The Value of a Learning-based Process

Or: it's not as easy as it sounds.

Part of the problem with Customer Development and/or User Research is that not everyone buys into the value. It’s hard, time consuming work and, in the end, the learning isn’t always all that tangible. That can leave some people mystified or feeling like the effort wasn’t worth much.

And, let’s be honest, there can be times when you don’t really learn that much. Not every customer interview, usability session or experiment is going to bear fruit.

Many people, for example, measure progress with hard deliverables: wireframes, code, etc. Getting these people to buy into working on something that doesn’t directly go into a product as code, for example, seems like a waste of time. “Learning”, to some, might not seem like a valuable end game for the amount of work it takes.

I see value, a lot of value, in making sure we’re working on the right things. But I also get the counter argument. Why not just build, test and iterate from the get-go? Let the data tell it and change the product accordingly. Well, you could do that. And you might argue (correctly) that it’d be an equal effort, and you’d still be learning things. With the benefit of having releasable code at the end. A compelling argument, for sure. However, that argument falls apart if you’ve built something that nobody wants and that’s all you learn—what you did wrong. And this happens ALL THE TIME. Sure, you’ll learn from your mistakes and you, hopefully, can pivot, but now you’ve got a pile of technical debt, design baggage, etc. Even if it does take the same amount of time and effort, wouldn’t it be better to pin down your customer and market first, before wasting time on building? I think so. And focusing on your customer on an going bases is something I’m 100% sure there’s value in.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts I need to work through about Lean principles as it relates to design, development and running a business. In the last few months I’ve been in several workshops, watched quite a few talks and videos online and bunch of relevant books (The Lean Startup, Running Lean, etc.). There is a lot of dogma out there, especially around running a company, and much of it, frankly, I’m not sure of.

 Getting out of the building.

(Thanks to the guys at Lean Startup Machine for that one!)

What I am sure of is that if you’re not involving your customers in what you’re doing, you’re probably not learning as much as you should be and you could very well be working on the wrong things. Involving your users/customers in what you’re doing is always a good thing.

Learning from your users should be something you work into your process on an ongoing basis.

So, how can we make the less tangible effort that goes into learning something everyone involved sees value in? Well I’ve got a few ideas:


Now read this

Polish and Loving Your Products

There’s a great thread over at on shipping products. Well worth a read and probably a bookmark. There is one particular passage from Evan Williams responding to Jason Goldman that really caught my eye. Goldman is talking about... Continue →