You might have read Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup and even apply his principles in practice. But do you apply them throughout the whole process of product development, to every single activity – from the sprout of your idea to picking its fruits and beyond? Few people and companies do. Somewhere on the way they forget to think lean. They get caught up in the game and forget to take it lean – to invest less time, money and efforts.
For those who are not acquainted with the lean method, we shall summarize the concept in several words – maximum results with minimum efforts. Eric Ries also popularizes the idea of minimum viable product (MVP):
“A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” (Minimum Viable Product, a guide, E. Ries, August 3, 2009).
It means to build the smallest possible version of a product in order to inform potential customers of its existence, to receive their feedback and, in addition, to identify/create the need for this product.
There are some areas (such as the product building itself, subsequent development, sales and human resource management) where people give pause to their lean thinking.
Apply the lean approach to the MVP development itself.
An MVP should be build as quickly as possible since it will be tested and evaluated by customers, not by the team of its developers. There should be a balance between effectiveness and efficiency and goals should be achieved with the least waste of team’s time and efforts.
Many companies develop their MVP far beyond necessity because they are afraid that otherwise it would not look professional or pleasing to the eye. They spent too much time on applying heavy make-up on their MVP, not taking into account the fact that whatever they do, they can not be liked by everybody. If somebody buys a beautifully wrapped product, opens it and finds a small wooden stick that is completely useless, will he/she buy another product from the same company? The conclusion is that in the long run, visual aspects do not matter. What matters is the content. Do you think that Google needs make-up and cares about its outward appearance?
Before building a product or MVP, for example, companies often use brainstorming. However, it turns out that brainstorming frequently goes beyond efficiency, if we calculate the amount of resources involved. Sometimes companies conduct long brainstorming sessions until midnight only to return to the initial idea. For example, a company, developing a website, conducted five brainstorming sessions, three hours each, and in the end chose a name proposed at the first brainstorming session, whereas we came up with the name of our website by brainstorming which continued only 23 minutes.
Josh Linkner even proposes a new approach called EdgeStorming. It means to ask your team to fire their imagination and think of the craziest idea about the product they can come up with. But just give them the task and leave them alone. You will be surprised by the results!
Companies get entangled in too many details while building their MVP and forget to think lean.
Here is another approach to MVP development – ask potential consumers before it is built by short, simple questionnaires. It is easier, cost-effective, and their feedback is more valuable than your assumptions. Thus you can achieve three goals: first, you can identify and understand customer needs, which will enable you to be more responsive and tailor your MVP to them; second, you will inform your prospects about the forthcoming product; and third, you may obtain an additional insight into the value you can deliver to your customers.
Lean Business Development
Some people think that business development is a synonym for sales and hire salespersons instead of business developers. However, the only common thing between them is that sales are the final link in the chain.
Business development starts long before a product is launched, even before it is built, and it includes the following stages:
- A research of the market at the initial stage of MVP development, which provides information about the availability of similar products/services, competition, analysis of customer needs and customer value, proposals for MVP changes on the basis of customer feedback.
- A business development plan after the MVP is built, which comprises careful targeting of prospects, designing sales strategies, tailoring sales pitches to the particular product or service, testing them and selecting the most successful one(s).
- Human resource management, that is, recruiting, motivating and training company’s sales force.
- Sales management, which refers to developing and providing custom-made sales trainings, identifying and analyzing the reasons for each sales decline, and proposing solutions.
Many companies skip one or more of the above steps, or just jump to the last one – sales. They build a product which is either not responsive to customer needs or delivers no value to them. And what happens next – sales(wo)men with a previous proven record of sales success in another company spectacularly fail. The company fires them and hires a dozen of others. Nobody, however, calculates in advance how much such an experiment would cost.
Here is an example, one company developed expensive and complicated software and started to sell it. They hired top sales agents, gave them an immense amount of information about the product, and set targets. As a result, not a single sale was made the next five months. While liaising with customers, the agents pinpointed the problems: on the one hand, the software was too expensive; and on the other, some prospects had already developed their own version. The agents shared their findings with the management, but were accused of not investing enough time and efforts. So next time, please, don’t kill the salesperson! He/she is just the messenger!
Other companies fail in sales management. They miss opportunities to grow their business by using too general and inefficient sales strategies, not focused on customer needs and value, or by not motivating their sales force. There is a company offering a broad range of products that provide great value for their customers. Besides, they have a huge potential market spreading before their eyes. But how do they train their salespersons? Instead of tailoring sales pitches to their products and targeting them to customer needs, they use a sales pitch which includes a questionnaire of over twenty questions a prospect should be asked and a lengthy speech about the virtues of their products, but nothing about their value to customers. Really?
Who is going to endure this torture and buy your product after that? Moreover, at their training sessions they manage to demotivate their sales agents by using simple statistical data: you should not expect a success rate greater than 1 out of 10 closed small deals. In addition, nobody teaches them how to cope with and overcome rejection. The company keeps recruiting and training agents who either give up after the training session when they calculate how much time and efforts they would invest only to receive a small commission at the end of the month, or leave after 2-3 months after they see the results of their hard work. What a waste!
Human resource management is another important part of product development and sale, to which the lean principles can also be applied.
Lean HR management
The lean principles may be adopted in two related fields of human resource management – supervision and motivation.
Supervision is an integral part of HR management, but in large companies it takes a lot of time and huge efforts to monitor and control work forces and processes. An IT company is working in this direction – to propose a lean solution which will dramatically facilitate the whole process.
Supervision is not only related to control, but also to motivation. Excellent performance is praised and rewarded. In addition, there is a third important aspect of motivation that has been underestimated until recently – empathy. Empathic managers are more successful and their teams achieve better results. Furthermore, empathy is also an important sales skill by which salespersons build up trust in their prospects. Empathy is one of the key factors for business growth since it is the easiest way to build and maintain good relationships with employees, partners and clients.
Empathy, though, is time consuming especially if one person manages or liaises with a large number of people. That is why we intend to develop a tool which will help managers store information about employees/partners/clients, easily find it and receive regular reminders.
Many people and companies have not realized yet that modern business requires less efforts and investments. Besides, its development does not need to be supported by old-fashioned, grandiose surveys, full of assumptions about customer needs and wishes. There is a more practical approach –ask your potential customers, then identify and assess the value you can provide to them, and finally, find the best way to present your product to them. During the whole process, however, try not to bore your prospects to death, make them enjoy your presence and never forget to put yourself in their shoes. And if you do not want to see your next great idea moved to the Recycle Bin at some point of its development, just take it lean and enjoy what you are doing!