A Leaner Way of Thinking

Lean Startup ProcessOne of the biggest challenges I've found in my work trying to start a business or trying to start mini-businesses within a huge matrixed organization is moving quickly and responding to customer input and user data. If you're working on a shoestring or are trying to spin up a new business venture, consider the lean startup methodology. 
I’ve been working in ‘agile mode’ for a while at work through both my primary job as a product developer as well as in my more entrepreneurial role on the Roundtable. I’ve enjoyed the transition from a waterfall approach to this lean startup mentality and thought I’d throw together a few thoughts on the approach.

The gist of the lean startup is that you can launch new products/businesses more efficiently if you shorten development cycles, build only the required components,  measure/evaluate feedback, and tweak the solution until you get it just right. Doing business this way makes it possible to test the ideas for businesses with limited funding/time and deliver what customers are actually looking for. 

What’s interesting is that the lean startup mentality is incredibly similar to the human centered design approach.  When combined, you start with a product or service idea that is based on a real customer need. We can assume you’ve already used the HCD techniques to uncover real problems faced by your target audience and that you’ve worked to prototype an end product that you can get in front of customers. In lean startup parlance, you’ve just created a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP). This product should provide the core features/functions that you think can solve the problem you’ve identified. 

Next, you’ve got to do some testing to find out  how customers are using or perceiving your MVP. Try A/B testing with true or ‘actionable metrics’. These metrics should give you the data to determine if your solution is actually the best approach and can be a value driver for your business. For example, in the work I’ve done to develop biometric monitoring solutions, I need to ensure that my end product is going to be used by consumers. If it’s not used, I can’t get the data necessary to support the business’ end goals.

Last, you need to utilize your short product development cycles to pivot when you uncover new information. This course correction should be based on the data you’ve uncovered during your testing and customer observation. Assuming you’re only creating the MVP and using short cycle times, you should be able to pivot without too much angst. Using the waterfall approach it becomes almost impossible for the product development team to make a last minute change. Not only is it difficult from the developers point of view, but so much time and energy has been committed to a specific way of thinking that any deviation becomes painful. 

I found a great SlideShare presentation that makes the Lean Startup visual, which for me, is exactly how I think. If you're ready to learn more, check it out below.