A few years ago, I was lucky to meet some of the team at the Nordstrom Innovation Lab. They shared a video the lab produced to showcase of the types of projects they were doing at the time. In the video, we see the Innovation Lab team show up at a Nordstrom store, set up their equipment in the sunglasses department, and then spend a week there building an iPad app to make the sunglass selection process easier. If you haven’t seen the video yet, I encourage you to watch it:
The project is cool on so many levels, and the video is a fantastic illustration of many of the Lean Startup principles that I’ve been teaching over the last few years. So much so that I often show it during classes and workshops. One question that frequently comes up as teams discuss the video: What happened to the sunglasses app after the video ends? Did it end up being a successful product for Nordstrom?
I recently emailed Jeremy Lightsmith, the development lead on the project, to find out. Here’s what he told me:
So, as you might imagine, there is way more to the story…. The short version is that we left [the app] running as an experiment. The way we approached experiments back then, we didn’t return to it for a few months. When we did return, we found that our experiment had failed. It took several rounds of interviews and actually observing people “using” it to find out that salespeople were using the regular camera app, not knowing that it was different . Over the next couple months, we did a couple more experiments on it (all short < 3 day jobs) with a few weeks in between each. Finally we got it to a place where it was useful and salespeople were using it, and we rolled it out to sunglass departments across Nordstrom about a year ago.
As for that particular experiment, I talk about it at some length in this talk.
I find Jeremy’s response interesting for a couple of reasons. First, I’m glad to hear the positive outcome. It’s always good to hear success stories coming from innovation teams, especially those who are taking this kind of approach. More interesting to me though is the story this tells about process learning.
One of the amazing things about our current moment in software is that we can move so quickly: the team was able to build (and iterate) a full-featured iPad app in a week. That speed is seductive, and sometimes misleading. I’m hearing more and more stories like this one. Even though you can get an app finished quickly, it is likely to take you more time to get through the learning cycle. I love that the Nordstrom Innovation Lab team was able to go back into the field and use additional cycles of observation and experiment to continue the learning cycle to the point where they arrived at something successful. It will be interesting to see how well the sunglasses app is faring a year from now.
I also really appreciate that Jeremy and the Nordstrom Innovation Lab team are so willing to share their process and learning. I’ve been spending a lot of time these days talking with and working with folks who are putting Lean Startup ideas into action at big companies. From these conversations, some interesting principles are starting to emerge. I’ll share a first take on these in an upcoming post.
I was fortunate to spend most of the day yesterday at Lean UX NYC listening to a great slate of speakers open a 3-day event devoted to the topic. I’m pleased to see so much interest in this topic, and so many speakers with so much to say. Lane Halley, (who along with Courtney Hemphill gave a terrific, grounded presentation about their practices at Carbon Five) calls this “the way we work now.” I think that’s true for an increasing number of people on digital product teams, and I think that’s why we’re seeing such an explosion of interest in this approach.
Earlier this year, I gave a 10-minute talk at Interaction ’13 to introduce designers, specifically interaction designers, to the key concepts behind Lean Startup. The conference organizers recently posted the video from the session, so I’m sharing it with you here.
In 2010, I was introduced to the Lean Startup movement, and was excited by the way these ideas aligned with the way my design practice was evolving: it was becoming more agile, more collaborative, more focused on solving problems beyond the user interface level. I began to apply Lean Startup ideas in my work.
At about the same time, I began working with (and ultimately started a company with) Jeff Gothelf. As we traveled the world to teach these methods, we met entrepreneurs, designers, engineers and managers who shared our enthusiasm for Lean Startup. We observed that they all asked a similar question: “How do we put these ideas into practice?” This book is our answer to that question. It’s designed to be a very practical, tactical guide to putting Lean Startup ideas into motion within your product teams. It explains how to:
Get a tactical understanding of Lean UX—and how it changes the way teams work together
Frame a vision of the problem you’re solving and focus your team on the right outcomes
Make your team more productive: combine Lean UX with Agile’s scrum framework
Understand the organizational shifts necessary to integrate Lean UX
I hope you’ll pick up a copy. And after you’ve read it, please do share your feedback with us.
I was in a meeting recently with a new client and remembered some advice Alan Cooper gave me years ago. I had just started working for him, and was new to design and new to consulting. We had just come from a first meeting with a client, and I was bubbling over with ideas. Here’s what he told me: (Forgive the paraphrase here; this was years ago.)
In your first meeting with every client, you’re going to have a moment where you instantly see the solution to the client’s problem. Don’t say anything! Write it down in your notebook. Circle it. Mark it with a special symbol. This way, you won’t be worried about losing your idea. Then forget about it. Once you’ve been working with the client for a while, go back and look at what you wrote. 99 times out of 100, you will find you were wrong. And you’ll be glad you kept your mouth shut.
It was good advice, and i’ve followed it ever since. And I’m still waiting for that 1 out of 100.
I was stunned, but not surprised (if that’s possible) to read about the Air Force’s recent decision to cancel a billion dollar software program. Led by CSC and intended to implement an Oracle system to modernize logistics, the program was years behind and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget when the ax fell.
Designers and entrepreneurs who advocate customer research are used to resistance from skeptics. Steve Jobs didn’t believe in customer research the skeptics say. And though he was enigmatic on the subject, Jobs did famously tell Business Week, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Even more pervasive is the line erroneously attributed to Henry Ford: If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. (Nevermind Patrick Vlaskovits’s excellent debunking.)
The reason these arguments are so persistent is that there is a kernel of truth in them. People are bad at expressing their needs. But that’s not the whole story–and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to you customers. Instead, you can think about customer needs using this framework: Read the rest of this entry »
At Proof, we’ve been helping clients build cross-fuctional product teams and helping those teams create new products. Now, by joining forces with the world-class software developers at New Context, we’ve created a deeply cross-functional consulting company. Our mission is the same, to help companies launch new digital businesses. Now we have an amazing new set of tools to bring to bear on the problem.