Category Archives: Agile & Lean

‘Think jobs, pains and gains, not build, measure and learn’–Osterwalder

osterwalder

By Dennis Clenente

In the startup world, who doesn’t know Alex Osterwalder, the lead author of the global best-seller, Business Model Generation, the handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers? Osterwalder invented the “Business Model Canvas,” the strategic management tool for designing, testing, building and managing business models.

Last October 22, Startup Grind in New York City hosted a brief live Skype interview with Osterwalder from Switzerland and his co-author Yves Pigneur about their latest book, Value Proposition Design. Host Bob Dorf, co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual, gave a short introduction of Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas before introducing him and Pigneur, saying how it was initially developed for big companies but was discovered and used more by startups through the years.

Taking a cue from that, Osterwalder, speaking from Switzerland, began his talk talking about how the once-mighthy Kodak fell by the wayside. “It failed to create a value proposition for the digital camera.” Now even big companies use the canvas.

In the new book, Osterwalder expands on his canvas concept to include Value Proposition Design (VPD), a guide for creating products and services that customers want

Determining customer needs certainly takes precedence here. For him, it’s about relentlessly taking a customer perspective, listening to customers than selling to them.

It’s not surprising to hear this from him, since he has utmost respect for Steve Blank’s work on customer development. For him, building first is a waste when the way to go about conjuring up your idea is to think about what he calls “jobs, pains and gains,” NOT build, measure and learn.”

“There’s a danger with build measure and learn. You do this you start in the worst possible way to test your ideas,” he said.

To avoid this, he suggests using the Value Map to determine the jobs, pains and gains. They come in a square and circle.

So we have come from the rectangle in the Business Model Canvas to the square (value proposition) and circle (customer development). In this manner, he says in the book, you (see and) achieve fit when your value map meets your customer profile.

“(But) you will want to test the circle first before the square,” he advised.

There is more to explore in this colorful book, including how it states these statements plainly yet clearly, “The Business Model Canvas helps you create value for your business. The Value Proposition Canvas helps you create value for your customer.”

Osterwalder says he didn’t want to reinvent the wheel with the book. VPD goes “hand in hand with the Business Model Canvas.”

The important thing is to turn your ideas into value proposition prototypes with the many available practical tools offered in the book.

Why add more tools?

Who wouldn’t believe Osterwalder when he says, “I believe (why) a surgeon (needs) many tools than just a Swiss knife.” No pun intended even if he’s Swiss.

Still, wondering if the new book is for you, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Are you overwhelmed by the task of true creation?
Frustrated by unproductive meetings and misaligned teams?
Involved in bold shiny projects that blew up?
Disappointed by the failure of a good idea?

If so, Osterwalder believes Value Proposition Design will help you in the following ways:

Understand the patterns of value creation
Leverage the experience and skills of your team
Avoid wasting time with ideas that don’t work
Design, test, and deliver what customers want

How not to overdo on your site or app’s features

cohn-agile-lean

By Dennis Clemente

If studies indicate 50 percent of a product’s features go unused, how do you make sure you don’t overdo it? The answer is quite obvious: You need user testing. What’s less obvious is how you go about this process.

At the Kaplan Center last September 22, The Agile/Lean Practitioners group brought back Danielle Tomson of the Occum Group and Steven Cohn of Validately to discuss various ways of gaining user insights from the prototyping stage.

Tomson said there are three types of user tests: desirability, usability and feasibility.

In terms of desirability, she said it’s important to interview, observe, survey and A/B test. When interviewing, ask for open question, making sure to dig deep.

“Instead of telling the user what specially needs to be done, give them a task,” she said. “Ask the user what he expects to happen. What’s in it for them?”

Breaking it down, asks the what, when and how questions. Does the user want to use it? Would they use it? How would they use it? When is it essential in the early phase and in creating new features on old products? How is the minimum viable service (.i.e. test the service before the product, figure out the interviews, surveys, paper prototyping)

Quantity is not always quality when it comes to number of users. Tomson adheres to Jacob Nielsen’s five-user test method: test more users if they are in a highly different group (egg. 5 students and 5 teachers). Read more here http://www.nngroup.com/articles/why-you-only-need-to-test-with-5-users/

As for usability, ask what does the product fulfill in the user’s needs? Why and why not? Do the features or UI/UX enable them to do so? Does the product do what you intended? Figure out how what tools to track behavior.

