Lean StartUp’s principles are as simple as they are profound: don’t wait for perfection when creating something new, just get a ‘minimum viable product’ (the most basic workable version) in front of a customer as quickly as you can. Get customer feedback based on actual observed market behaviour (‘customer validation’) then continually iterate your product and market strategy (‘persist, pivot or kill’) based on that feedback until you hone in on exactly what customers want.
Design thinking is no less revolutionary. Similar to Lean StartUp, there is a relentless focus on the customer. In the case of design thinking, the emphasis is on truly understanding the customer’s real needs, of ‘taking a walk in the user’s shoes’. In other words, a really deep application of empathy, as the critical quality needed for success. If you understand the real needs of your customer, you have the true north for which to aim. The design process is then about how to creatively generate as many ideas as possible, refine them through customer feedback, and evolve towards a best-fit solution.
What can social entrepreneurs, or those running non-profits, learn from Lean StartUp and design thinking? The answer is: a great deal.
For non-profits, substitute ‘beneficiary’ for ‘customer’ if you need to, but the principles are the same. Walking in the shoes of the person that you are trying to serve, prototyping a solution and iterating it continuously based on observed real world behaviour, not assuming a solution but testing it in the field – these are as true for the social start-up in Sudan as they are for the latest tech launch in Silicon Valley. Meet your customers before building a product.
Let's take a look at one venture that developed a rainwater capture device for use in Bangladesh. By capturing rainwater on their roofs, the local women could save hundreds of hours a month queueing up for water at the local pump, which was often unreliable and dirty. Who wouldn’t want to save all that time? Yet it turned out that gathering around the local village pump was actually a key social event where women of the village met and talked. Displacing that with one solution (reduced time carrying water) would actually have failed to meet another key need of the village (social gathering). It transpired that the women didn’t really place high value on the time saved, or on getting cleaner water than what they could obtain from the pump. Hence no demand for the product, no matter how useful it would have been.
Lean Startup and design thinking have revolutionised how start-ups work today. The world’s best social entrepreneurs and non-profits are taking note. It’s time for lean and design to meet social.
This is a week’s Virgin Unite Google Hangout with three industry titans:Eric Ries in conversation with Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, andJake Knapp, a Design Partner at Google Ventures.