Become a continuously learning team and organisation.
A continously learning team is constantly improving their products and services. There are 4 steps to continuous learning:
- Define the current problem you’re trying to solve, and the thing you’re trying to learn. This step is often called LEARN. The things you’re trying to learn might be ‘our riskiest assumptions’ For example: We need to learn more about what users like about our competitor products. What do users see as alternatives to our product or service?
- Build the simplest thing you can in order to learn. Release this simplest thing somewhere where you can test it. This step is often called BUILD. In our example, we don’t need to build anything, but we do need to identify alternatives to our product or service. We could do this by looking at existing online reviews – what do reviewers see as alternatives? In our case we haven’t publicly launched the Focust product yet, but we started showing usable versions of the product to potential customers after 2 months of development.
- Now MEASURE. and test it often by putting it in front of customers. For example, Do they understand it? Can they use it? what do they do with it? When do they find it useful? Conduct tests and gather evidence based on the thing you made – has it helped you learn about the problem you’re trying to solve in step 1, and have you been able to learn more about the thing you’re trying to learn? In our example – For competitor products or services, recruit users. We might use a local library, our own product or service, Twitter, or recruit users through a professional agency. How do users solve the problem that your product solves? What do they find really useful? What things annoy them? In your conversation with them, you’re mostly listening, and asking questions that are open (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions). Probe their answers if you don’t understand (‘Tell me more about….’)
- Record results and repeat from step 1, redefining the thing you’re trying to learn based on what you now know.
Deliver more value, more quickly.
It’s hard to publish things, to let them exist in the real world. To put things in front of users sooner, not later. If you look at your organisation, does it encourage putting things out quickly and gathering feedback, or do its processes currently encourage slower movement.
If we release early and often, we get used to releasing our work into the world. Keeping releases early and often makes a release smaller:
- You can get feedback from real users more quickly.
- You spend less time waiting for testing to be completed, because the amount of new stuff you’re testing is only a small change since the last release.
- You can gather feedback from real users more quickly, because you’re showing them a thing.
In the case of Focust, we have made just over 300 releases in 9 months, that’s more than 1 release per day. There’s no signoff or approval process required because each release is such a small change from the last release. The worst that will happen? We need to undo a release and use an older version.
Prioritise talking with customers every week, and analysing evidence from them.
Talk with them about their needs from the product or service the team delivers. You’re often looking for the underlying causes and issues…..the answers to ‘why?’, their answers with phrases like ‘so that’ and ‘because’. An additional priority is analysing these conversations, and analysing other evidence. For example, there is often a difference between what someone says and what they do. Analytics from a website you run might tell you what customers are doing, a conversation with those customers will hopefully tell you WHY they are doing it.
In some of our best performing teams, we speak to customers every day. Each month we’re focussed on a particular set of customers, so that we learn about the needs and problems of that group in detail, and we learn in detail about how our products and services might be needed, useful and valuable to that kind of customer.
Build products and services and content that users value.
Once you’ve put ideas in front of customers, and you’re having regular conversations with customers or potential customers about their problems, needs and the things they value, then its much easier to identify opportunities to improve your products and services.
We’ve build products for a variety of companies – startups, Government departments, the BBC and others. In our experience, the most-loved AND the most valuable products are the ones where the team has really listened and understood the needs of their customers.