As for the feasibility part, ask how this feature can achieve business goals?

Constantly validate, but Tomson says it’s also important to keep two things in mind: the goal and hypothesis. “A goal is something you hope to achieve—what do you want the behavior to be? A hypothesis is something you think will happen—what do you believe the behavior will be?”

Cohn talked next about his startup Validately and how it is supposed to recruit users, create tests and get rapid feedback for different types of prototypes. Demonstrating Validately’s functions, he shows how it can show both low fidelity and high fidelity, including support for Axure and Balsamiq. With Axure, he said you can just add in the URLs and test the prototype on Validately. For safety, he said you can create a non-guessable URL to send to just a few people.

Overall, the validation site should be able to gauge desirability, measure usability, test the look and feel and make custom tests.

Cohn’s key takeways about user testing involved the following:
• Test what people do in their native environment
• Filter qualitative feedback based on actions
• Test on customer segments
• Be open to data

Designing your web or app? Axure can make you a prototyping badass

Danielle Tomson
Danielle Tomson

Click here to view the presentation
Badass prototyping

By Dennis Clemente

Last August 12, about 80 people showed up at Kaplan center to “Learn (how) to Prototype Like a Badass” with the host group, the Agile/Lean Practitioners visibly surprised by the audience’s strong interest and engagement in the demonstration presented by Occum’s Danielle Tomson.

The audience warmed up to Tomson’s presentation style right at bat. She gave an equal dose of expertise and humor (“no slow claps please,” “there’s always a troll”) on a tool not many people use but which is considered the best out there—Axure.

The slow adoption of Axure in the U.S. may account for the fact that other tools are more affordable (it’s too expensive, with the pro version over $589) while the rest of the world may have “copies” to use freely, if you catch my drift. This is just to stress how the tool always intimidates with its price, more than its effective use.

The huge turnout shows the strong interest for it but it’s also surprising how many UX designers in the States don’t know how to use it, even if Axure has been around for more than a decade. It is actually everything that a UI/UX designer can dream of in prototyping a website or app without front-end coding.

But old habits die hard. Some designers use Adobe Creative Suites or even more basic ones like Balsamiq. Among graphic designers transitioning to UX, Omnigraffle seems to be the most popular choice as well, as one designer claimed that it almost mimics Adobe Illustrator which she has used for many years.

Axure does better. It mimics a finished site or app without a single line of code, saving developers from the constant changes a project undergoes. On the other hand, there are developers who prefer to code right away.

They plunge right into coding because they work on their startups and think they have a clear vision of what they want, while designers who work with companies would need Axure to give them more leeway to pivot when a company’s far more complex business needs require it. The coding happens once clarity is achieved.

Still startups would do well to recognize how it’s important to learn lean principles and agile development philosophies beyond its business model. Honing a vision, giving it life with a prototype, and validating it with users first are just as important.

In her presentation, the audience followed Tomson in prototyping a travel booking platform in minutes. She also showed some prototyping tips and tricks and how to test Axure prototype on customers using Validately or share within a network using Axure Share. The audience was receptive to the idea of a possible follow-up meetup.

Tomson, a Yale grad with an international development background, is a product partner at Occum which, in turn, has Avon, Johnson & Johnson, KPMG and the United Nations Foundation for its clients, among others. She echoes the company’s belief that a great idea starts from a real, clearly articulated problem.

As for the title of her presentation, “Learn (how) to Prototype like a Badass.” It’s really more about how the best prototyping tool, Axure, can make you a badass. Like this blogger thinks he’s on his way to becoming one, too—if not yet.

The future of UI design is in the cards

By Dennis Clemente

The future of UI design is in the cards

That’s the prognostication of lively and dynamic speaker Christopher Tse who is inviting people to stage a counterculture revolution in UI design. “Rather than Silicon Valley (leading it), let it be New York this time,” he implored his audience at the NYC UX Acrobatics meetup at Amplify in DUMBO, Brooklyn last July 8.

