Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking | Jeff Gothelf

Summary of: Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking: What You Really Need to Know to Build High-Performing Digital Product Teams
By: Jeff Gothelf

Introduction

Dive into the world of Lean, Agile and Design Thinking methodologies with Jeff Gothelf’s ‘Lean vs. Agile vs. Design Thinking.’ Discover the complexities and distinct features of each approach as they relate to building high-performing digital product teams. Gain a comprehensive understanding of the Agile philosophy and its response to the uncertainties in software development, and find out how Lean Start-Up focuses on MVPs and customer behavior. Explore the unique aspects and downfalls of Design Thinking, which emphasizes the customers’ perspectives and needs in the business process. Throughout this summary, you’ll uncover best practices and techniques for combining these methodologies to achieve success in the digital world.

The Conundrum of Methodologies

The Negative Effects of Differing Approaches in Tech Teams, Product Teams, and Design Teams

In today’s business world, every internal group has its approach to delivering high-quality digital products. However, these varying methodologies often have clashing outcomes and incentives. Engineers merely focus on getting features completed and out quickly, sometimes with a disregard for customer needs. Product managers prioritize tasks based on intuition and the influential voices of business stakeholders but not customers. Designers create product concepts but sometimes lack a grounding in their practicality.

Agile, Lean Start-Up, and Design Thinking were created to provide solutions to specific business problems. However, over time these methodologies have become increasingly standardized and rigid in practice. Firms use Agile mainly to deliver excellent code quickly and efficiently, but they overlook other essential components of successful digital products. Lean Start-Up focuses on the concept of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), resulting in most companies producing a series of phase I products with no further refinement or development. Design Thinking, intended to inject the customers’ perspective in every aspect of the business, has become sequestered with design teams only. The outcome is creative work that lacks buy-in or input from other sectors of the business, rendering it feeble in the real world.

Therefore, the use of streamlined methodologies might not always be the best option to achieve business success. The optimal approach is to adopt a more fluid system where each team member can communicate and understand each other’s priorities and goals. This way, the collective strengths of all teams can be harnessed, and the outcome would be a better digital product that meets the customers’ overall desires and company goals.

Agile Philosophy for Software Development

The Agile philosophy was formulated to tackle the uncertainties that adversely affect software development. It aims to manage the complexity of problems that engineers must solve by dividing work cycles into short sprints. The teams pause to assess their accomplishments and learnings before deciding to move forward or pivot. Agile values responding to change rather than sticking to a plan. With advent of DevOps, engineers are now shipping code to customers continuously, which allows for rapid cycles of feedback and hence increases the value of the Agile approach. However, deploying Agile at scale poses immense challenges with feedback pouring in from 100 teams as opposed to just five or ten. These challenges are being addressed by the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), which is however not fully capable of incorporating the needs, contributions and concerns of other arms of the organization.

Overlooked Philosophy of Lean Start-Up

The overlap between Lean Start-Up and Agile methodologies is their preference for short experimentation and assessment cycles. For Lean Start-Up, the deciding factor should be customer behavior, signaling demand and investment potential. However, most businesses limit the Lean Start-Up approach to building Minimum Viable Products (MVPs), using it as a substitute for project Phase I. They ignore the philosophy of Lean, which rewards managers who experiment, learn from failure, and build on uncertainty. Instead, most managers use Lean to prove the concept once and follow an unaltered path forward. Even the companies with dedicated “innovation labs” seldom establish a clear strategy for integrating the trial results for the mainstream market.

Creating Customer-Centered Solutions

The Design Thinking approach emphasizes customer needs and encourages brainstorming of multiple innovative ideas, resulting in actionable solutions. However, many companies lack a culture of customer-focused empathy, leading to the dismissal of Design Thinking outcomes. The key is to ask if ideas solve real customer problems. Without a clear idea from brainstorming, the Design Thinking process may fail during the project’s duration. Understanding the customer’s core need is essential for Design Thinking success.

Iterative Improvement

The key to implementing efficient trial-and-error processes lies in frequent retrospectives and gradual, incremental steps. The use of outside facilitators is also encouraged. It is essential to identify successful systems within one’s team and replicate them while discarding or improving those that fail. A rigid approach to agile, lean, or design thinking practices is less important than remaining adaptable and flexible to new, productive approaches. The book emphasizes customizing practices to fit individual teams and brand values.

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