Nurturing Lean Startup in the Enterprise

Lean Startup in the Enterprise?

Wow. Lean Startup is really HOT right now. So many new Meetups and conferences and publications and classes and coaches and consultants ready to teach how it’s done. I’m happy to see so many people embrace the concepts, and saddened to see how much of a buzzword “Lean” has become. Similar to Agile, there’s the spirit of the concept (Agile Manifesto) and there’s “going-through-the-motions-agile-with-a-small-a” agile. Writing user stories and doing stand-ups won’t automatically give you the full benefits of Agile. You get the most value when you empower the team and they’re not just going through the motions. Similarly, you can’t apply Lean Startup to any project with any team in any situation and expect to get good results.

We’re reached an inflection point. The Lean Startup movement is passing from a small group of passionate early adopters to the mainstream audience who will metabolize and adapt these practices until they are no longer new and turn into “the way things are done.” We still have the opportunity to share the spirit of Lean Startup and not just teach people to go through the motions. Working in Build-Measure-Learn cycles requires a fundamental change in they way people think and work. Lean Startup changes the way decisions are made in the organization. We value evidence over personal opinion, learning from customers over collecting requirements and build products people actually want. HiPPO won’t let go easily.

I do sincerely believe that Lean Startup is a profoundly different way to work that brings together the best ideas about how digital products are made.  Let’s not blow it.  Here’s my plea to everyone out there speaking and coaching and teaching Lean Startup in the enterprise–help people understand and embrace the philosophy of Lean Startup and not just master the motions.  If we don’t get this right, we run the risk that people will turn away in frustration and miss the benefits that Lean Startup can offer (We tried Baseball and it Didn’t Work).

Common misconceptions about enterprise Lean Startup

Lean Startup is (NOT!) appropriate for all projects.

Lean Startup helps you succeed in a situations of uncertainty– were there’s an unknown market and an unknown solution. If you are refactoring an existing system with an understood audience and a lot of system dependencies, you don’t need Lean Startup, classic Agile is a great approach.

Lean Startup will (NOT!) help you build the product in your head FASTER or CHEAPER.

Don’t burden the team with requirements to deliver specific features or profitability too early in the process. Create a culture that allows experimentation and celebrates failure. Find ways to measure LEARNING and channel it into the EVOLUTION of your product and process. Find product/market fit and make sure you have a identified a problem worth solving and there’s a market for it before you scale up.

An entrepreneurial environment in the enterprise

Give your Lean Startup team the best possible chance for success by creating an entrepreneurial environment inside the enterprise.

Small team with cross-functional skills. People with skills in development, product management & design form the core team (hacker, hustler & hipster). Keep the core team small to maximize collaboration and minimize communication overhead. Support the core with access to subject matter experts who can provide domain expertise and feedback.  As the project grows, add team members with appropriate specialties (e.g. content creation, specialized design and development resources)

Focus. Dedicate the team members for the duration of the project. Team members cannot be doing this part time alongside their other responsibilities. Get the group away from their normal distractions. Move desks so they can sit together. Dedicate a conference room as a project room. Rent them a garage or off-site space.

Embrace an experimental approach. State your hypothesis & recognize assumptions. Be evidence based and determine clear measures to pivot or persevere. This can be hard if there’s a power-over dynamic in the team. Abolish the HiPPO. Good ideas can come from anywhere. There is no truth until the product is delivered to users and validated with satisfaction and revenue.

Fast build-measure-learn cycles. Use just in time design and agile development methods to define, build, deploy, validate and measure continuously. 1-2 weeks “sprint” per experiment is ideal. (For ideas, see “Conversation, Cadence and Culture“)

Frequent interaction with real/actual end users. Don’t just talk to subject matter experts or economic buyers. Continual customer engagement is the engine that drives validation of the evolving product.

Many small experiments. Lean Startup projects in the enterprise can be short (few weeks/month) or longer (several months). An initiative can be as small as one team or several teams in parallel working on related ideas. One way to kick things off is to hold an initial week-long workshop where teams work on different ideas (like a hackathon in the enterprise). A the end the teams present to each other (or the entire company) and the most viable ideas are selected for deeper/longer investigation and development.