Titled “Patterns of Card User Interface Design,” Tse’s talk started with an overview first of how designers have tapped card-based UI to present units of content responsively across a wide range of mobile devices and screen sizes. “We see this with Twitter cards, Google Now cards, Passbook passes, Pinterest tiles, Facebook Paper.”

When done right, Tse said a card can look like a responsive web content, work like a focused mobile app, and feel like a saved file that you can share and reuse.

Card UI design

“As these “cards” become more interactive, they go from being just concentrated bits of content and turn into mini-apps that can be embedded, capture and manipulate data, or even process transactions,” he said.

“If you look more deeply into the current state of card-based UI, you can see that cards are growing out of just concentrated bits of content and are turning into mini-apps that can be embedded, capture data, and drive actions,” he added.

Thinking about how playing cards carry information in digestible form should give you the idea. To put playing cards in place, you need a container. In Card UI design, a container can be a narrative, to help tell a story, a conversation or workflow, or a discovery channel the way Facebook and Pinterest rounds us up.

What needs exploring is the architecture beneath the cards. “This is to see whether cards built on the foundation of HTM5, CSS3, and modern Javascript, can re-inject the ethos of the Open Web back into mobile development and turn back the tide against proprietary platform lock-ins and app silos,” Tse said.

How is Tse planning his counterculture revolution n UI design?
Recent announcements from Google around the unification of their UIs using Material Design and from Apple about notifications widgets in iOS 8 show that that the big players are also firmly behind this new UI trend.

Saikiran Yerram, a veteran software developer/designer, showed a prototype of a card-based playlist app, created using Google’s Material Design guidelines, bringing multiple web-based educational tools into one unified learning experience.

Perhaps the best way to promote Card UI design is to find people who work in government, policy-makers or those in non-profit organizations, according to Tse who is clearly on a mission to democratize his ideas. Addressing the audience, Tse said, “Let me know if you know anyone.”

Silicon Valley giant Steve Blank on demo days, pivots, entrepreneurship

photo (3)

By Dennis Clemente

How much evidence do you really need before you launch your startup? The person at the receiving end of that question responds: “That’s like guessing how much sex is enough. I’ll let you know when I get there.”

The crowd of about 200 people burst into laughter, hoots and whistles. That set the mood for Startup Grind’s event at Alley NYC last September 23. The man speaking was Steve Blank, the pre-eminent Silicon Valley entrepreneur, author of several books (one of which launched the lean startup movement), an educator and the man that continues to remain in most top 30 influencers’ list in technology even after more than 33 years in the tech world.

True to how he espouses his ideas and the way his highly organized mind works and because he’s a teacher at heart, he responded, “But who are you building it for?” Blank said more and had the audience hanging on his every word.

On demo days. “An incubator is like the Miss Universe contest.” He decried how many are graded by how well they pitch instead of whether their startups are a good product-market fit and if they have run enough experiments with customers, citing even VCs are getting burned down (sic) on demo day.”

“It should be more of ‘how we got here, where we are and what evidence we have’ about where we are going?” He thinks there should be a “Lessons Learned Day” than the continuous Product Demo Day.”

On thermometer of success. He tells the story from 30 years back when NASA and the Department of Defense decided to come up with a Technology Readiness Level. “Level 0 could be demonstrated the principles, Level 5 and 6 could be you have something working. Level 8 or 9 could be you have reached nirvana.

“What we never had was the Investment Readiness Level? But there are some criteria on that now. We may now be able to play Moneyball with startups,” referencing the book where a small team was able to compete against the New York Yankees and their payroll by relying on data—and hiring players who could gets base hits than most other players. “We might be in the beginning of a discussion that could lead to Investment Readiness Levels.”

On rising number of incubators/accelerators. He acknowledged the help these incubators and accelerators provide, which is a long way from just the sharing of physical spaces back in the old days. “What we’ve had last five years are the mentor-based, equity types. We have Paul Graham’s guru-based Y Combinator who mentors, demos and gives you partial funding. We have Tech Stars in multiple cities with community mentoring. Are there too many? “We need to think past existing models. We need to make way for a new model. Accelerators may (want to consider) a curriculum.”

