How to innovate like a startup: use these tools
Posted on 8th December 2011 by Nick Marsh -
There are some pretty simple, pretty awesome tools in the Startup/New Product development stack that we use at Sidekick a lot. I could write a book about each of these!
However, I don't have time to write a book. So here are some paragraphs the enduring constructs / frameworks / brain tools that I keep referencing from the worlds of business, design and tech. Each one is that awesome combination of simple and easy to understand, hugely deep and investigable if that's your thing, and massively extensible and flexible. Figuring out how and when to mix them together is the key to creating enduring products, services and businesses. When mixed together right, these tools help teams innovate quicker, better and cheaper.
Lean Startup. This is a meta tool that is used to group together a bunch of other stuff, including some of the tools below. Essentially the idea of don't build more than customers want is very powerful and enduring. The flipside to Lean Startup is of course Lean Investing, which is turning the VC model on its head.
Minimum Viable Product. This is a really useful construct, and central to the Lean Startup idea. There a lot of people who argue over its exact meaning, but that misses the point. MVP is the antidote to feature-itis and scope creep and it come in useful in lots of different ways, mainly as a means to focus minds on what matters.
Business Model Canvas. A really simple, really useful tool. So much better than business plans! I would say the business model canvas is the single biggest leap forward in making business strategy more accessible and more creative. With the canvas its easy to sketch business ideas, and importantly, compare different ones. It crops up in lots and lots of places. Love it.
Customer Development. Steve Blank's customer development is a powerful idea, but also very simple. So simple that its easy to say 'its just user centred design' or 'its just market research'. But that misses the point a bit - the simple, central thing as I see it is that no product development should happen without customer input.
Design thinking. This is a big and broad thing, like lean startup, and equally useful. I see design thinking as a way of effectively managing imagination. Its most useful as a way of organising thinking at the earliest stages of projects, when you are figuring out what should we make rather than how should we make it. There's lots of people who will say design thinking can be applied across all parts of product and business development (they are right), but in my experience the language and literature is most useful at that 'fuzzy front end'.
User/human centred design. Similar to 'customer development', but with a much stronger emphasis on detail. Obviously there is huge literature on UCD and ergonomics etc etc. Its a massively useful thing.
Double Diamond. Like the business model canvas, the double diamond is a really, really useful diagram. It really helps to explain to non-designers ad people without much experience of making new stuff what the process will be like. I remember when I worked at Engine when me, Olly and Erick made a big double diamond poster of all Engine's projects it quickly became the most useful sales tool as it let us explain the offer on one piece of paper.
Agile. This, like lean startup and design thinking is a big broad thing. At a high level Agile is a philosophy about putting makers in charge of making and, just like lean startup and design thinking bringing customers/users right into the design process. But its also got some really useful, really light project management tools (sprints, scrums, planning boards etc).
Iteration / versioning / Frequent releases. This is a really good idea from the world of software that provides a really creative and productive tension with the more ponderous 'double diamond' style product development process. Rapid, frequent iterations of a product focus energy and attention of teams.
Balanced team. I've only just found out about this, but I think it sounds amazing. The antidote to the turf wars of UX / UI / IxD / Developers / Strategists / etc / bullshit. I need to read more about it, but the idea is so simple - what matters is balance in your team. This works all the way up the company, from projects through to management.
Rails + Heroku. This is a tech stack not a conceptual tool, but I'm always AMAZED how easy it is to build and launch web apps these days. Rails and Heroku have driven down costs and driven up speed of product development enormously. I can't wait to see what's next in this area.
In summary, it seems that most of these ideas share some common characteristics:
• Human centred: Focusing on people, in particular customers and users.
• Collaborative and making-focused: Finding ways to bring those people into creation processes whilst giving makers autonomy and flexibility.
• Light: Staying lean in every way - in terms of product and processes.
And that is why I love working in the world of Startup / New Product. Its about people, its about making and its not burdened with unnecessary crap. Love it.