Slow and steady doesn't typically win the innovation race. Which is why many startups and businesses are choosing to build leaner and leaner - valuing efficiency above all else. This can make for some rapid-fire decision making: Test. Fail. Pivot. Re-test. Repeat.

Lean startups strive to push through the manufacturing feedback loop as quickly as possible, in the hopes of reaching a  successful market launch, but often at the expense of building a product with character. By character I simply mean a product or service that a user becomes emotionally attached to and tells a compelling story.

Finding the lean sweet spot

I'm not advocating that you ignore the pillars of the lean method - far from it. But I would urge you to slow the process down a hair so you don't get lost in the weeds of the method, ignoring what really matters: your end users.

There is a lot of talk in product development about identifying your minimum viable product (MVP), which is the simplest form of your idea as presented to early adopters. Startups sometimes make the mistake of conflating MVP and prototyping into one stage to save time, but you have to remember that you're already in the market when you present your MVP. If you haven't prototyped extensively to make sure your idea taps into a user's emotional needs, your MVP will fall flat.

Rapid prototyping can actually save you time and investment in the long run by narrowing in on only the most crucial features of your product and eliminating unnecessary  complex builds. You also gain perspective on the messaging that resonates most with your target user, and increase your chances of creating a solid base of loyal, raving fans.

So how do you zero in your customer's needs? If you're not a marketer by trade, how can you craft a compelling narrative that positions your product the most ideal way in the eyes of your users? Character is born from empathy.

Ask the right questions

Lean testing is not about sticking your app in front of a user and asking "so what do you think?". Remove yourself from the equation first and get to know the real person at the other end of your prototype.

What are their goals and ambitions? What frustrates and challenges them? How can your product make their life easier? And don't just ask these questions in relation to your app, ask them broader questions to get to know your buyer more deeply.

Get your story straight

Storytelling  builds empathy and rapport.  Studies have shown that the listener of a story tends to sync up brain activity with the speaker, indicating a strong empathetic connection. If your story comes from a real place and is relatable to the intended user, you'll be able to bake it in to your product through  messaging.

You do this by starting with your company's purpose and position, but getting to know the people actually using it. Only by talking to them will you begin to pick up on tone and hear those magic emotion words, gently dig deeper.

Finding out what's on the other side of those feelings, can often lead you to a pot of gold. Zappos did this by creating an easy return option to assuage a customer's fear of not looking good in the product.

It's a good practice in any business to be empathetic from the top down - with employees, colleagues, customers and so forth. If your company is known for building amazing tech, that can get you pretty far. But if you're also known for having that spark that connects you with your customers where they live, you'll have global staying power.

That's what building lean products with character is all about. Taking the principles of the lean methodology and sprinkling in a human touch that might slow things down at points, but will result in a quicker rise when you're in the market. 

Published on: Feb 19, 2016