On when to pivot or stick to your vision: “We used to pivot by firing executives. What we’ve learned is that instead of firing executives, we’re going to fire the plan first.” But these days, Blank said pivoting has also been done to the extreme. He said he told Eric Ries (his student and the one who coined it in the book, Lean Startup) that he draws the line somewhere in pivot.

“The problem is that now, it has given rise to its (misuse) by founders with attention deficit disorders. Pivot should not be…like someone told me something yesterday I’ll turn the company upside down.”

On existing markets and new markets. “A small startup is nothing like a large company with its existing markets – how you can find out about size, competitors, pricing and customers. Customer discovery is really easy in existing markets. You can get sufficient data and pivot.

Talking about how startups get started, “Attacking the incumbent (existing market) can be suicidal, but what others see or not see is that there could be a niche (in a new market). But what is a new market? With a new market, you don’t (have data). It’s about seeing something no one else sees. Now you have to go outside and ask the bigger question, where is the world and what do you see?”

On intellectual property. If you’re in the web, mobile or cloud, unless you have a really novel product, it’s going screw your head. What matters most is velocity of learning. Instead of talking (and having it in your head), you can go out and listen (to your customers.)

On gaining the vision to see what’s out there 3 years from now. Rephrasing the question, Blank said, “Can you teach entrepreneurship? We have been asking the wrong question for a hundred years. Of course, we can teach entrepreneurship.

“We can teach it but the question is, who can we teach entrepreneurship to? Yes, we can teach it to those who passionately volunteer… If you desperately want it, we can teach it. If you think it as a job, you’re through. We are now in the renaissance of teaching entrepreneurship. We (eliminate) stumbling blocks and prevent people from doing the wrong things we used to do.”

On why the closest thing to a founder is being an artist. “What we missed for a hundred years is that the closest thing to a founder is (being) an artist. Who are they? When we see a blank canvas, they see a starry night. When we see a block of marble, they see a theater. When we see nothing, they say, ‘Follow me, it’s here.’

On his young self, some 30-plus years ago. Blank is a native New Yorker. He was born in Chelsea, grew up in Queens, and lived in the Bronx for awhile. He went to the University of Michigan, dropped out after the first semester, and joined the military in Vietnam. “I had the lowest GPA. I was ‘thrown out’ with a .5 grade point,” he said. After Vietnam, he went to find work in Silicon Valley in 1978. “I was surprised to see 48 pages of job ads for engineers alone in California.”

Blank worked the night shift at military intelligence systems supplier whose location, to this day, he has not disclosed. Because there were no close vaults during his time, covert manuals were just within his reach. He said he read them because he loved to read, admitting he wasn’t too bright at 24 to think how risky it was for him to do so. He even took notes.

When someone found out and grabbed his notebook, he was told, “You’re not cleared to write this. Wait, I’m not cleared to read this.”

He was told 3 days how it cost the company a lot of money to keep his notebook in a safe place. Telling this story humorously, he was asked and told because there was a cold war between the U.S. and Russia, “You’re not going anywhere, are you? We do have your passport? Do you mind taking on another hobby?”

Blank said he was not a CEO in his younger years and his “career was more of incremental apprenticeship.” Still, he managed to retire from Silicon Valley at 45, so he could see his kids grow up. And take on other hobbies, like writing books and teaching young people to build their own careers as entrepreneurs.

What makes a great leader? Try asking your team how you could fail

By Dennis Clemente

As a leader, do you think you can ask your team this question–“Tell me all the things that could go wrong?”–and expect to get real answers? That startling question is from the best-seller, “Decisive,” by Chip and Dan Heath, and it’s the same question asked at the NY Intrapreneur meetup in the Upper East Side last May 14

So many tech meetups these days are all about pitching, showcasing us great works that come from creating products that promise to make all our lives easier.

In this meetup founded by Debbie Madden, also a CEO at Cyrus Innovation, the panel of guests from Coach, Ogilvy & Mather, Simon & Schuster and Kaplan Test Prep showed how they are willing to be candid.

They talked about work and the disruptions, ugly or not, that occur in collaborations, in how we organize ourselves, motivate one another and combine talents to meet challenges. So where other events shun sensitive questions, this meetup was open, incisive, and even conspiratorial, with all the biases we have as baggage.