Thanks for reading through to the end. Please let me know about YOUR experiences with Lean Startup in the enterprise in the comments below.

Why You Should Attend LSM

I first attended Lean Startup Machine in April 2011 as a participant. I quickly became an advisor and mentor because I believe the biggest challenge in our industry isn’t making software products work, it’s making products people want. Lean Startup is an important trend and User Experience (UX) professionals have a lot to offer the movement. We have a large toolkit of methods to help figure out what people want and craft those ideas into compelling products. Our challenge is adapting the way we work to be more quick, visual, collaborative and continuous to blend with modern entrepreneurial practices.

LSM Photos

Unlike other hackathons which focus on technology and what you’re able to build in a short time, winners at Lean Startup Machine are judged solely on the amount of validation achieved through applying the Lean Startup process. This means you don’t have to write a line of code to participate.

If you have experience with user research, usability testing, design strategy, product design, graphic design or any other design or UX role in a freelance, agency or in-house setting, we welcome your participation. As a matter of fact, designers are often the most sought-after team members on Friday night when the teams form up.

Another benefit of the weekend is that you’ll work as part of a diverse team of people with different backgrounds and skills. In addition to the education and mentoring in Lean Startup Customer Validation that are part of the program, you’ll also learn ways to work more quickly and collaborate effectively in teams by focusing on evidence rather than opinion.

For more information, please check out the Lean Startup Machine FAQ

Unicorn Panel at SxSW

At the most recent Balanced Team event in Chicago we had a lot of conversation about how teams work together to cover UX/Dev and visual design skills with small groups of generalists. Jonathan Berger, Courtney Hemphill, Brittney Hunter and I put together a SxSW proposal to talk about our experiences. The panel is called “Unicorn Quest: How 3 Teams Blend UX & Dev Skills.”

Speaking at SxSW is a very competitive process (tover 3200 speaking proposals submitted this year!). The programming committee takes popular vote as an important consideration when planning the tracks, so we’re calling on the support of our community.

Please click on this link to view the proposal

Unicorn Panel

If you like what you see, please help us out!

  • Create an account and vote for us
  • Share to your friends with a personal recommendation (twitter, facebook, LinkedIn)

You can also follow @unicornpanel on twitter, or checkout our website.

The Right Stuff: What’s in YOUR Portfolio?

Presented at Tech Jobs LA at Blankspaces, July 21, 2012

The growth of the Web and proliferation of mobile devices has created a huge opportunity for people who can design the look and behavior of digital products. This work spans single-person-single-device interactions through experiences that include multiple people, devices and locations. User Experience Designer (UXD), Interaction Designer (IxD), Information Architect (IA), Web Designer (WD)–whichever way you pitch your skill-set, this is truly a GREAT time be working in our field.

But–How do you get that elusive interview? What if you’re just starting out, or changing fields? How do you showcase your talents succinctly and persuasively? What do recruiters and hiring managers look for in a great portfolio? In this presentation, Chris Chandler and I share our thoughts about how to create a UX portfolio that best showcases your ability and helps capture the elusive interview.

There’s also video available on Vimeo. Part 1, Part 2

It’s Our Research

I’m pleased and honored that Tomer Sharon @tsharon asked me to participate in his video project in support of his new book “It’s Our Research.” In this short video, we interview each other about the following topics:

  • (00:24) How can we covert traditional research techniques to be more quick, visual, collaborative and continuous?
  • (03:12) Is it harder to get permission for generative or evaluative research?
  • (06:24) How do entrepreneurs change when they understand and implement design thinking and research?
  • (08.49) How can teams get to “difficult” users (non consumer/specialists like doctors, brokers)
  • (12:50) Some UX practitioners feel threatened when non-UX people get involved, what’s your take on this?
  • (15:06) What do you do if you are forbidden by your organization to talk to users?


Take a little time and enjoy the series. You can also watch interviews with Eric Ries, Seth Godin, Jared Spool, Johanna Kollman and Janice Fraser.