Is the whole lean startup thing really nothing more than UX?

If you’re thinking: “Aha! at last, a lean startup skeptic! I always suspected all that MVP and pivot stuff was really just snake oil!” then this video is for you. But buckle up, you’re in for a bumpy user experience

This is a take on Steve Blank’s disruptive ideas, but with a difference. Instead of coming from the usual (these days decidedly pro-lean) business startup viewpoint, this more cautious perspective comes from the world of user experience design.

The session: Crushing the Boulder: User Experience and the Lean Startup. Janice Fraser is well known throughout the technology design industry as a founder and former CEO of of iconic UX design pioneers Adaptive Path. She is also a guest lecturer at Haas, Stanford, CCA and the Presidio Graduate School of Management.. Here are the slides from the session.

The event was MX 2011: Managing Experience Across the Web & Beyond. It was held at the The InterContinental, San Francisco. March 6-7, 2011

My take

Lean startup proponents Steve Blank and Eric Ries put the customer ‘at the heart of the solution development process’, because the customer requirements are mostly unknown to those startup founders whose objective is to progress as rapidly as possible from ‘a problem that they imagine is driving someone crazy’ (which the founders believe they have an idea how to fix) to the holy grail of ‘finding a (related) problem that enough customers are prepared to pay to solve to make the startup viable’.

For the lean startup, the ‘paying customer discovery’ has a financial dimension which is not really in the designer’s domain. But building the user experiences which facilitate the discovery (of both solutions and the requirements which they reveal) demands skills which the UX designer is in a unique position to provide, skills that the lean startup ignores at their peril. UX and lean startups are inseparable.

Here’s the introduction to the session:

There’s a movement afoot in the business schools at Stanford and Harvard to define the science of startups: a repeatable method that will reliably deliver the product successes and “outsized returns” that investors need. Called the Lean Startup, this methodology bears a striking resemblance to good User Experience practice. When the science of startups includes User Centered Design as one of its tent-poles, then we designers have a new opportunity to do great things. This session will introduce you to the key concepts of Lean Startup, explain how it resolves the most intractable problems endemic to the UX community, and challenge you to imagine its affect on your work and your teams.

Deja vu?

A recognised seminal moment in the history of Information Architecture (a field also directly concerned with UX) was a particular speech (the now legendary Memphis Plenary) at the 10th Annual IA Summit in March 2009. The speaker is Jesse James Garrett. You could claim that some of the predictions he makes here (two years earlier) were exactly what Janice is talking about.