For example, it may be surprising to hear people admit to having “self-interests,” but here is one example. “I want to work with the same team. That’s the fight I will fight,” said the reflective Ken Judy, VP Technology of Simon & Schuster Digital.

NY Intrapreneur's panel of speakers
NY Intrapreneur’s panel of speakers

There’s a certain grain of truth in that statement. Indeed, working with the same team who trust its leader as much as its members has some advantages—it saves time and effort, because Judy declared, “No one gives trust; it could take a year or more,” as he emphasized the gravity of what we face in any new project: distrust.

Judy was at one time executive manager and software developer who managed development and product at Oxygen Media (NBC-Universal), and was a product manager and agile coach at NYSE Euronext Advanced Trading Solutions.

As the moderator, Madden set the analytical tone of the meetup with questions that allowed the leaders to discuss their role as their company’s intrapreneur.

For entrepreneurial ideas to take off, Ilio Krumins-Beens, executive director, Agile Practices at Kaplan Test Prep said it’s important for the disconnected software and business team to connect, if it means changing processes. I spend time using agile technology with key influencers.”

Krumins-Beens has been working with teams to deliver software and web applications for over 15 years in a range of industries–government, media, tech startup, and education. He is a passionate agilist who has presented at several Agile/Lean conferences since 2007.

For the two women in the panel, time is key.

For Kathleen Gareiss, managing director of Digital Delivery at Ogilvy & Mather, having a timeline (to follow) is crucial, because “ideation can take long.”

Danielle Schmelkin, VP-Business Intelligence and Data Management at Coach, agreed. “Time is always a factor,” elaborating on how meeting deadlines is always a challenge. She is a proponent of “passion (being) one ingredient and relationship is another” to entrepreneurial success.

Gareiss is a digital native with more than 15 years of experience working in the interactive industry. The focus of her interactive career has been on producing new, large-scale platforms and global implementations. She works within a company to standardize and “operationalize” the processes needed to deliver these digital experiences.

“The outcome of the day is important for me,” Gareiss declared.

Schmelkin, for her part, is responsible for all of the technologies associated with transforming data into critical business information. Prior to joining Coach, Shemlkin held key positions at Barnes & Noble, Inc., where she was most recently VP of Business Intelligence, responsible for creating and implementing a business intelligence platform for the entire enterprise. She was also CTO during the launch of the nook, Barnes & Noble’s digital reading platform.

“We should always work toward a goal,” Schmelkin said. “Guide the company where they can go or not. (But know) there are concepts they will not be ready for.”

Answering that, Judy said, “You have to throw (some) ideas away. Not all ideas can be (executed).”

As a parting shot, each one offered their set of beliefs about what someone just starting can bring to the company they work for.

Gareiss answered first, saying good “writing” tops her list, as well as “being a sponge all the time.” Shemelkin thinks demonstrated “leadership and communication skills” are vital.

Krumins-Beens, for his part, said it’s important to “trust your idea and to not let anyone dissuade you when you get a ‘no.’ You don’t want a string of jobs. You want a career. ”

Judy said with a crack in his voice, “Don’t take too much for yourself, though. Routinely collaborate. Work hard with humility.”

The meetup was organized by Madden, who founded NY Intrapreneur in 2012 to enable rich conversations about innovation within the NYC tech community. She is also speaks and writes on enterprise and startup trends.

Making better business decisions using Agile and lean startup methods

By Dennis Clemente

What’s your process in terms of making better business decisions? Have you considered Agile critical thinking? It’s easy to spot if your company is using it or not. Ask yourself, Is there always someone in your company selling you an idea you have to accept without argument? And if nobody is held accountable, is there actually a bad decision? You’d be surprised how many companies will tell you they are results-oriented but have never heard of Agile or lean startup thinking.

“The greatest risk is when people assume they know what they (really) don’t know,” said Brian Bozzuto, BigVisible Solutions’ principal Agile coach, at the “Techniques, Experiments and Actionable Metrics: Tools for Enterprise Change” meetup last April 23 at the iRise on Madison Ave.

Brian Bozzuto
Brian Bozzuto

Whether you’re starting a new company, launching a new product or introducing a new initiative, BigVisible is one of the companies now offering Agile training courses and coaches specializing in helping you succeed. Agile is a simple but powerful framework for applying critical thinking to business decisions. It’s even more critical to consider it when new research shows that 75% of startups fail, according to Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh.

