Understanding Lean Product Management and How It's Applied to Product Design
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According to Harward Business Review “72% of all new products don’t meet their revenue targets”. Another study says that in 2021, the failure rate of startups was around 90%. The same research concludes that 21.5% of startups fail in the first year, 30% in the second year, 50% in the fifth year, and 70% in their 10th year. Seems like most product companies are doing something wrong… They invest significant time, money, and human resources in product development, but still over time it turns out that their offerings don’t interest the audience much.
One of the reasons for such alarming statistics is the fact that organizations don’t have a tool to determine the viability of their business model, can’t figure out if they implement functionality that customers will use, and are not sure whether the solution is well-designed or it requires some improvements.
One approach that has gained popularity in recent years and can help you learn if you’re implementing the right ideas is lean product management. We at Eleken UI/UX design agency had many chances to work with startups that apply the lean methodology to their work. And we can state that the lean production process with its customer centricity, the culture of transparency, the need for constant improvement, and iteration always favorably influences the successful outcome.
Therefore, in order to help more product managers adopt this approach in their teams, in this post, we’ll explain what lean product management is, how you can use it to improve your product management process, and how it can be used in product design.
What is lean product management?
Lean product management is a strategy that helps product managers focus on what’s important and eliminates waste of time, resources, as well as efforts during the whole product’s life cycle. It’s a way of thinking that allows you to move fast and stay agile, while still delivering valuable products to your customers.
The key to lean product management methodology is to build something only when you have a validated idea that will solve a problem for your customer. This means eliminating product features, tasks, and processes that don’t provide value. Instead, the goal is to focus on customers’ wants and needs.
The main principles of lean methodology are as follows:
- Eliminate waste: Remove anything from the process that doesn't add value for the customer.
- Maximize flow: Keep the process moving so that products are created as quickly and efficiently as possible.
- Respect people: Respect your team and their time, knowledge, and abilities.
- Pursue perfection: Continuously strive to improve the process and the product.
What is so special about lean product managers?
The common product development process isn’t built to regularly put customer needs over the company’s internal requirements. A lot of businesses don’t have a clearly defined process for prioritizing their product roadmaps. As the result, they base their decisions to create new features on the stakeholders’ opinions and personal assumptions that are not backed by any solid customer data.
Instead of putting users in the first place, typical product managers often care more about the needs of the marketing department, sales department, stakeholders, and other important people within the company. This way, while gathering requirements from internal teams it’s very likely that the real needs of customers would be ignored.
In contrast, lean managers always strive to maximize customer value first (which consequently facilitates maximizing stakeholders’ value). Say you're a product manager working on a new project. In order to adhere to the lean product management methodology, you would:
- start with identifying and understanding your customer's problems by talking to them and analyzing their feedback
- make sure that internal teams understand users' challenges, and together you would create a solution for this problem
- and finally, you would validate the solution with real customers.
This process can be applied to any stage of product development, from ideation to delivery. And while it may take a little bit of time to get used to, the benefits are well worth it. Lean management can help you achieve faster timelines, increased customer engagement, and improved product quality.
How can I apply lean management?
Lean product management is not a specific process or a set of steps. Rather, it's a way of thinking that you can apply to any process. There are certain concepts and tools that lie at the heart of lean methodology and applying which is essential for ensuring product success at each stage of its lifecycle.
Lean startup is aimed at delivering products to customers using a short amount of time and the least possible amount of resources. This way business founders can quickly evaluate the viability of their business model at the initial stages of the product lifecycle without much funding, or complex business strategies.
Those who adhere to the lean startup methodology always gather customer feedback while creating a new product, which often requires designing a minimum viable product (MVP).
The cornerstones of lean startup methodology are:
Customer development methodology assumes that aspiring business owners have untested assumptions about who their customers are, what functionality they expect to see, what pricing model to use, how to grow business, and so on. And it’s impossible to check if their assumptions are correct internally, without leaving the company. Therefore, the customer development model encourages you to “get outside the building” and test your hypotheses on real customers.
The customer development framework consists of four steps:
Validated learning (Build-Measure-Learn)
Validated learning is an approach that helps you quickly determine if your chosen direction is working well. To quickly validate or dismiss some of your business assumptions there are the validated learning loops that consist of three stages: build, measure, learn.
First of all, you build something really cheap and fast and give it to a selected number of people, then you measure their feedback (what they like and dislike about it), and finally, you learn what you can change about the product. You have to go over this cycle many times.
Innovation accounting is a method to evaluate the success or failure of innovation projects before you’ll be able to use common financial metrics like ROI or revenue.
The reason startups should implement innovation accounting is that when your product is at the stage when you test and validate ideas, financial indicators are not enough to understand if you succeed, as they don’t provide sufficient data. Therefore, you should combine innovation and financial accounting.
Some innovation accounting metrics are customer feedback, conversion rate, referral rate, number of website visitors, the average price paid by each user, willingness to pay a premium price, retention rate, and so on.
The next essential part of lean product management is ideation. It’s a process of finding appropriate solutions for your customers’ challenges. It helps you to find out if the product you’re going to create can solve users’ problems, and whether your solution will bring value to your customers. One of the most important aspects of ideation is ideas prioritization.
Product ideation is mostly connected to the exploration of your target audience and market.
The exploration aspect of lean management is about finding evidence that your customers care about certain jobs, pains, and gains. That is, it’s about finding a problem-solution fit.
Product exploration includes identifying the target audience and their needs, defining the product’s value proposition, creating a lean canvas, and so on.
For lean product managers it’s very important to make sure the product fits the market. To identify the correct product-market fit they talk with a target audience to gather their feedback, research competitors to know their strengths and weaknesses, and monitor trends within their industry.
