Lean Isn’t Just for Startups
Last week, it was my privilege to hear Jeff Gothelf, a user experience designer at TheLadders.com, give an insightful presentation at a Lean Startup Circle Meetup in Cambridge. User Experience (UX for short) is the high-level architecture that goes into the creation of websites, attempting to make them as intuitive and effective as possible for the end user. Because it would be a stretch to consider the Ladders a “startup”, and design roles are not typically associated with lean (a.k.a. agile) methodology, I was curious how he’d tie the two together.
After hearing Jeff speak, you’d think UX and the lean startup were made for each other.
Lean startups attempt to create a more relevant product by introducing a Minimum Viable Product to the customer as quickly as possible and continually iterating on it based on the feedback they receive. In his role as a website designer, Jeff mimics that by soliciting feedback from his peers—namely developers, executives, and his co-designers—as early as possible, rather than laboring in isolation to create a polished but ultimately unusable product. Incorporating peer feedback along the way minimizes the time and resources he wastes traveling down the wrong path. Ultimately it means a better result at a lower cost, as brilliantly illustrated in the following diagram included in Jeff’s presentation:
If this looks familiar, that’s because it’s exactly the goal of the lean startup, except the “customers” Jeff is accountable to are internal stakeholders rather than actual external customers.
This analogy got me thinking about how the lean startup applies to my own situation.
As an analyst at OpenView Labs, I’m a consultant to OpenView’s portfolio of expansion stage tech companies. Like Jeff, I don’t work for a startup, and am not selling a physical product to an outside customer. But ultimately I still have a product (my analysis), and customers (our portfolio companies, as well as the project owners at my own firm). Delivering a high-quality product with minimal waste is just as important for me as it is for the software companies I consult. No matter how polished my end product is, it won’t be useful unless it accomplishes the right goals, and continually soliciting feedback along the way is the only way to achieve this.
This was a revelation for me, as I’m sure it was for Jeff, and it’s beginning to strike me as nearly universal in its application. Whether you’re a consultant, engineer, architect, teacher, biologist, or almost anything else, you can improve the quality of your work by soliciting feedback early and often and adjusting in response.
The “lean” approach applies to much more than just startups.