I like Star Trek. Not in a uniform-wearing, funny handshake, cross-to-the-other-side-of-the-street-to-avoid-me kind of way; but I like it and I do seem to be able to remember a lot of details from it. For instance: when Klingons go into battle they assume that they are already dead. If they survive it’s a bonus and if they do actually die then, well, it was expected so no surprise. This is the way we should be developing software and it has a name – “Lean Startup”.
I’ve written a lot of applications targeting all manner of media and platforms – but they all had the same sentiment: “If we only get this right, everyone will buy it”. I now think this is wrong. What we should be thinking is “This is a pile of crap and no-one’s gonna buy it”.
“What?! You mean we should actual aim to fail?”
What I mean is this: if you assume that your software is probably worthless then this changes the way you write it. Your job now becomes “I’m probably gonna fail, so how do I fail quickly?”. Eric Ries talks about failing products not equating to failing companies.
So, your business plan becomes “I have a lot of ideas for products. One of them might succeed. How do I quickly discover which one that is without wasting time and money on those that no one is interested in?”
What does this mean in practice? Here’s a small sample list:
- Minimum Viable Product. Get it out there! It’ll be crap, but do it and do it quickly.
- Measure everything. How do you know which parts of your application people are interested in if you don’t capture that information?
- Smoke Tests. See how many people click on the fake ‘Buy It Now’ button. That tells you more than any theoretical pricing model or traditional market research.
- Pivot. You might have the basis of a great idea. Don’t be fixated on what you think it should do – listen to your users.
The Lean Startup movement has radically changed how I develop software and it’s not just for startups. Any project, even in the enterprise, that has a level of uncertainty will fit this model.
For more information check out Eric Ries’ blog.