Janice Fraser is clear on what Lean Startup is. She’s equally clear on what it isn’t. Fittingly, Fraser’s session at Intuit’s Create the Offering Forum, an annual gathering of product development, product management, and experience design employees, began by trimming the fat from the preconceptions about Lean Startup. Eric Ries authored The Lean Startup which provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.

Fraser is a pioneer in the field of design as well as a serial entrepreneur. She was cofounder and CEO of Adaptive Path, focusing on design as strategy. Today she is the CEO of LUXr and is writing the book on lean design.

Fraser talked to Intuit employees about how designing for emotion and connecting the dots between people, methodology and outcome can make Lean Startup efforts more effective.

What Lean Startup is not

It’s not cheap. In fact, it has nothing to do with money at all. It’s about efficiency. In a Lean Startup context, when someone invents the next new thing there is uncertainty. Uncertainty is reduced by performing small experiments and obtaining real customer feedback. Iterations such as that reduce waste and increase efficiency.

It’s not fast. Experiments often tell that you’re wrong. Pay attention to the signs that you’re wrong, because you can get really far down the road of a bad product if you never test what you’re doing. Course corrections take time.

It’s not a shortcut. Instincts and intuition signify when engineers are right, so they push to manifest that vision as quickly as possible. That’s a shortcut. Fraser’s take is to use the learn-measure–build formula. These can be done in and order and even done backward to go forward.

Is there room for emotion in Lean Startup?

JaniceFraserWhen there’s a high value placed on efficiency, it’s natural to ask where the emotion comes in. Emotions can be downright messy and inconvenient. She poses the question, “How do we design for emotional impact when everything we do is about rational experimentation?”

Her answer was a piece of cake.

June, who’s trying to find the perfect wedding cake, realizes her fiancé hates her favorite recipe. So she has him taste-test some cupcakes. He loves the cake part, but hates the pink flowers. Now June has learned something valuable, and goes back to the bakery. Cake No. 2 is still a hit in the taste department, so they’ve validated their findings. Although her fiancé loves the swirled texture on the cupcake, he still hates the color pink. So June and her baker develop a pure white, textured cake. It’s unique. It’s classy. It’s quirky. It’s interesting and they designed it together.

The search for meaning

Fraser believes designers try to inject humanity into the product to find something that means something important to somebody. The value proposition is “Where your business vision intersects with a real person in the real world and their real needs.”

“I want to design for meaning,” Fraser said. “I don’t just mean aesthetics or experience. I mean the entire role of that product in a person’s life. What does this product mean for one person? We have to look at people one at a time.”

As an example, Fraser referred to a pair of gun range headphones she bought for $10. Whether in her busy workplace, or writing her book at a coffee house, she is in constant need of quiet concentration. She tried the $300 Bose sound-cancelling headphones, but they didn’t work as well for her as the $10 ones. This is proof, to her, that the feature game – putting features into a product to meet what we think are the customer’s needs — doesn’t matter.

Get strong to get lean

Lean Startup also means throwing away everything that doesn’t help create meaning for one customer at a time. To be able to make hard decisions and step away from the feature game, means having a strong team.

“Most of your decisions as a team will be wrong,” Fraser said. “It takes resilience to keep coming back from wrong decisions. But flexible teams can solve almost any problem. Teams must start with courage, because it takes courage to get to effective communication, trust, simplicity, solutions, feedback and continuous improvement.”

It makes the repeated cycle of “fail fail fail, succeed” much easier to bear.

Along with this assertion, Fraser challenges: “How can we together build something greater than ourselves that has meaning for one person?”

Photo: Janice Fraser of LUXr discusses Lean Startup at Intuit’s Create the Offering Forum.