Failing Fast & Learning Along the Way – Big Design 2013

Jeremy Johnson @ Big Design

Jeremy Johnson @ Big Design

A couple weeks ago I gave a presentation to a crowd at the Big Design Conference around how we can quickly learn from our customers using a variety of different methods. In the past when I’ve worked with a number of large organizations, moving fast has always been an issue – but many organizations today have cracked the code, and despite their size they move quickly to learn and adjust to make better products for their customers. Products that they truly find value in and enjoy.

If you missed Big Design, it’s a great Dallas area conference, you can see the recap of the conference here via seen.co.

Jeremy Johnson @ Big Design

Jeremy Johnson @ Big Design

The title of the presentation comes from the mantras of startups: “Fail Fast”, “Move Fast & Break Things”, “Keep Shipping” – these are all great slogans, but unknown to many – these are really all about learning. It’s about getting things in front of your customers early, and often. Watching – and learning. Finding what ideas were not quite as brilliant as you once thought – and finding this out as fast and cheap as possible.

With my background in User Experience and customer research, I’m always curious with how they fit in this model. Taking from Agile, Lean, and User Centered Design I went over the build-measure-learn process, and how you can start to shape your organization to move fast, without leaving your customers behind.

Here’s the presentation hosted on slideshare:

@philiplikens took some notes during my talk which you can find here: Failing Fast & Learning Along the Way Notes.

During the presentation I asked a series of questions around how often and how close everyone gets to their end customer. Unfortunately not enough, but there was enough discussion at the end to show that everyone wants to learn from their customers in meaningful ways – we just need to find ways to break down these barriers to do so.

It’s neither expensive or slow to learn something from your customers – so start learning today!

Answering the question “Would they use it?” before you build it

Answering the question  “Would they use it?” before you build it

How can you determine if something is worth building? Recently at the Warm Gun Conference Instagram founder Mike Krieger talked about what they called “The Wizard Of Oz Techniques For Social Prototyping” – what I’ve heard called “404 Testing” – where he said:

Krieger says him and Systrom tested an early version of a feature which would notify you when friends joined the service. Instead of building it out, they manually sent people notifications “like a human bot” saying ‘your friend has joined.’ It turned out not to be useful. “We wrote zero lines of Python, so we had zero lines to throw away.”

What could be a better way to find out if something was truly valuable to your customers – then to fake it. There are a couple stories, one dating back to early computing days when a company wanted to see if they could get admins to use voice dictation software. At the time, this was a very expensive project, with huge technology hurdles. Before starting to invest in this project, they decided to run a test. They installed a “working” prototype into an office, only it wasn’t real. While the admins talked, someone was listening and typing back what they said.

After some testing they found that the admins didn’t like the product, that it was taking away from their tasks, and they preferred other methods for input. This would have been a multi-million dollar project, that most likely would have flopped. They spent almost nothing to find out this product had very little value to their target market.

I’ve thought about how this could work for smaller feature sets – and then came across this:

Coming soon

It’s from a new travel site called: http://www.mrarlo.com/

While at first you could be thinking “lame, why not just add a under construction gif to the page?” – but if they’re tracking the clicks for this – they’ll quickly determine what % of visitors would be interested in the feature, and is it worth the investment to build out.

When asking customers if they would like feature A or B, they’ll usually say “how about both?” – to them features are free. They don’t know the development that goes into something as seemly simple as “neighborhood” for instance.

404 testing is a great method for finding value, from a single feature to an entire product. Remember, development is expensive and will keep you from delivering features your customers really want.