Bozzuto took us back in time when pets.com, which raised $80 million in early capital, closed in 2000. That was a lot of funding at the time and even to this day. For the challenges facing startups, he recommends Agile or lean startup thinking, particularly in using revolutionary framework that goes with it: Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas.

Borrowing from Eric Ries’ Lean Startup model, Bozzuto suggests this sequence — “idea,” “build,” “produce,” “measure,” “data” and “learn.” Giving your initiative(s) or company an honest assessment is key, so is asking the right questions, i.e., “is it (the idea) feasible.” Even knowing how to accept failure goes a long way in helping people learn, assuming companies can accept failure as part of a process.

Bozzuto finds companies that cannot accept failure cannot believe in testing—and the actionable metrics that help inform and stir good decisions.

Business Model Canvas

The Business Model Canvas chart (also pictured here) is a good framework for a product owner or team leader to ask his participants the following questions as part of the exercise– for whom are you creating value; what value do you deliver to the customer; how do you create and maintain relationships with customers; and how do you deliver value created for the customer. Beyond that, the product owner should be able to ask what will you do with these resources to build value; what will you need to create this value; and who would you partner with that will provide key resources or key activities.

What’s the clear takeaway here? Agile thinking is an invaluable addition to any product development team looking to improve their ability to learn from the marketplace and build solutions more suited to their current and future customers.

Sill, there are the risky assumptions. For any company using the diagram, Bozzuto said the hardest to answer are the columns on customer segment and value proposition.

As a parting shot, he proposed adding a column on a Kanban or task board to validate assumptions. “We should start building into our processes regularly checking the assumptions around work and validating if the work we complete does for what we thought it would.”

For more information or to consult with Bozzuto’s top-notch Agile coaching for your business, visit http://www.bigvisible.com/

The meetup was organized and hosted by Debbie Madden and Eli Bozeman at the iRise. iRise (http://www.irise.com/) takes your mobile and web applications beyond prototypes, wireframes and mockups, creating interactive simulations so you can test drive before code.

Publishing, marketing teams face Agile challenge: deadline dates

By Dennis Clemente

If you’re looking to improve your scale or capability, there’s nothing like having some Agile thinking in place. For the uninitiated, it could simply mean having a workflow with sticky notes on a white board that categorizes tasks as “to be done.” “in process” and “finished.” But it’s more than that for two teams at the Agile for Non-Software Team meetup hosted and organized by Lori Masuda last April 9 at Kaplan Test Prep.

At the meetup, the two Kaplan teams that were paired with editorial and marketing staff presented the result of their Scrumban and Lean practices in a panel discussion that allowed for the “sharing of the good, the bad and the future.”

The toughest challenge for both teams proved to be meeting deadline dates.

kaplan

One team was tasked to write the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) Premier, while another, Grad Marketing, worked on improving its own processes in both managing general tasks and fulfilling requests for marketing collaterals.

In the past, it was not unusual for the LSAT team to write a book with one author. This time, the LSAT team faced the challenge of collaborating with a large group of people where not all the great feedback can be incorporated instantly; that hefty book is like the yellow pages of old where the process of completing it can test the most patient of stakeholders and authors.

The marketing team, for its part, had a “black-box” process with many submissions but no clear way of prioritizing all the requests. They wanted transparency and collaboration with their stakeholders.

Both teams implemented daily scrum meetings and visual task boards. For the LSAT team, they implemented the Demos and Sprint Planning. For the marketing group, they streamlined retros and single product owners.

Masuda listed the following challenges presented by the panel:

1. Managing deadline dates. How to address deadline dates with shifting priorities
2. Planning/estimating/team capacity. How to adjust to unavoidable guess work
3. Commitment level. How to make everyone commit 100%
4. Work-in-progress concerns. How guidelines work but hard for everyone to stick with on a regular basis

When everyone can’t be together, it seems Agile thinking beats huddling in front of a computer, as it resulted in something that should inspire the rest of us:
1. Increased transparency
2. Increased collaboration and
3. Better communication and alignment with business

Since most of the participants worked remotely, a challenge for many, they discovered how Google Hangout was heaven sent.