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Lean startup @Junction32

Yesterday I evangelized (again) lean startup concepts @junction32. Here’s the recording of the session. (I’m sorry but it’s was designed for Hebrew speaking audience)

Here goes:

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Startup

Special Tip – working with graphic designers

Getting a good product visual design is not a trivial task neither working with graphic designers. The product design progresses over time as more learning is being added, while changes needs to implemented fast.

When I first started to interview free-lance designers and designer firms to work with us at Totango I didn’t know a lot about what I’m looking for and how to define it. I wasn’t clear on the requirements and I confused those designers I met with.

My intention was simple (too me), I wanted a modern, clean and user centric design for the product. (Who wouldn’t want that?)

Through the process I learned how to create an aesthetic product design while working effectively with my designers. I’m happy to share with you my tips.

Communication

Most of us grew up in engineering, product management or marketing. We didn’t go to art schools and were not born with the right terminology, so for this reason it’s critical to work on communication with your designers from day 1. To objective it to make sure you’re able to clearly articulate what you want and for the designer to understand and follow you’re guidelines, while still keeping artistic freedom for innovation. More on the next point. Face time (or phone time) is mandatory for that matter. The second aspect which makes breaks communication barriers is to work in small incremental iterations, see next.

Iterative Design

Some design firms will limit the number of iterations to 2 or 3 in order to save labor cost. This is totally wrong! I created a new engagement with my designers where we’re working by a bi-weekly fixed contract. The reason is to be able to iterate as much as possible while nobody looses. The only way I found effective to work together and develop a common langage is for the designer to create a mockup quickly (few mockups per day) so I can comment and push the process forward. It’s faster, it’s more effective and it’s fun, as designers look for feedback fast and early before moving on.

Incremental Design (No Concept!)

In a lean startup, one of the key traits of the startup is it’s ability to pivot and switch concepts. The user interface, as being in front of the customers, will change most. So, there is no point in a contract based on a single concept (as some design companies want), as concepts change/shift over time and the design should support it. In addition, you don’t have enough information to feed conceptual design at the beginning.

By following these three concepts, building a common language, iterating fast and a lot, and working towards incremental product design, I was able to invest just what it needed to create a product design which was always aesthetic and professional and meets the current state of the product and company learning.

I hope this tip will help you, and I wish I knew this a year ago, once I started my journey, as it would have helped me a lot.

One last note, if you enjoy tips like this, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to share more.

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Startup

Minimum Viable Product in practice

I assume you understand the term MVP and the value of putting the minimal set of functionality in front of customers in order to get as much feedback as possible. If not, please have a look at this presentation and come back once you’re done.

Most people don’t argue with MVP principles, however some people find it hard to follow in practice.
In my experience, defining the following is all that you need to make your first MVP step:

  • Define a viable vision
  • Define the go-no-go criteria
  • Define the minimal customer commitment level
  • Choose appropriate media

These four concepts are all that you need to take your first stab at MVP:

Define a Viable Vision

Before starting any process of MVP validation, you  need to have a properly articulated product vision. The product vision should include: problem definition, target market, high-level definition of the offering, buyers/influencers, channels to the market and pricing.

Actually, this isn’t exactly part of MVP, however, MVP is a means to an end, and the objective is to get to a product/market fit. The basic assumptions you think will get you to product/market fit, are the ones you’re trying to validate with the MVP approach.

Alistair Croll, calls this Minimum Viable Vision (MVV), and you can read about it here. I call it, viable vision – are you building something which someone really cares about.

Define Go-No-Go Criteria

Before even doing anything, make sure you understand the validation you’re trying to get, and how will you know you’re there. You can be in a very problematic state if you’ve implemented something, and you don’t know how to analyze the feedback you’re getting. So, make sure you define in advance a positive scenario (Go) and negative scenarios (No Go).

For example, we’ve defined a positive scenario that once we show our product demo (minimal) to potential customers, a positive out-come is that they request username and password to experiment on their own, and a negative outcome is if this doesn’t happen. Luckily for us, most potential customers wanted to continue forward, hence validated for us the value provided by the product demo.

Customer Commitment

The quality of potential customer’s feedback is directly related to their level of commitment. Simply put, a paying customer is the absolute truth that your product is valuable to someone. This is the truth we’re trying to get by running MVP. Each validation step should also be validated by the level of commitment by customers.

For example, if you present your product idea to a potential customer and hear from the customer that, yes, they have this problem your product solves and it’s very critical for them to solve it. You should ask this potential customer to be an early user of your product, however, if they refuse to do so (“not now”, “we have other burning issues at this point”…), you should weight their positive response accordingly. The fact that their not willing to commit, puts a different weight on their verbal feedback. For this reason, it’s important to make sure customers are acting in their feedback – clicking a link, putting their email, filling a form, using a product etc.

Media Selection

Ask yourself what would be the best media to put infront of potential customer to get the feedback you’re looking for. In Eric Ries examples, are all web related: web pages, links, banner ads and so forth. In other cases this could very well be a Power Point presentation, mockup screen shots, single use-case demo of an application, etc.

The trade-off is between the time it takes to get a clear answer on the question at hand and the richness of the media. For example, a presentation would work very well at a conceptual level. You can present the problem you’re trying to address in a very clear way and get feedback from potential customers. However, in a presentation it would be very difficult to verify whether the way you’re proposing to solve the problem appeals to potential customers. If you hear ‘no’, we don’t have this problem, or ‘yes we do have this problem, but it’s not a burning one’, you know where you stand.

So, make sure to carefully select the media which provides you richer feedback to minimal investment.

If you have additional ideas on how to make MVP even more practical, please be sure to comment and share.