In 2013, HBR published an article called ‘Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything’, showing how The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses kick-started a movement in low-cost, streamlined, ‘lean’ product development. It painstakingly outlined how startups can build new products that have a lower failure rate, simply by involving customers into the process as early as possible.
The essence of The Lean Startup, and a companion book Business Model Generation, was that building truly great products requires solving a burning problem or desire that isn’t being met. These are the only situations that call for successful products, and finding these sweet spots for unmet customer needs or problems is a must.
That’s one reason that good product or service development begins with thorough interviews with potential customers to understand what they are doing currently, what is missing from the existing solutions (and substitutes) and to gauge how much they would pay if this were addressed for them.
A key part of the Lean Startup is the ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) a kind of prototype that is fit for testing the market and getting customer feedback. These prototypes are designed to be ready to be used and experimented with, and therefore get feedback so they can be redeveloped and redeployed. MVPs must fit the purpose they are designed for: testing whether the customer need is truly being met by the idea. Superfluous issues like packaging, branding, extra features, and bells and whistles aren’t yet there, just a raw prototype in the hands of eager customers.
But perhaps the most powerful part of the Lean Startup is its emphasis on being hypothesis-driven. Hypotheses are statements that can be proved or disproved, yielding information on which way to go next. Scientists use hypotheses to test how clever they are, whether their experiments worked as planned, and whether there is sufficient evidence to build a theory of how something works. Only evidence can prove or disprove hypotheses, not gut reactions or instincts. For areas where a business really wants to get it right, using a hypothesis approach can make the difference between success and failure.
As much as The Lean Startup has triggered conferences, copycat books, speeches, consulting, and a global wave of enthusiasm, little exists for its non-tech, small business counterparts. Yet, the principles are so universal that it applies just as well.