Lean Inception: How to Align People and Build the Right Product

“Build, Measure and Learn” as Steve Blank says: is much more elaborate than putting software into production to see if it works. The Lean Startup movement is very promising, but for many teams it ends up translating into an important question:

”Yeah, but what to build ?”

The Lean Inception workshop, described in the book with the same name, generates alignment among the product team about the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the answer to the question.

Preface by Martin Fowler, Chief Cientist at ThoughtWorks:

“In ThoughtWorks, our response has been a process called an inception. We gather together a good sample of the people who will be affected by the product and have an intensive session to set an initial direction, using a series of exercises focusing on collaboration and the capture of broad goals. We don’t attempt a detailed specification, as that is exactly the kind of thing that becomes out of date as soon as code hits production. But we do want to understand what kind of outcomes we are hoping for, the features that we think will drive these outcomes, and how to assess the effectiveness of our product.

With The Lean Inception, Paulo has captured his experience in running these inceptions over the last decade. In particular it’s focused on his work to boil the inception down to its essence, concentrating the activity on a single, if very intensive, week of work. Paulo shares how he makes this work, through writing a product vision, capturing personas, understanding the user journeys, and developing high-level features. The result isn’t a detailed plan of work, which we find quickly rots into irrelevance. It is a guiding set of goals to set us off in the right direction. It doesn’t plan out a final product, with all the features that our users will need, instead it focuses on an initial product that we can release and learn from – the Minimum Viable Product. “

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Minimum Viable Product

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is the simplest version of a product that can be made available to validate a small set of assumptions on the business. Basically, you don’t want to waste time, money and effort building a product that won’t meet your expectations. For that reason, you need to understand and validate your hypothesis about the business. MVP helps to validate and learn the fastest way.

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Lean Inception

In a single week of collaborative work, the team will understand the product objectives, the main users, and the high-level functional scope such that the project duration can be estimated and an incremental release strategy of MVPs can be identified.

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Collaboration

The Lean Inception workshop proposes a collaborative process of discovering and elucidating in which the product team work together in a sequence of activities to understand the options and elaborate MVPs. The activities presented in the book are highly collaborative, seeking a creative environment, while sharing knowledge, learning, and building consensus. The activities aim to build up the team success, as they get involved in detailing and resolving each step towards deciding the MVP.

Lean StartUp + Design Thinking

The build-measure-learn loop seems to be direct, but it is hard to put it into practice due to the combination of an experimentation approach (build to learn) with a design mindset (learn to build). In order to help comprehending and building the MVP, we complement this loop with another: user-journey-action, which brings us a Design Thinking approach, focusing on learning about personas and their journeys.

Lean StartUp

From Lean Startup, we have the build-measure-learn loop, which answer the following questions: what are we going to build in this MVP? How will we measure the results of this MVP? What learning or results are we seeking in this MVP?

Design Thinking

From Design Thinking, the following these three questions completes Lean StartUp with the user-journey-action loop: For whom is this MVP? Which journey will be improved in this MVP? Which action will be simplified or improved in this MVP?