Okay, how are we leaning today? Leaning in? Leaning back? Leaning to the left or right? Leaning over? Or just leaning toward chucking all “hot new” postures that supposedly help us pose ourselves for career success?
Here’s some good news. None of the above leanings are topics in two new books from O’Reilly’s popular “Lean” series, edited by Eric Ries.
Lean Analytics deals with using data to help you determine if there is a profitable need for the product or service you hope to offer with a startup business. Lean UX, meanwhile, deals with the process of designing a better user experience (UX) for a company’s apps, website or other products. Here are short reviews of each book:
“Entrepreneurs,” the authors state, “are particularly good at lying to themselves. Lying may even be a prerequisite for succeeding as an entrepreneur–after all, you need to convince others that something is true in the absence of good, hard evidence. You need believers to take a leap of faith with you. As an entrepreneur, you need to live in a semi-delusional state just to survive the inevitable rollercoaster ride of running your startup.”
But…you also need cold, hard data. And what you learn from that data may not mesh well with the lie you are living as you try to start a new business from scratch. Yet, it may save you from failing and wasting a lot of money.
“Your delusions,” the authors argue, “no matter how convincing, will wither under the harsh light of data. Analytics is the necessary counterweight to lying, the yin to the yang of hyperbole. Moreover, data-driven learning is the cornerstone of success in startups. It’s how you learn what’s working and iterate toward the right product and market before the money runs out.”
Lean Analytics builds on the Lean Startup process developed by Eric Ries. In today’s digital world, the authors explain, “[w]e’re in the midst of a fundamental shift in how companies are built. It’s vanishingly cheap to create the first version of something. Clouds are free. Social media is free. Competitive research is free. Even billing and transactions are free.”
Taken together, these facilities mean “you can build something, measure its effect, and learn from it to build something better next time. You can iterate quickly, deciding early on if you should double down on your idea or fold and move on to the next one.”
Their 409-page book is not quick reading. But it deserves attention and study, whether you want to start a business, already have started a business, or hope to revamp and improve a business that has been in operation for some time. Lean Analytics presents many examples and case studies that illustrate how you can gather and analyze existing data, then test products or services to determine if they are something that customers actually need, want and will use.
With new data from the tests and the ability to continue testing, you can modify your product or service and focus more resources, energy, and time on improving and refining what will work best for your customers–and your bottom line.
“Lean UX is a collaborative process,” the two authors of this book emphasize. “It brings designers and non-designers together in co-creation. It yields ideas that are bigger than those of the individual contributors. But it’s not design-by-committee. Instead, Lean UX increases a team’s ownership over the work by providing an opportunity for all opinions to be heard much earlier in the process.”
For example, forget the notion of a web designer hiding in an office for a week or so and then emerging with what he or she insists will be a “masterpiece” as the company’s new home page.
Particularly in software development, a key aspect of Lean and Agile development theories is the notion of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). “Lean UX makes heavy use of the notion of MVP,” the two authors explain. “MVPs help test our assumptions–will this tactic achieve the desired outcome?–while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems. This concept is an important part of how Lean UX minimizes waste.”
The web designer’s “masterpiece” might work okay, but it also might offer costly confusions for customers and others visiting the website. Instead, Lean UX emphasizes collaboration, teamwork, testing prototypes, analyzing the results, gathering feedback from outsiders, revamping the project, testing it again–and continuing the process.
According to the writers, the most powerful tool in Lean UX is one that is basic to human beings: conversation. Indeed, conversation should be “the primary means of communication among team members.” Some of the other tools for collaboration also are basic: pencils, pens, notepads, whiteboards, blackboards, and simple paper templates that can spur discussions, opinions, and basic designs for the Minimum Viable Product and its successors, before moving the work to computers.
Lean UX is just 130 pages long. But it is rich with how-to examples, process descriptions, short case studies, clear steps, useful illustrations, and good examples that you can adapt and employ to create cheaper, faster, and better user experiences.