The lean way to learn fast

“I like to get involved in different businesses, whether it’s Biotech, restaurants, a consulting company because although they’re different industries, the process is really the same – you validate the market, build a team and scale it – that’s the structure of business.“

Michael Khuwattanasenee, Master of Technological Futures graduate, Co-Founder of BioLab, Serial Entrepreneur

We all have ideas. Some good, some great, some not worth sharing. But knowing how to sift the proverbial wheat from the chaff is key to helping refine your ability to develop high-quality ideas.

In a bygone era (not all that long ago), the standard approach to acting upon a reliable insight or assumption was to flesh it out in a full-blown, multi-page business plan. Hours upon hours spent writing a compendium that showed you’d dotted all your I’s and crossed all your T’s, only for no one to ever read all those carefully researched details.

For the entrepreneur and ideas person, it’s more important to get traction and buy-in early, and fast, so you’re able to validate whether it’s worth spending more time and energy on that lightbulb moment. So in a fast-paced, innovation-led environment, the quickest path to creating new, customer-centric solutions is to use a leaner approach. Lean Validation is one tool that most entrepreneurs turn to when the penny drops on a fresh way to do things.

Lean into it

Lean validation is really a concise business plan on a page and there’s plenty of ways to do it. At Tech Futures Lab, we introduce all our students to what we call the ‘Half-Baked Lean Canvas’ – a short quick one pager that captures ‘The What’, ‘The Who’, ‘The How’ and ‘The Why’ as fast as you can put it down. It’s instinctual and allows you to act upon an insight or an informed idea. But it doesn’t ask you to labour over the finer details. If in the end, your Half-Baked Lean Canvas feels like it’ll never be fully baked, it can be put to the side.

Innovation Director at Tech Futures Lab, Taurean Butler, believes Lean validation and specifically Lean testing “challenges us to take action, learning about the idea and testing its feasibility.” He regularly puts his students through the paces of creating a Half-Baked Lean Canvas, asking them to consider what needs to be done if the idea needs to be in market in 30 days or 60 days.

“It forces you to ask, what do I need to make this happen, what do I not know enough about and where are the biggest hurdles?” What he loves most about the Lean methodologies is that it “acknowledges that we will never have all the answers and by the time we do, the market has likely changed.” If you complete your Half-Baked Lean Canvas and the idea still feels right, it’ll be worth continuing to round out more details using a full Lean Canvas which includes a little more thought about the Unique Value Proposition, the Unfair Advantage and the Cost Structures.

A really good Lean Canvas will be a concise, effective one-pager and all you need to get investors or partners interested for more.

Access for all

Lean validation compacts time and allows for rapid extrapolation to ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ an idea, and get stakeholder, investor or management buy-in for further exploration.

But the lean validation method is not just about speed, it’s also about accessibility. Anyone should be able to do a quick validation on their idea, no matter their access to finance. For entrepreneurs, the barriers to moving on an idea have to be low, otherwise, those ideas that actually shift the dial for the disadvantaged may never come to fruition.

Validate, Build, Scale

Once you’ve got your Lean Canvas, and some interest, it’s time to start to build the dream. Low-fidelity prototyping is one low-risk, low-cost approach to creating the thing and getting it in front of your market for feedback. For our Master of Technological Futures students, this can be the most exciting yet terrifying part of the process.

Low-fi prototyping often requires nothing more than pen and paper, especially when developing digital tool and app ideas. This low-fi method also means you can talk with your target users about expectations around function and cost – these discussions can open up new previously unseen opportunities, so be prepared to pivot.

Give it a go

The lean validation method is a tried and tested process that entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers wouldn’t do without. In today’s environment, where speed to market with well designed elegant solutions to pressing problems is essential, it’s a shortcut to making ideas a reality. Technology does not stand still and so neither should the way its ideas be developed.

Get your ideas out of your head and onto a lean canvas.

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