Waste Not – a Lean approach


What is productivity? A solid 8-hour of coding without interruption? Does it matter much if our project is on time or on budget, if we end up building something nobody wants? It would be a waste of human effort, investment, time and individual creativity, wouldn’t it? The Lean Startup by Eric Ries explores how we can avoid working efficiently on the wrong things by understanding what really matters to a product/project through iterations of (quick) Build-Measure-Learn loop.

I came across the concept of lean manufacturing/development a few years ago while doing project management for some EU/UK research projects, but I was very sceptical about it. Releasing any “minimum viable product (MVP)” was a bad idea to me not only because I wanted the user experience to be absolutely great from day one but also because I believed that building MVP is a waste of resources. If our plan is to build a car, why do we want to spend a few days glueing two push bikes together for an early version? Surely we can never reuse any technology or know-how of building and glueing bikes together for a car, right? Well, the key is whether we factor “vision” as part of project management. If we are absolutely sure about the vision (e.g., we know exactly what car we’ll build), then it’s a matter of system-level efficiency (get the programmers to work as hard as they could and make sure they are “in the zone” all day and every day). However, we often don’t know what our users want. In fact, the users are often not sure about what they want either. Therefore, learning what we should build should be an integral part of the exercise to run a project and the learning must be done using the right testing and measuring methods such as sandbox split test, actionable metrics, etc.

One of the main reasons that I picked up this book again and read it from cover to cover is that we witness an increasing number of students claiming that they followed the “Waterfall” model in their dissertations (Seriously? you did a one-man waterfall?!), despite that they surely have learned other models like RAD, V-model, Agile, etc. So I am going to do a trial and introduce the lean framework in my second-year Interaction Design course. Many of the lean principles already resonate with elements in that course so I hope it’s a good starting point (by “hope”, I mean build, test and learn. LOL).

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by the author of the book nor any publisher/reseller to use it as part of my course.

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