Experimentation Works

The Surprising Power of Business Experiments

Stefan H. Thomke

Harvard Business Review Press, February 2020

When it comes to improving customer experiences, trying out new business models, or developing new products, even the most experienced managers often get it wrong. They discover that intuition, experience, and big data alone don’t work. What does? Running disciplined business experiments. And what if companies roll out new products or introduce new customer experiences without running these experiments? They fly blind.

That’s what Harvard Business School professor Stefan Thomke shows in this rigorously researched and eye-opening book. It guides you through best practices in business experimentation, illustrates how these practices work at leading companies, and answers some fundamental questions: What makes a good experiment? How do you test in online and brick-and-mortar businesses? In B2B and B2C? How do you build an experimentation culture? Also, best practice means running many experiments. Indeed, some hugely successful companies, such as Amazon, Booking.com, and Microsoft, run tens of thousands of controlled experiments annually, engaging millions of users. Thomke shows us how these and many other organizations prove that experimentation provides significant competitive advantage.

How can managers create this capability at their own companies? Essential is developing an experimentation organization that prizes the science of testing and puts the discipline of experimentation at the center of its innovation process. While it once took companies years to develop the tools for such large-scale experiments, advances in technology have put these tools at the fingertips of almost any business professional. By combining the power of software and the rigor of controlled experiments, today’s managers can make better decisions, create magical customer experiences, and generate big financial returns.

Experimentation Works is your guidebook to a truly new way of thinking and innovating.

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About the Author

Stefan Thomke, an authority on the management of innovation, is the William Barclay Harding Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He has worked with global firms on product, process, and technology development, customer experience design, operational improvement, organizational change, and innovation strategy.

His research and writings have focused primarily on the process, economics, and management of business experimentation. He is a widely published author with more than one hundred articles, cases and notes published in books and leading journals, such as: California Management Review, European Business Review, Harvard Business Review, Management Science, Organization Science, Research Policy, Sloan Management Review, Strategic Management Journal and Scientific American. He is also author of the books Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies for Innovation (Harvard Business School Press, 2003), Managing Product and Service Development (McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2006) and Experimentation Works: The Surprising Power of Business Experiments (Harvard Business Review Press, 2020).

Professor Thomke has taught and chaired executive education programs on innovation, R&D management, product & service development, and operations, both at Harvard Business School and in company programs around the world. He chairs the General Management Program (GMP) at HBS and has been a core faculty member in many executive education programs, including the Advanced Management Program (AMP), and the global Senior Executive Leadership Program (SELP) in Dubai, Mumbai, and Shanghai.

He also chairs Leading Product Innovation, which helps business leaders revamp their innovation systems for greater competitive advantage. He was faculty chair of HBS executive education in South Asia, where he still co-chairs the School’s research activities, and he has served on advisory and supervisory boards of start-up and established companies. Previously, Thomke was faculty chair of the MBA Required Curriculum and faculty co-chair of the doctoral program in Science, Technology and Management. He is the recipient of many awards, including the Apgar Award for Innovation in Teaching at HBS, and a finalist for the Harvard Business Review McKinsey Award.

Professor Thomke holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering, Master’s degrees in Operations Research and Management (MBA equivalent), and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he was awarded a Lemelson-MIT doctoral fellowship for invention and innovation research. He has also received honorary degrees in Economics (Doctorate from the HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management) and Arts (Master’s from Harvard University).