How to fix the Lean Startup misconceptions.

I champion the Lean Startup movement and am a big fan of everything Eric Reis. So what I am about to write is in no way a dig at the man or the movement. But if we’re being honest… there is a lot of confusion and even backlash around Lean and this has come from people misinterpreting the book and the components. I don’t blame Reis, but I do think clarification is needed around the core framework and even some rethinking around the way it is presented. Specifically the build, measure, learn feedback loop and the notorious MVP.

The Feedback Loop.

The build, measure, learn loop is probably the biggest component of the lean startup. It’s the staple of the entire framework. Yet it’s misleading.

Build is the first step on the loop. Yes, it’s important to get something in to potential customers hands quickly, but Learn should really be the first step before any code or design is even considered. Forming assumptions on what to build takes having at least a rough idea and this idea can only come from some form of learning. Now, I am sure this is obvious and probably implied by Reis, but seeing Build first causes confusion.

User research should be performed before committing to code. Not weeks and weeks of painstaking documentation creation but at least get to grips with your target audience personas, their problems, their goals, their needs, then see if your assumptions still stand. If you’ve not read the book and see the loop first as many people did, I can see why the design community that focus on creating user personas and lots of upfront research would feel this loop is flawed.

The MVP

The Minimum Viable Product divides people and is always a hot topic of debate, but why? Reis clearly says that the MVP is an experiment, a test of your hypothesis and can be anything from a video to a landing page to a stripped down beta release. But should that be true? The understanding of what is ‘viable’ for your audience seems to cause huge confusion too.

MVP for a lot of people translates to ‘cutting corners and releasing a half baked product on the cheap’. People also seem to think it means just building without spending any time whatsoever on design as that would be a ‘waste’. Well, if you’re releasing a product for designers, what is viable is going to be different than what is minimum and viable for a developer. The ‘minimum viable’ part is not dictated by you, the market decides this.

The MVP (in my humble opinion) needs to be the lightest version of your actual proposed product.

What constitutes a product anyway? And can you have multiple MVP’s?

The MVP (in my humble opinion) needs to be the lightest version of your actual proposed solution. Classifying the MVP as your first, stripped down product attempt that aims to solve or add some relief from the core problem that you’re main hypothesis is formed around at least brings some much needed clarity to the model. Everything before this is a prototype and an experiment (an MVE perhaps) but really should a landing page or a quirky video be classed as the first iteration of your product? It’s a test, but not an MVP.

Again, the above is just my take on the Lean Startup and the problems I have seen in how it has been interpreted. Eric’s book and Lean UX by Laura Klein have fully shaped the way I look at product design and business in general.

Agree? Disagree? I write to start conversations not to preach so would love to hear your thoughts. If you enjoyed this and want to read more from me then please follow LeanProduct.Design.