We have talked a lot about what an MVP is and what it looks like. We have even talked about “iterating”, or building better MVPs as you get new information through testing. What we haven’t discussed in detail is how to do the actual iterating. The key to success in entrepreneurship is the same to surviving in the wild; if you are lean and agile, you thrive. If you aren’t both, you are prey.
“Lean startup” and “agile development” are phrases that have been used so excessively and haphazardly that they have almost lost all meaning. The terms have even been used interchangeably, which is incorrect. While the two processes are often used in tandem, it is still two separate and distinct processes.
This post will answer the question of HOW to iterate your MVP to find your best possible product through lean startup practices and agile development, and how they can work together. Pay attention, because after this post will come the only test that matters; whether you can iterate your way to success.
Lean Startup is about building your business and understanding your customers through a repeating, scientific process. When we talk about about learning what your customers want, whether your product will address that problem, and whether your customers will pay for that product, we are talking about the lean startup process.
It is very simple. You begin by arriving at a few key hypotheses. Be sure to limit the number of hypotheses you are testing because if you do too many you will never be able to craft a series of tests to address all of them. When you identify your issues, devise a series of experiments that test your hypotheses. Be sure to identify clear and measurable metrics that will clearly express the results of each test. Then you build a version of your product that can be put through the tests you identify. After you conduct the tests, you review the results and either change your hypotheses accordingly if the tests show you were incorrect or find a new batch of hypotheses to test.
This process should seem familiar to you because we have alluded to it in the past. The low fidelity MVP is your first set of hypotheses in a lean startup process, the high fidelity MVP your next set. The lean startup method is how your MVPs make sense and how you devise them in the first place.
Agile Development is about building your product, especially when that product is software or a website. Traditionally, products were developed according to the waterfall process. You had to develop the entire prototype, with all of its features, all at once. This process could take months, cost massive amounts of funds, and represent a significant emotional investment. If and when the product is released and fails, the results could be devastating for your business.
Agile Development was devised to mitigate that risk through a series of incremental development. By focusing on individual features through development, and then testing those features for bugs and usability you can avoid overinvestment in faulty or misaligned products. By running a series of “sprints” you still get to the completed product around the same time you would have completed the product through the waterfall process, but with agile development you can be confident that the product is error free with high usability.
Again, this should sound familiar to you, as we have been advocating this sort of process before. We have spoken in prior posts about focusing on single issues and developing them one at a time. Agile development is how you do that.
So you can be lean. You can be agile. But if you want to be successful you need to be both, because only by being both can you achieve an entrepreneur’s true power; speed. Speed is what makes or break a business because it lets you out maneuver your larger, slower competitors. The large volume, incremental releases demanded by the agile method directly supports the crucial lean goal of customer development. With each small iteration of your MVP you release under the agile method allows you gain the lessons, the assumption validation, and the mitigation of risk that the lean process absolutely requires.
So while the agile and lean methods are distinct, different processes, the goals and methods of the two have a symbiotic relationship. Using these two processes properly together is the only way to find your product’s market fit.
Rise to the top of your industry’s food chain by being lean and agile – don’t be anyone’s prey.
Originally published March 30, 2017, updated June 18, 2019