Lean Development is all about Listening

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Lean Development is all about Listening

Listening to your users’ feedback is essential to make products they want. Early-stage startup founder Rebecca Evans shares her experience of ‘Lean’ product development that saves time and money.

1. Listen: identify the problem you want to solve

As soon as a product idea takes hold the temptation is to rush out and start pitching your billion dollar app to all of your friends and family, but hold your horses. You need to find out if this is something people want and need in their lives.

A good product solves a problem and makes life easier for the user. The first step is to explore the challenges people face to see whether it’s a genuine problem or something that affects just you. It’s easy to talk to people you know but that won’t give you genuine feedback. Your mates are biased and want to please you. You have to get out of your comfort zone and speak to strangers in your target market.

Our product idea helps startups and small business owners to write blogs. We started by talking to people who currently blog and those who want to blog but for some reason can’t get going. I recruited interviewees from a Google group I was a member of – I put out a request identifying the type of person I wanted to interview and was clear about what was involved.

Within a week I’d interviewed a dozen people and listened to their experiences and thoughts about blogging. Listening helped me hone my ‘problem statement’ and gave me enough evidence to move to the next stage.

2. Talk: develop your concept

You’ve validated your hunch so now’s the time to start developing a solution that people will want to use. For this you need to have a simple yet effective concept. One way of doing this is to talk about your idea.

I was lucky enough to share my idea with a seasoned business man and investor. He listened patiently as I rambled on about the product. When I had finished talking he told me it wouldn’t work for several reasons and asked me to pitch it again. And again, and again. Practice makes perfect and by taking on board his feedback I was able to refine my idea to a simple concept in one conversation.

As much as you value your mum’s advice you need to look beyond the apron strings to find your critical friend, someone who can support you to develop your ideas.

3. Build: make your minimal viable product

The next step is to translate your idea into something that people can use.

Our idea was for a five-step process to kickstart a blogging habit and the support to continue. We needed to have mobile friendly instructions that had a robust ‘pedagogy’ that kept people engaged and demonstrated results. My co-founder Chris took on this task and hunkered down to write, and rewrite, until all the steps were in place.

This text was our minimum viable product (MVP) – a paper version of what will eventually become an app.

4. Test: get feedback on your MVP

In a previous post Celena Bretton of the Natural History Museum shared her experience of mobile app development. She explains the benefits of using the minimum viable product approach: “starting with a basic product and developing the app in an iterative manner allowed us to really investigate what people wanted from such a product, without having to undertake time-consuming development up front.”

As well as saving time the other benefit of MVPs is that it saves money. Make something small enough to test and get it into people’s hands. We recruited a pool of testers online and emailed them our paper MVP and waited for the feedback to arrive.

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5. Iterate: refine the product based on feedback

The ‘Lean’ process is about validation, testing your idea and iterating until you have a product that meets people’s needs. If you ask for feedback then you have to listen to what people tell you. You don’t have to agree with everything – the important thing is to make choices.

We found that different testers liked different things and used the product in different ways. Chris and I needed to work out what the main themes were and act on them. That meant several rounds of rewrites and edits, going back and forth between us, until we’d addressed the core issues.

6. Think digital: design the user experience

Making a digital product is about more than text – it needs to work online and on mobile. There’s a surprising amount non-techies can do, but you need to know when to call the experts – this will save you time and money in the long run.

Chris and I mapped out the user experience on paper. This was translated into wireframes by a designer. We came up with a name – Prolifiko –and briefed another designer to come up with a logo using the visual identity from our first product.

7. Code: find a developer to build your prototype

Once you have all the bits and pieces in place you need someone to build it. Rather than rushing into paying for a native app one option is developing a prototype using a responsive website. This gives you more opportunity for further testing as well as having something to show potential investors.

We were introduced to a co-operative of coders in London called Founders and Coders, who bring a revolutionary new approach to training coding and partnering with startups. We pitched to them and got a grilling about everything from the technology, to the market, competition and business model. They selected Prolifiko as one of their projects and we started coding last week. Hopefully, by the time you read this we’ll have a working prototype in our hands, and more importantly in the hands of our users.


To find out more about Prolifiko visit www.prolifiko.com

Industry Experts article written by:

rebecca evans write track

Rebecca Evans

Founder, Write Track

Starting a Creative Business

Bec is a first-time entrepreneur running a start-up called Write Track that uses digital technology to help writers improve their writing habits. She previously worked as a senior manager in the publishing and creative sectors where she ran a publishing incubator and managed a writers’ retreat centre for Arvon. She advises publishers on digital innovation, blogs, and occasionally finds time for some of her own writing.


Image Credits: Top: Jeffrey Zeldman, “Blue Note and other design inspirations” (Creative Commons); Lower: Luiza Libardi, “Testing web layouts on different devices – New Media“; Bottom: Paul Downey, “FOWD London 2008” (Creative Commons).

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