reasons – also affects many other constructs that are part of our lives: Companies do not exist forever¹, sectors, industries, products and markets disappear, and sometimes even states dissolve.
In short, if time is a limiting factor, then speed is a parameter for … (at this point I would like to point out that I have been thinking for a very long time about the next word) … life. Yes, indeed, for life.
Speed or quality?
Which is more important: speed or quality? At first glance, neither one or the other is more important. Quality without a certain amount of speed is worth little, speed without a certain amount of quality is worth little. Consequently, a bad product that comes onto the market two years too late does not have good market chances. However, even the world’s best product will not be a walk in the park if it enters the marketplace two years too late. But – and perhaps there is a chance – quality can be developed. There are numerous products that have been qualitatively improved during their lifecycle. And there are methods such as the Kano Model, for example, which evaluate product characteristics and their influence on customer satisfaction, to help develop quality explicitly.
In fact, it is not only quality that can be improved, but also speed. As an example I would like to mention three methods that implicitly propagate speed:
Pretotyping is a method by which product ideas can be tested with minimal effort by simulating features and functions.
A prototype is a functional, but simplified experimental model of a planned product, which is used to test a solution approach for its suitability.
Wireframing is a process for designing websites, web applications and software screens and includes information design, navigation design and interface design.
Regardless of which method is best suited to which scenario, the aim is to gain valuable information quickly in order, for example, to do the right things faster. In other words: it is a matter of increasing quality! As early as possible. And this is also confirmed at second glance: Speed is not more important than quality, quality is not more important than speed. Both should be considered together.
The effect of speed
Imagine you have a good product or offer a good service. People want to buy your product or service. How do these people feel when they have to wait
- 40 weeks on the delivery of a car,
- 8 weeks on the delivery of furniture,
- 6 weeks to a doctor’s appointment,
- 5 weeks on a craftsman appointment,
- 4 weeks on the registration or change of a car or address,
- 3 weeks on a new identity card,
- 2 weeks to a garage appointment,
- 45 days for the refund of a cancellation,
- 10 days for the delivery of a spare part,
- 7 days on the number portability of a telephone,
- 5 days for the delivery of a book,
- 45 minutes in the queue of a call centre or
15 minutes to the first drink in a café?
What did you think the last time you were in the supermarket or post office waiting for another checkout to open? What went through your mind when the new update of a software was delivered months after the promised date? You were almost certainly not enthusiastic. Sometimes you will have wondered and sometimes even been annoyed.
Of course, there is another way. Let me give you two companies and their services as examples:
- Ikea and
There are many reasons why both companies are successful. One key reason is speed. At Ikea you can simply take your furniture with you. At most other furniture stores you have to wait several weeks for your delivery. Amazon’s speed even often exceeds the needs of its customers, because most people don’t read books until several weeks after the purchase. Speed should therefore not play such a big role in the choice of supplier, but it does (as a criterion).
Speed as a competitive advantage
Of course, speed “cannot be conjured out of a hat”. To increase it is often a challenge. But my appeal is: make speed a competitive advantage.
Why? If your products are comparable to those of your competitors, speed can give you a big advantage. If your products are better, speed will make you almost unbeatable. And if your products are not yet comparable, speed can help close the gap.
And what exactly can you do to turn speed into a competitive advantage?
- Operate benchmarking as a continuous comparison of products, services as well as processes and methods with (several) companies in order to systematically close the performance gap to the so-called best in class (companies that have an excellent command of processes, methods etc.).
- Use methods with which you can obtain feedback more quickly.
- Ask your customers.
- Optimise your processes, but not in terms of employee capacity utilisation, but in terms of your customers. It is not important whether an employee on a hotline is actually on the phone with customers every minute of the day, it is important how long the customer has to wait in the queue before help is provided.
- Be creative. There are hairdressers who arrange the next appointment on the spot six weeks later and thus change the whole process of making appointments. Doctors who proactively arrange annual check-ups with their patients or car repair shops who offer early appointments for upcoming technical inspections do the same thing. Software manufacturers could communicate two or three fixed appointments per year on which they deliver updates. Public authorities could offer the process of renewing ID cards online.
- And use Small Data, i.e. the information that is available to you from your customers or employees without much effort. An internal IT department needs to know the needs of the specialist department better than any external service provider, because it is closer to where the action is. A platform operator knows the services and functions that are used particularly frequently. Share this knowledge – naturally in accordance with the data protection laws – to your “unfair advantage”! Accelerate the things that bring the greatest benefit to your customers and users. And – please do not forget – communicate this. Because speed requires communication, but this is a topic for another article.
 According to Statista, at the end of 2018 there were 3,279,135 taxable companies in Germany with annual deliveries and services exceeding 17,550 Euros. Each of these companies is welcome to convince me that they will live “forever”. However, since I too have only a limited time on this planet, it will be difficult to prove it. 😉
Michael Schenkel has published additional posts in the t2informatik blog, including
Head of Marketing, t2informatik GmbH
Michael Schenkel is a graduate business economist and is passionate about marketing. He has a certificate for excellent hiking characteristics, Odenwaldtour in classes 6a/6b and since 1984 the Seahorse. He likes to blog about requirements engineering, project management, stakeholders and marketing. And he will certainly be delighted if you meet him in the real world for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake or for a virtual get-together.