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Winding road
May 2nd, 2017

How to Sidestep Two Missteps in Lean Product Design

Lean product design is an approach to developing products that promotes knowledge-based product definition, continual product validation, and iteration, to create products and designs that speak to the customer. The principles of Lean product design trace back to lean manufacturing, and more recently, to ideas prevalent in the software and UX industries.

Having said that, let’s talk about two common missteps with Lean product design:  Misinterpretation of the Lean methodology and missing the mark on the MVP (minimum viable product).

1. Misinterpretation of the Lean Methodology

Early on in my career I attended Lean training. It was manufacturing training, but it was prescribed to all design engineers since Lean manufacturing would dovetail with the product development and design processes. At the time, most organization were not really using Lean on the design side, so afterward we went back to doing things as they had been done (designing in a vacuum). Fast forward two years to the debut of the first big project I had managed in my career. Unfortunately, it was a disappointing. Customer feedback was mixed, and the product experience missed the mark. Despite the validation flop, the product was released and I moved on, determined to do better next time. This is the first misstep.

These days, it’s the trend to use Lean in product design. There have been numerous books and conferences on this transition. The common methodology of this movement is Build, Measure, Learn; however, many product developers misinterpret Lean. Develop a product, usually on an expedited timeline, release it, see how it does and then develop the next product. But, just because you are designing fast does not mean you are Lean. To be Lean you must eliminate waste in the design process, which as a byproduct may make you faster. But the key to Lean is to use the entire methodology.

2. MVP Misses the Mark

The second Lean methodology mistake is missing the MVP mark. In Lean product development, the MVP is the most basic design that will allow you to get the required feedback to iterate again. The most common issue with many MVPs is that it is not the most basic design. It’s easy to fall into the trap of including too much and tacking on features to try to get more information more quickly. Here’s an example:

On a recent project our client was interested in designing a new piece of commercial furniture outside normal industry offerings. For our first MVP we wanted something that illustrated the overall form, in this case renderings, and hinted at the underlying workings and components, without focusing on them. If we included the other components, we would have trouble learning from the MVP and it might be difficult to choose our direction for the next iteration.

The flip side to overdoing the options is to move too quickly and release an MVP that doesn’t satisfy all the criteria. In this case, you risk not receiving the information you need to fully define the MVP for the next iteration. Ultimately, this could increase development time.

If you want your Lean to go smoothly, watch for these two missteps and make Lean the hardworking tool it can be.

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