Sunday, 27 January 2013

Lean Startup



For years I wondered how do we know, if what we are building is the right thing. In the development world we realised the need for BDD as we needed a way to rationalise our requirements and allow the development team to know where to begin, however no methodology assures you that your backlog is prioritised in the right order.

Don't get me wrong the Lean Startup is not a silver bullet to the problem mention above. It is just that it got me thinking about validating what we build.

"Lean Startup" is an approach for launching businesses and products, that relies on validated learning, scientific experimentation, and iterative product releases to shorten product development cycles, measure progress, and gain valuable customer feedback.

That translates to me rather than guessing or letting emotion get in the way that we can build great products.

Minimum Viable Product

The idea behind an MVP is to build just enough to validate that we are heading in the right direction. Some examples of MVP could be:

If Apple can launch a smartphone without Find or Cut-and-Paste, what can you cut out of your product requirements?”

Well since we just want to validate we should reuse as much of what other people have built. From a code perspective this means it does not have to be perfect, however quality should not be thrown out.

Continuous Delivery

The book talks about Continuous Deployment, however I do believe that the better phrase should be Continuous Delivery.

As described here:

While continuous deployment implies continuous delivery the converse is not true. Continuous delivery is about putting the release schedule in the hands of the business, not in the hands of IT. Implementing continuous delivery means making sure your software is always production ready throughout its entire lifecycle – that any build could potentially be released to users at the touch of a button using a fully automated process in a matter of seconds or minutes.

The point of the matter is that we want to get our MVP out there as soon as possible. So from a software point of view we really need to get our release cycle automated. I was never really a fan of all these platforms that you just check in the code and it is deployed on a live environment, this is because you really need to understand how software is released. However to validate the MVP it is really a great platform, so my thoughts are slowly changing.

Split Testing

Split testing or A/B Testing as it is sometimes called is a way to have two versions of the application and validate which version is better. The way that I have seen split testing being performed is that we have an existing product and we split it with the new product that we are building.

However this got me thinking, shouldn’t we really be doing split testing of a MVP in the same product?

So how would one go about doing some split testing in an existing product. These are just some of my thoughts that I look forward to validating.

  1. To build these MVP's we need a way to create feature branches easily. These feature branches should not be long lived. The best tool for this is git. The beauty of this is that if we realise our feature is crap we can just revert the feature.
  2. The MVP needs to be build with a feature flag. This feature needs to be turned on for a specific group of people. This can be done in numerous ways, e.g. If it is a web application your load balancer could introduce a HTTP header into the application which would turn on the feature.
  3. Lastly we need a way to gage if the MVP is worth it. One needs to choose metrics that matter.
Actionable Metrics

The only metrics that I've been exposed to is what are called vanity metrics.

These are as an example: one million downloads, 10 million registered users, 200 million tweets per day.

These metrics show growth however they don't really tell you the inside story. It is important to realise that we need to keep the actionable metrics closer to the user.

Actionable metrics can lead to informed business decisions and subsequent action.

So how does this relate to the MVP? Well sometimes we just want to get a sense if the feature is worth it, so just getting an idea of whether people actually interact with it maybe enough.

Pivot

A pivot is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth.”

This basically tells us that at times we will have the wrong idea and will need to change our direction. The key to be able to pivot and abandon an MVP is to have easy way to revert the code and release it quickly.

Conclusion

This book really made me think about how to develop a product without incurring much waste and as a team be sure that we are building the right features.