What is Lean Thinking?
“Lean thinking defines value as providing benefit to the customer; anything else is waste.” — Eric Ries
Testing, like Lean thinking is a mindset. Both are required to achieve a practice of continuous improvement. Consider how you “provide benefit to the customer”. The last work decision you made: was it to prioritize one piece of work over another, change a certain feature, or tweak your marketing messaging? How did you make that decision? And most importantly, how did you know that what you decided is what the customer actually wants?
Testing is the vehicle through which the accumulation of experience, insight, education and the constant reassessment of our assumptions allows us to better understand our target across all facets of their journey, first as a buyer and then a customer. It’s the method of eliminating waste by approaching our work with a curious, humble, and methodical mindset. These three key characteristics power the testing mindset needed to achieve continuous improvement.
Do you fully understand your customers? Their likes, dislikes, preferences, and behavior as it relates to their experience with your business? If you answered, “yes”, you should probably test that assumption. Customers are complex, and the motivations behind their buying decisions are never as simple as they might appear to be.
Lean thinking teaches us to test everything we think we know. If we think we understand something about our customers, we should always ask why: Why am I confident about this? What data do I have that supports my hypothesis? These assumptions about our prospects and our customers is just that — a hypothesis. And like all hypotheses, ours are meant to be tested and retested as conditions change.
Practicing Lean thinking requires a genuine curiosity to better understand why prospects and customers make certain decisions. This enables us to influence that behavior while optimizing their experience with us. It’s tempting to want to begin by testing what we don’t know — but you’ll be better served by first testing what you think you are sure of. You will find valuable insights in understanding the current situation of your customers and why they behave as they do. These insights will help you to develop sound hypotheses, and will lead to new questions that need answers. We must assume nothing, and be curious about everything.
To achieve an unprecedented speed of innovation requires an unyielding focus on and curiosity about the customer.
Testing allows for taking calculated risks and learning from success, failure, and neutrality. But as an organization, you have to be willing to admit that you don’t know what will work for your customers, and be prepared to fail quickly to find out.
Lean thinking encourages failing fast through quick feedback loops. When initiatives are broken down into small testable increments, you’re able to quickly understand what aspects of an initiative serve your customers and what aspects need retooling. You will gain key insights about your customers’ behavior by learning what works and where to invest your resources, while building an initiative that, in its entirety, will have eliminated anything that’s not valuable to the end user.
In many businesses today, the prevailing determination for how work is prioritized and completed resides largely in an individual or team’s confidence in their own opinions. When we submit to our own biases, we disregard the real problem, and risk giving the customer something they don’t want or need. More critically, we fail to recognize and address what it is that the customer might actually be looking for.
A methodical approach to testing allows us to self-regulate against personal or group bias. It allows us to separate what we believe from what the data actually says, allowing us to establish an impartial mechanism through which we can understand customer behavior.
Following both the scientific method and Lean principles, we can more effectively learn about our customers by designing experiments to test their behaviors, measure how they react and disseminate those insights across the business. This process enables us to continually optimize the customer experience at every touchpoint.
Conclusion: Never Stop Testing
The continuous delivery of value requires measured continuous improvement. If we assume that we can continually deliver value, without fail, based on instinct alone, we are making a decision to limit the value we can provide our customers. But when we think of testing, like Lean, as a mindset before a practice, we open up avenues for improvement that haven’t yet been unearthed. By pushing ourselves to be curious in discovery, humble in knowledge, and methodical in approach we can master how to test what we know, and learn what we’ve yet to uncover.