Make your problems tangible

I re-read Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup this week largely because our partner companies do things a little differently to what I would describe as ‘classic lean startup’ and I wanted to get clearer on what the differences are and why. I don’t usually enjoy re-reading books, but this time I had lots of a-ha moments and it was a joy. It’s a very good book and deserving of it’s reputation.

One of Eric’s pieces of advice is to ‘make your problems tangible’. At the time he is recommending companies use cohort analysis instead of aggregated customer analytics so they can see whether changes to the product are making any difference. His point is that the only way you can see differences is to compare the behaviour of customers recruited since with earlier cohorts. If the product changes aren’t making any difference then growth in engagement or some other customer metric won’t be what you hoped for and you will have a nagging feeling that something isn’t working as planned. The cohort analysis makes the problem tangible.

That’s great advice in and of itself but it extends to all other areas. If you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right think hard about how to make the problem tangible. Once a problem is tangible it’s much easier to fix it. In the above example the feedback loop from customers back to development gets much quicker making it easier for the dev team to cycle through ideas until they find something that works.

Other activities that can make problems tangible include:

  • Observing customers
  • Interviewing customers
  • 1-2-1s between team members and management
  • Encouraging feedback and a transparent culture generally
  • Unit tests

The list could go on and on. The point is to find ways to shine light on problem areas.