Fresh Blurbs

Asking the Right Questions — Lean Startup

Woke up this morning to this tweet from Hacker News:

Despite the somewhat cliché title, it ended-up being a very thoughtful, honest and interesting recap by @sergiojota

I think Sergio does a great job explaining many interesting pitfalls of running lean, but couple things caught my eye that I have seen as mistakes elsewhere and I wanted to chime-in about.


You have to ask the right questions.

I agree with Sergio that one of his mistakes was: not asking the questions to his early adopters, but then he gives examples of what questions he'd ask:

  • What were you looking for in Google when you found Teamometer? Why were you looking for it?
  • Why is it a problem for you/company?
  • How are you trying to solve this problem today?

These are bad questions to ask!

They are way too open-ended and require a lot of time from somebody who casually stopped by your site from a Google ad. In addition to the time waste, you are asking questions that users most probably won't even know the answers to. Just because they clicked on something that looked interesting, doesn't mean they are experts on the subject. On the contrary: most people expect to learn something new from you.

To use a cliché analogy: imagine if Steve Jobs, while developing iPhone, asked future customers “what are you looking for”? Well, they weren't looking for iPhone, that's for sure.

When running lean, and developing a new product, you always, always have to observe behaviors rather than try “pick brains”. It's the age-old adage that medical doctors have learned: you can't trust what a patient tells you, but you can trust how they look, behave and what their vital signs are.

When conducting Lean learning you have to make it into an A/B exercise: observe the choices the users make (even if it is in answering a question) but never, NEVER ask open-ended questions, unless you are having a fireside chat with an expert. And even then take the answer with a grain of salt.


Lean ≠ MVP!

I see too many people, having just read Lean Startup, equating Lean with building an MVP. It is dead wrong. MVP is just one of the tools of Lean, it is by no means the essense of Lean. Lean Startup is an adaptation of Lean Manufacturing to the software realm. The two essential principles of Lean (manufacturing or otherwise) are:

  • Continuous improvement (learning)
  • Minimization of batch size (elimination of waste).

In that regard the point of MVP isn't to build "minimal" version of your product, the point is to in each iteration build enough to learn more and then iterate again, again and again until you get to the PERFECT product, as soon as possible. If your “MVP approach” is making you get to the perfect product slower, you are doing it wrong.

Happy new year!

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