The main thing is to Get out of the Building – Validate!

In the last few weeks I have had the chance to consolidate some of the tools I have seen to initiate projects in the area of management consulting and technology. And the reality is, that although the Philosophy behind them and the lingo in front of them is quite not the same (the industries although very different are not opposing – for all of them you need a large amount of post it notes) the main principles of these tools are basicly the same:

1. Understand the problem/need that you are to solve for your client/customer
2. Structure your thoughts around the problem and see them from every angle trying not to miss anything.
3. Come up with an hypothesis to solve the problem or need that is addressed
4. Test it and either implement or go back to your sketching board.

In any case, thes use of so many of these tools in the last week have made me pick a current favourite, which interestingly enough is not one of the latest tools that the cool kids shared with me recently. It’s something a bit older that even if it still looks a little casual for corporate use, I think it can get a project ahead just because well… it’s very slick and smart. Yes, I am talking about the Lean startup Machine’s Validation Board, and here she is… Ta-ta!

According to Grace Ng, the VP of Design at LSM, the project’s goal was to “help entrepreneurs all over the world get out of the building and talk to customers.” Ng explains that “so many products fail because they aren’t solving a problem that customers care enough about.” That right there, understanding consumer need, is the difference between helping people with a useful product and a redundant flop.

As you’d expect, the Validation Board essentialy helps startups implement Lean Startup practices into their everyday processes. It’s not an instant ticket to success, but it’ll help entrepreneurs validate their best ideas and if you ask me, you can use it also for a Turnover project as long as you keep the EBIT impact in focus.

So how do you go about using it?

1. Start with hypotheses about your problem and customers. – A common mistake is starting with a solution. But solutions are worthless if the problem isn’t a real problem. .As for your customers, choose a “segment” rather than a demographic: not travelers ages 20-30, but maybe people who travel to gain cultural understanding. That allows you to craft a specific solution for a similar group, rather than a diverse group of people who happen to be the same age or gender.

2. List core assumptions about the problem. – For example, list why it’s a problem. If you think tourists have a problem finding local places to visit, is it because they don’t speak the language? Because other websites lead them to tourist traps? Or everything’s too expensive? Depending on the answer, the ultimate solution will be different.

3. Test your riskiest assumption. –  For example, you might riskily assume that people want to see non-tourist traps. So “get out of the building,” hit the streets, and start offering free tours. Do people get excited about your neighborhood cafe, or are they clamoring for the Coit Tower? Ask them why they’re willing to follow you around. At one Lean Startup Machine workshop, a team actually went out and collected DNA samples, defying protestations by the judges that people would keep their saliva to themselves.

In the tech context, the key here is not building a product yet; you’re just testing; or in the management consulting context, don’t start with your PNL just yet. People really overestimate, ‘- Oh, I need to build it, I need a team. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to learn this without building it.- And it’s just wrong. It’s not true, Both consultants with an MBA and top developers are expensive people and will rarely be willing to work for free or long into the night for an idea that’s not already thought through.

For those that really need to see “it”, my good friend @cjcheshire is turning into one of the voices setting the tone around prototyping. Follow him to see how codeless magic can happen.

4. Look for a “minimum success criterion.” – This is the lowest possible response that will validate your assumption. For example, for the impromptu tour guide, it might be that 10 percent of people are willing and happy to take your quirky tour. Or, even better, that 10 percent of people are willing to give up something, like an email address for future updates. If your assumption is validated, test the next riskiest assumption; if it’s invalidated, your problem hypothesis is wrong, so come up with a new one. And so on.

The validation board may not be a magic bullet – it can’t come up with problems and solutions for you – but it can save you lots of wasted time and money. Oh… and it is so pretty and for free here.

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