Have you heard of the Lean Startup? If you’ve been reading up on entrepreneurship, or you’re interested in getting into software, you’ve probably been unable to avoid it. It’s a philosophy about how to build and launch products that people actually want to use. The basic premise is:
Make something tiny. Launch it. Get feedback from your intended audience. Do it again. Gradually iterate your tiny product into a bigger, more comprehensive product over time. Don’t spend a year putting together something in isolation until you think it’s perfect, and then launch it to the world expecting it to resonate with your intended audience. It probably won’t.
This also happens to be my preferred way of designing software. I think Lean Startup methodology is great at its core. It’s smart, it’s efficient, it’s wise. It’s also FULL of jargon and totally intimidating to non-tech people. I find all the startup people walking around talking about how “lean” their companies are to be really… annoying. And alienating.
Let me Explain
Startup jargon drives me crazy. Every time someone says “we use lean startup methodology,” or “we had to pivot,” or the biggest doozy, “We want to disrupt the __ industry,” I die a little inside. Jargon exists to separate people. It’s like a secret handshake to keep insiders on the inside. It’s a barrier that reinforces to “non-tech people” (aka people who are experts in something other than software and are using software to expand their impact, aka my favoritest people in the world to work with) that they don’t belong in software. And that’s BS.
I work with people every day who are deep experts in something, whether it’s urban design, or diversity in higher education, or battery efficiency. They’re not experts in technology, but they’re using the medium of software to amplify their expertise. They’re taking a career’s worth of research and turning it into algorithms that can reproduce solutions to specialized problems accurately and efficiently. This is the kind of technology and the kind of technologists we need more of — regardless of whether or not they speak the lingo.
There’s a Better Way
Which is why I had an Aha moment last night while reading Tara Mohr’s Playing Big. Tara is an author/coach/magician who teaches women how to make their voices heard in career and life. A part of that is teaching women how to launch products, businesses, and projects. Rather than bombarding readers with a bunch of “lean startup” talk, she frames the product launch process as a series of small leap actions.
Tara’s description of a leap action:
So essentially Tara is saying:
Revise your deliverable, revise your question, and re-leap, again and again. See? We can totally talk about these things without using words like “waterfall” or “agile” or the D-word. Framing the product-launching process as leaps feels like a breath of fresh air to me. It’s language I can connect with. It engages my senses — feeling adrenaline, feeling fear — and my intention — to learn and observe.
Leap vs. Lean — who cares?
Why does it matter at all whether or not you connect with the concept of leap vs lean? It’s just semantics, right? I don’t think so. For all the talk we talk about being “lean,” I have met very few software companies, large or small, that walk their talk when it comes to prioritizing learning and user feedback. There’s always something else that seems to better deserve the budget or the time, or the dev resources. This reluctance we all feel when it comes to getting feedback from actual users — it’s real, and it’s pandemic. And “lean methodology” doesn’t seem to hit us in the gut enough to make us actually put it into practice. So maybe it’s about time we start looking for a methodology that does.
Want help making a leap with your software? I can help. As always, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have a question or just want to say “hey.”
About our blog:
This blog (like Flock) was formed to amplify the voices of underrepresented technologists and help all of us fly higher together.