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Leveraging Lean Startup and Design Thinking Startup Sac Event Recap

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Picture Credit: Startup Sac

By Terry Daffin

The Death of the Traditional Product Development Lifecycle

When we think of innovation, we typically think of product innovation. The tangible things we use on a daily basis go through massive change in one’s lifetime.

For example, the smartphone: Does anyone remember using a rotary phone that had to stay plugged into the wall? What about music? Does anyone still buy or play LPs? Maybe the historians, a few collectors, and the staunch laggards of society still have these items around, but they have almost totally been forgotten.

Process and methodology also experiences periods of innovation. The assembly line revolutionized the manufacturing industry over 100 years ago. Kaizen was introduced in the 1980s as an innovative improvement for manufacturing and beyond. The tech industry has certainly seen its fair share of technology products.

The process for developing those products is also changing. The traditional methods for product development is far too laborious to keep up with demand and often does not meet the needs of users once the product is complete. Private industries and even some public sector departments have move to more innovative processes and methodologies to meet the demand.

I recently attended an event sponsored by Startup Sac. The event, Leveraging Lean Startup and Design Thinking, featured presenter Jake Elia, Bamboo Creative’s Head of Products and Technology.

Jake delivered an impressive presentation and provided many examples of his own startup experiences, as well as example of other startups to accentuate points along the way. I was intrigued by his description of his own life path as a “lean startup” and pivoting when needing to do so.

I started to think my own career path and compared it to the product lifecycles I’ve used over my 30-year career in the industry. Has my life/career mirrored a traditional waterfall development lifecycle? Maybe to a certain degree, but here is what I’ve come to know about life: It doesn’t follow any set process or plan. You have to be ready to make a change when the plan falls apart.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all plans fall apart, but even a minor deviation in the plan creates some sort of change that may alter the direction of the original plan. That is also the case with product development. The big difference between the traditional development lifecycles and today’s more agile or lean lifecycles is the speed in which product builds, feedback, and changes in direction occur. The increase in “speed” can be attributed to several changes/innovations in the traditional development lifecycle process itself:

  1. Clarity of the problem being solved
  2. Frequent customer involvement and feedback
  3. Simplify the minimum viable product (MVP)

In their own way, Lean Startup and Design Thinking both take into account these three factors. So, how can you use them in your next product development project? Here are my takeaways of the presentation:

Lean Startup

The Lean Startup is a methodology and book written by Eric Reis about his experiences with startup companies. Through his experiences, he saw the need to develop and document a methodology to share with others. I recommend The Lean Startup be on the reading list of anyone who has vision with a solution to a problem and a notion to engage in a startup.

According to Reis, the lean startup “provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup … and grow a business with maximum acceleration.”

The model is simple: Build, Measure, and Learn. Here’s how it works:

  • Starting with a vision or an idea for how to resolve a problem, you create a hypothesis on how the solution might resolve a problem. This step is the clarification of the problem to be solved.
  • Then you build a minimum viable product (MVP). Your MVP should focus on the main or most important problem to be solved. Know that there may be many problems to solve which means many build iterations. Resist the urge to solve all problems with your MVP.
  • Next, you must develop measurable metrics,present to customers who have this problem, record customer feedback, and use the data to learn something about your solution.

The key is using the data to make sound decisions about the path forward. Be brutally honest with yourself and the problem you are trying to solve. The data should provide you with the information to either continue down the path you are on or pivot with a different idea. You don’t want to waste time building something no one needs or wants.

The model looks like this:

Picture credit

Think of your solution to a problem as an experiment. Experiments are valuable not only to prove your hypothesis was correct, but to prove your hypotheses was incorrect as well.

Design Thinking

According to Stanford Graduate School of Business, Design Thinking is a “user-centered way to conceive and create a successful product.”

The Design Thinking model is similar to Lean Startup, however the customer interaction is at the beginning and may be a more beneficial method to use when your customer has known problem.

The model is simple and is meant to be more expedient than a traditional model because it is also iterative.

The phases of Design Thinking include Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. The model looks like this:

Picture credit

  • The Empathize and Define steps are critical to making crystal clear the problem to be solved. The interviewer should probe the customer for pain points. These steps are to get to the root cause of the problem.
  • The Ideate and Prototype steps are to come up with solutions and to build an MVP. Problems are prioritized and prototypes are simplified focusing on the most important problems to resolve first.
  • Finally, Test your solution by presenting to customers and collecting feedback to be used in making the next decision on what to move forward with. Rinse and repeat!

Unlike traditional develop lifecycles, the Lean Startup and Design Thinking methodologies are highly iterative to simplify build cycles and involve frequent customer interaction and feedback to provide data for plan adjustments.

These and other innovative process improvements are becoming more and more the norm. Even the Federal government has recognized this is true in order to meet the demands of the general public. Case in point, the Federal General Services Administration created an office known as 18F to deliver “digital services” in response to the failure of the website that was developed for the Affordable Care Act.

California is also beginning to ramp up its own digital service methodologies as evidenced by the recent contract award by the California Child Welfare Digital Services project to CivicActions for development of the Department’s new system.

The traditional development lifecycle is not dead yet, but it may be on its last leg. How are you pivoting to these innovations and changes in development?

About the Author: Terry Daffin is an Executive Consultant within KAI Partners. He has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years and has over 25 years of project management experience. As a public sector consultant in the health care industry, Mr. Daffin has assisted in the development and implementation of Project Management Offices that include project management, service management, lean agile and traditional product development lifecycles, and governance processes. He has been an innovation advocate and evangelist for 15 years and has implemented innovative processes for projects that he has been engaged on since 2001. He has worked with the California Medi-Cal Management and Information System (CA-MMIS) division of the Department of Health Care Services, California Franchise Tax Board, Commission on Teacher Credentialing, California Department of Consumer Affairs, California Board of Equalization, and California Department of Water Resources. Mr. Daffin is currently working on a project for KAI Partners to expand an existing co-working organization into an innovation incubator/accelerator focused on connecting innovative start-ups and the public sector.