What is FastWorks?

FastWorks is a GE program informed by Lean Startup principles, which was developed by GE and Eric Ries, author of the bestselling book The Lean Startup. FastWorks is a mindset that takes aspects of the Lean Startup movement — namely the flexible and transparent characteristics of a startup — and combines them with GE’s size and resources.


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How does FastWorks Work?

Think about how a startup approaches a problem. Successful entrepreneurs test solutions, develop prototypes and adapt along the way. Learning, iterating and paying close attention to data and metrics is necessary at every step. FastWorks isn’t about being fast or simple, though. It’s a rigorous process where a lot of time can be spent on customer discovery and understanding what clients really need and value.

It’s this customer discovery and validation part that’s key. FastWorks begins by asking customers questions to find out what outcome they’re trying to achieve or what problem they’d like to solve. Whether it’s being used within areas of GE or other clients, the team working on an issue comes up with a hypothesis for a solution, which also includes certain assumptions. The objective is to find ways to test those assumptions or to get customer validation that says your assumptions are right or right.

The idea is to test and learn and then make changes based on those findings.

While FastWorks is still being deployed within GE, for those using it, it’s changing the way the company makes decisions the way it works with customers. It emphasizes continuous innovation, space to experiment and provides a way to validate assumptions and ideas.


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What does FastWorks do?
The largest deployment of Lean Startup ideas in the world, FastWorks is being applied to a range of GE’s worldwide work, from increasing competitiveness in rural healthcare markets, to helping emerging enterprises at the GE Customer Innovation Centre in Calgary iterate quickly and find strategic partners.


How are Lean Startup principles connected to FastWorks?

FastWorks applies various Lean Startup principles throughout its process. This can include breaking down problems into solutions, which need to be understood and validated.

Another Lean Startup principle adopted by FastWorks is developing a Minimum Viable Product (or MVP), which is developing a prototype in the fastest and lowest cost way. It’s allows customers to test, and learn more about, their assumptions quickly and easily. An MVP validates or invalidates one’s assumptions or hypothesis.

It also yields a lot of data that can then inform people where to go next. Should they continue down the same path? Or should another approach be taken?    

How was FastWorks implemented?

FastWorks was introduced to GE in 2013 by former GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The initial FastWorks team, which included Ries and others, trained a number of coaches on FastWorks. Together, those coaches shared Lean Startup principles with almost 3,000 GE executives. In that first year, 100 FastWorks projects were launched in the U.S., Europe, China, Russia, and Latin America, ranging from building disruptive healthcare solutions to co-creating a new solution for flow metering in multiphase oil wells.


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What are the benefits of FastWorks?
FastWorks delivers better outcomes for customers. It is a rigorous process, where teams spend a lot of time on customer discovery, but it can deliver better outcomes faster because it’s based on data, on customer validation and on rapid learning cycles. As well, only the main stakeholders on a project are involved, rather than large decision-making teams that can slow down a project’s development.    

Since adopting the FastWorks process, GE is seeing shorter product cycles, quicker IT implementation and faster customer responses. Launch cycles are being reduced, as FastWorks accelerates the development of new products.

What does FastWorks mean for employees?

FastWorks empowers employees to think like entrepreneurs. It gives them more freedom to make small mistakes, but the key is that people can learn from those mistakes and continue iterating and testing their assumptions. It empowers employees to make decisions based on data and real information.

What is an example of FastWorks in use?

Engineers at GE Power improved a popular gas turbine using FastWorks. First, the team talked to 11 customers about improvements. Not surprisingly, they ended up with a list of clashing requests. Some wanted the machine to generate more power, others wanted a turbine that burned fuel more efficiently. Rather than pick and choose between these competing wishes, the team deployed FastWorks and decided that the new development would have to fulfill all of them. Applied properly, the approach would allow the team to shave more than a year off the development process, which typically takes three years.

From there, the team focused more on speed, releasing models for parts to be cast and machined as soon as possible. This allowed the group to work together, rather than waiting on one another. The team could pivot quickly responding to new information, ideas or pitfalls. When the team, deep in the development process, realized the turbine’s traditional radial cooling system wasn’t strong enough for their needs, they quickly switched to another method. The FastWorks approach reduced the gas turbine’s development time by 25 per cent, from four years to three years.


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How else is FastWorks being used?

FastWorks is also becoming a force within GE, transforming how internal challenges are tackled. Entrepreneur and author Ries has a favourite FastWorks success story, involving a 25-person IT team supporting a finance department tasked with delivering a tool company employees would want to use. Ries started talking with the team about adopting a customer-service mentality, which proved to be an initial leap for employees not used to thinking of other employees as customers.

Following FastWorks training, the team began thinking of employees as customers, and they also started acting like entrepreneurs themselves. They went on to offer different divisions the chance to be early adopters of the new product, and they promised to roll out a new version of the tool every month that the divisions could use if they’d like.

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