Combining ‘lean’ and ‘design thinking’

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 09.54.30We’ve been thinking recently about how to combine design thinking with the lean startup methodology. The diagram above was drawn by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO to describe the three tenets of design thinking (for those that don’t know Tim is perhaps the world’s leading proponent of design thinking). Lean startup has a lot to say about viability (will customers pay?) and can be easily extended into feasibility (what assumptions do I have to believe for this product to work?), but doesn’t have much to say about desirability. Instead it is left to the entrepreneur to intuit what her customers want.

My thinking is that we can augment our existing lean startup process at Forward Investment Partners to also make sure that our companies are connecting as deeply as possible with the true needs of their customers, and to imbue their products with emotional meaning as well as function. When big companies employ ‘design thinking’ they usually spend a lot of time and money observing customers. Our opportunity is to find the quick and dirty equivalent which works for startups.

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  • Laurence McCahill
  • Thanks Laurence. That’s an interesting interview. It seems to me that there’s an intellectual turf war going on. People from lean are saying they’ve always been about deep understanding of the customer, and people from design are saying they’ve always been about iteration and validating assumptions.

    There’s truth on both sides, but the key to both is discipline and commitment to the process. The key to building great startups is g taking the best from both disciplines. I think that will take some original thought (if you can call clever synthesis ‘original thought’).

  • Laurence McCahill

    I think the lean UX movement is helping to tackle this – framing requirements as hypotheses, doing above documenting, collaborative design/balanced teams, etc. We’ve been working in this way for a couple of years now – placing customer needs at the heart of the innovation process but with a focus on speed and learning ie. building the right product before the perfect one.

    I think the problem has been that people that say they are working lean, but still struggle with knowing how to talk to customers properly to get back valuable insight, and designers have traditionally done user research and testing but over a much longer timeframe. A Lean UX approach helps to reduce any unnecessary wasted effort and bring the bad news forward sooner. New tools help with this (for instance we developed a simple tool to help founders quickly visualise their audience and start thinking about their needs and behaviours

  • Hi Laurence – that’s very helpful, thank you. I hadn’t properly looked into the lean UX stuff before. There’s a lot we can use here.

  • Laurence McCahill

    Talking about this very topic at Lean Startup Machine next weekend 🙂

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