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Combining Data, Intuition and Fun in Lean Startup

by Ben Linders on Aug 08, 2013 |

The lean startup is a “scientific approach to creating and managing startups” as Eric Ries describes in the lean startup principles. It uses “hard things” like validated learning with experiments and data to figure out the right product to build. But what the “soft things” like intuition, guts, feelings, passion, inspiration and fun, do they also matter when you are developing new products? Several authors explored combining the lean startup with these “soft things”.

Roman Pichler wrote the blog post is intuition or data more important in agile product management in which he explores the importance of intuition and analytical abilities in taking decisions in product development. He start by explaining why you should use data:

Empirical approaches to product development such as Scrum and Lean Startup encourage us to leverage data to make decisions: We use product increments or MVPs to gather the relevant information from users, customers, and other stakeholders. Analysing the data should then allow us to draw the right conclusions and to adapt the product – to pivot or persevere.

Product owners use their intuition to envision future products, Roman explains. He suggest to combine intuition and data in product decisions:

Data alone is unlikely to tell us what to do, and trusting our intuition is risky. Human beings are prone to make errors, and our intuition can be distorted by cognitive biases. Luckily, the two approaches complement each other: As product owners, we need a vision of where we want to take our product, and we should believe that the product can benefit its users and the company providing it. At the same time, we should be critical of our ideas, and constantly ask ourselves: “Why would anybody want to use our product? Why should the company invest in it?” We should carefully analyse the data obtained form users, customers, and other stakeholders to repeatedly test our ideas and assumptions, to check that we are on the right rack, and that it’s worthwhile to continue.

Passion and fun are important for an entrepreneur, as Julius Parrisius states in does lean startup have limitations?:

[A] risk (…) is the possibility to slowly but surely pivot away from your passion with every iteration through the BML [Build Measure Learn] cycle. Passion is the secret sauce that lets you go the extra step. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be very successful at it.

In the blog post why is lean startup so hard?, Giff Constable writes about the difficulties that people have when using lean startup ideas. One of the difficulties that he describes is “Don’t take away my fantasy”, about remaining open for information that challenges your intuition:

Vision is fun, and it is what drives us as founders and innovators. No one likes learning that they are wrong. It is human nature to procrastinate bad news. When you are happily designing and building product in the ivory tower, your vision is going to be 100% right, your customers are 100% happy (because there are none), and your business potential is untarnished.

Finding the motivation to define experiments, measure, and analyze the data can be difficult as Giff explains:

Lean startup takes scientific-method methods, but it is not pure. Variables will be tough to isolate. Results data will be unclear. Sample sizes will be small. It is easy to say, “since I’m having to use my judgement and gut anyway, why bother with all this testing?”

Ben Yoskovitz describes in analysis paralysis (and blaming lean startup) that you need to combine data with intuition and guts when using lean startup:

I get the feeling that entrepreneurs think that Lean Startup is sucking the guts out of startups. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No startup succeeds by simply following a methodology. There’s no formula for success. There are simply too many variables, most of which you cannot control. Your guts (or instincts) are crucial throughout the startup experience. You’ll make decisions on imperfect data (even following Lean Startup). You’ll have sudden sparks of inspiration and insight, connecting dots that no one else has in quite the same way, and have to execute on those sparks quickly. You’ll play your hunches.

People do their work better when they enjoy it, which is also true for lean startup as Kevin Dewalt explains in don’t let the lean startup process ruin the fun of entrepreneurship:

But the second reason [to work on startups] is to work on stuff that matters because I want to enjoy my work. By “Enjoy” I don’t just mean getting meaning from what I create – I also want to enjoy the journey of entrepreneurship.

Following a rigorous process of Customer Development minimizes the risks – provided that we don’t get so frustrated that we quit working on it. When I’m frustrated I remind myself – adhering to the optimal startup process isn’t the goal – success is the goal.

Ho do you combine the usage of hard data with intuition, guts, feelings, passion, inspiration and fun in your lean startup?

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