It is often stated that a great Agile and lean principle is to deliver fast, in order to learn very soon what the end user really wants. The same principle tells us that we’d better fail fast than spend much time developing a solution that will eventually not satisfy the end user. All this is very nice, as soon as it does not lead us to simply give up fast.
What the user wants or what you want the user to want?
Of course, we can never be sure about what the users really want until we deliver something to the real world. But delivering fast should help us adapt our strategy, and not simply giving up our idea. If your first try is a failure, try to understand why. Why did it not meet the audience. And can you do something about it? I am pretty sure that we can do a lot, because by getting to know the end user, we can get him to like our product.
The relation between a vendor and the end user does not have only one direction: the user is not the only one who will decide the fate of the vendor’s product. That is why marketing exists: it helps us communicating towards the end user. When you create a product, one efficient marketing strategy is to create a buzz around this product. Creating the buzz is to make everybody aware that something is being prepared, and that this thing IS important, for the simple fact that there is a buzz around it. You can call it a lie. You are perhaps not wrong, and if you have read “The Prince” by Machiavelli, you should know that you can influence people without them noticing that.
A simple rule is that you must prepare your plan upfront. Fail fast is not about starting the battle without preparation. You have to study the market, build a strategy, and then deliver soon, to test your strategy. Then, you will have to adapt that strategy. But it is much easier to adapt a plan than to start the battle without any plan. If you deliver fast, and you notice that you are failing, you must try to find why, and how can you react: improve your marketing strategy? Adapt the product? Do both?
There are several possible ways to solve the problem. But do not think straight away that because you missed your target the first time you should drop your product. Marketing, communication, are tools that can also help you. Because intial failure is not defeat: the only failure is when you finally loose. But as long as the battle is not finished, continue to attack the problem from all angles! An analogy can be drawn with boxing.
Lean startup is a fight sport
During preparation a fight, a boxer will train hard, and study his opponent. He will try to gather the maximum amount of information about his opponent. He will study all the details: how he moves, what are his strengths, his weaknesses, what is his mental state… everything! He will be obsessed by him. And with his coach, he will build a strategy, based on what he knows about him. All the preparation for the fight will be to prepare this strategy, and be able to apply it. But when the fight begins, if he gets dominated during the first rounds, he will have to quickly adapt the strategy or even completely change it! If he loses the first round, he will not leave the ring and just say:” Sorry, you win, I quit, I am lean”.
Behaving like this is the exact contrary of being lean. Being lean is about fighting, learning, adapting. But even if the boxer is lead to completely change his strategy during a fight, he has to begin the fight with one strategy. And he has to know everything about his opponent. That’s why I think that big upfront study and design is not necessarily a bad thing as soon as we are aware that this design can be completely changed at a later stage of the product life. We have to know what we want to propose to the end user, and then learn how to propose it. Ultimately, we will perhaps have to adapt it, completely change or, in the very last issue, drop it. But failure should not be made easy.