Why Experimentation and Lean Startup are the Key to a Successful Product

Depending on your profile and past experiences, different answers are possible. These are some of the more common responses:

  • Solid technical foundation
  • Great user experience and outstanding design
  • Innovative and original
  • Meets needs of end users

There is truth in each of these answers, but you have to dig deeper. The key to success is not in the product itself, but in the development process that leads to the product: iterate and experiment. This method has a name: Lean Startup.

Lean Startup: Experiment and Adapt Rather than Assume

The concept of ‘Lean Startup’ was introduced by Eric Ries in his eponymous book.

Here, he explains how startups manage to compete with the largest companies using a comparatively derisory budget. He dubbed these companies as lean startups.

The term means becoming aware of all the hypotheses we make and challenging them through experiments rather than taking them for granted.

Let’s take the example of an e-commerce site.

Rather than assume that our users need to filter the catalogue more precisely in order to find things more easily, let’s rephrase the assumptions.

Hypothesis 1: Our users do not easily find what they are looking for.

Hypothesis 2: A filter on the catalogue will make it easier for users to find what they are looking for.

We assumed that users had difficulty finding what they were looking for, but we also assumed that the installation of filters would be the solution. These are two separate hypotheses.

The question now is how to confirm or refute these assumptions. That will require an experiment or two. This can take the form of user tests, A/B tests, or incremental development. We could thus develop a first level of simplistic filter and flesh it out if the returns are positive.

Your Success is Determined by Your Learning Speed

These cycles of experimentation can be likened to learning how to:

  • Step back from the situation, and rephrase your understanding in the form of assumptions.
  • Do tests that allow you to validate or invalidate these hypotheses.

The moral of the story: You can take a hypothesis for granted, or you can discover that you had a distorted perception of the situation.

This learning is key to the success of your product. It is what will allow you to build the right product - the one that meets a real need in an innovative way via an addictive user experience.

The Faster You Learn, the Faster You will Achieve Success with Your Product

The question isn’t whether you will learn, but whether you will learn fast enough. Can you learn faster than your competitors, but also – in the case of a startup – fast enough to find your market before you run out of cash!

The Prerequisites for Rapid Learning

We must therefore succeed in reproducing this learning cycle as quickly as possible. Three prerequisites can be identified:

  • We must build and cultivate the right mindset (i.e. we take nothing for granted and we question our preconceived ideas).
  • We must follow a rigorous method of experimentation: a degree of certainty is noted on all hypotheses, and an experiment must be systematically conducted to validate or invalidate risky hypotheses.
  • The product must be constructed in such a way as to permit these rapid and frequent experiments. This last point deserves special attention.

No Product Excellence Without Technical Excellence

How do you succeed in setting up these constant experiments?

It requires that the product be built to achieve this. Technical choices are made at the heart of the product so that it can allow for these experiments.

All of the internet giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon operate in this way. It is rumored that Amazon deploys a product change every 11.6 seconds online. All these innumerable changes includes of course functional evolutions and bug fixes, but for the most part the focus of the release is A/B testing, which means experiments.

Now let’s talk about technical excellence. From a technical point of view, your product must be excellent. This does not imply perfection, but nothing must hinder the speed of development (and as a result, experimentation).

It is therefore both a question of managing the technical debt and implementing sound practices and tools such as Continuous Delivery. This allows production deployment to operate as fluidly as possible, especially by reducing any manual intervention to a minimum.

Technical Excellence is Not Everything

Be careful not to lose sight of the most important thing: the product.

If technical excellence is a necessity that will allow you to experiment quickly and achieve success for your product, it requires continuous attention to the product.

In other words, it is not technical excellence alone that will bring you success. It is your permanent focus on the product that will enable you to achieve this.

So drive your technical excellence by your product constraints and aspirations!

In Summary

Identify the underlying assumptions and experiment to validate or invalidate them. This work of hypotheses and experimentation constitutes a learning cycle. The faster your learning cycle, the greater your chances of success.

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Jean-Pierre Lambert
Writer, Speaker about Agile Quality - Creator of Scrum Life
Reading time: 5 min

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