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.