Therefore, one more thing that differentiates traditional product management from lean is the fact that lean product managers don’t blindly try to push the product forward, but know where to slow down the pace, stop or pivot.
Lean managers spend a lot of time building business and product strategies. They often sick for innovative and flexible approaches that can help the product stand out on the market and drive more sales.
Lean product strategy determines the essence of a solution you’re going to create, the target audience that will use it, the product’s value proposition, how you’re going to overcome competition, how the product helps you meet business goals, and go-to-market strategy.
Besides, building a product strategy is beneficial for companies that want to scale.
Scale is about ensuring the product is still viable in the constantly changing market. As a lean manager, you should think out how to properly grow the product, how to scale a product team and work out the details of a lean product roadmap.
Lean product management in action: our case studies of designing products using lean thinking
In this section, we'll use several cases from our experience as a SaaS product design agency to show you how lean product management applies to the product design process and helps us create beautiful and usable designs at various stages of the product life cycle.
Defining competitive advantage for Process Place
Process Place is a workflow management software that aims at clearing up messy processes. Eleken was hired to design a prototype of the tool. And as you may know, there are quite many services in the market that deal with projects and tasks. It was important to find something that would help Process Place stand out from similar solutions on the market. Therefore, we started our work with a competitive analysis.
While analyzing other process management tools and looking for their weak and strong points we’ve noticed that they were all complex and bulky. So, we defined an intuitive user interface as Process Place's competitive advantage.
Next, we talked to users to make sure they need an intuitive user interface. And our assumption was correct, as during the customer research we identified that one of the main issues people are facing is messy workflows.
Conducting market analysis and customer research gave us the possibility to design an app that heals users’ pain points.
User persona research for Handprinter
Handprinter is a unique startup that helps people track the positive impacts they make on the environment. They came to Eleken with the problem of onboarding new users. It was difficult for people to quickly understand the value this product brings, therefore they didn’t sign up actively.
In the best tradition of lean thinking, both Handprinter’s team and we understood that to design a product that people want to use, as well as inform our design decision, we should, first of all, learn who our target audience is.
By researching those who have registered on Handprinter.org, we identified three types of users and defined their main goals. Based on this information we were able to create an intuitive and simple user flow.
Feature prioritization for Prift
Our task for Prift, a personal finance platform, was to design a simple and minimalist MVP.
As an important part of lean methodology, the goal of the MVP is to create a product that brings users value and allows you to learn the needed information to manage risks and adjust your further steps to produce a better solution, using minimum resources. Therefore, it’s essential for future success to correctly define that minimum set of workable features.
We decided to prioritize features with the help of MoSCoW analysis. We wrote down a full list of features that could be included in Prift and then split them into four categories: must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have. As we were creating the minimum viable product we focused on the functionality from the “must-have” and “should-have” groups.
A lean methodology is a valuable tool that can be used to streamline product management practices. Applying the concepts of lean to product management and product design can help improve the efficiency of your product development process and result in products that people love and want to use.
Logistics Solution Design: How to Shape a Product That Connects Shippers with Carriers
In 2020, Eleken team started working on UX design for TendrX, a freight tendering platform. This is how we dived into the world of logistics. Despite being such a conservative industry, the logistics industry gives lots of space for innovative software solutions. Thanks to technological advances, freight management has become much more efficient than it was decades before. Yet, the situation is not perfectly smooth.
During the pandemic years, the logistics industry has gone through big growth interlaced with big challenges. Increased volumes, lack of drivers, supply chain vulnerabilities… And the list goes on and on. In this article, we’ll cover some of the current problems of the logistics industry and how digital solutions can help with them.
Lack of trust between carriers and shippers
How much do relationships between the parties weigh in a tender-based business? In the times when everything is automated and managed through online platforms, we assume that these relationships have lost their importance. Now that shippers can create a tender and set a deal without making a single call, how can relationships be a problem? Well, while automation formalizes those personal contacts, it brings new challenges.
People try to “hack” tender platforms just like any other system. To get more profit, carriers bid for tenders with lowered prices and then try to raise them when they win (unfairly). Responding to that, some shippers pick more carriers than they need and ultimately cancel agreements with the “extra” ones.
Naturally, there is a mistrust building up between the two sides. Fights for tenders ruin relationships between shippers and carriers that otherwise could have grown into fruitful collaborations. Good relationships become crucial when shippers need to contract carriers on a regular basis for a stable supply chain or when there is an urgent need for a transit that leaves no time for tenders.
We’ll get back to this issue later, but now let’s take a look at the others.
Is there any conversation of 21st-century industry problems that can be complete without mentioning ecological issues? This one is not an exception. Transportation accounts for 21% of all CO2 emissions, and freight contributes to around one-third of this amount.
The freight industry is one of the most significant sources of contamination in the world, but at the same time, humanity hasn't yet found a way to live without it.
There are various ways of addressing this problem, but the solution that is most likely to become adopted by logistics companies is the one that does not require an extra expense.
One of the most logical ways of decreasing emissions for the logistics industry is optimizing routes and filling empty return loads. Optimization has a lot more to it than just finding a shorter route. For example, UPS once found that avoiding left turns saves time and fuel. Since then, UPS drivers almost never turn left, even though sometimes it means taking a longer way.
To find the best route for numerous trucks, you need a more complex solution than Google Maps. Freight management systems use smart algorithms to find the best option. Some of them put sustainability as a central objective. For example, Greenplan calculates how the efficiency of shipment changes not only depending on the route, but also depending on the departure time.
The prices for fuel create tension even within world politics, but the logistics industry is even more sensitive to it. Nowadays when standards for delivery are rising and people get more and more used to “free delivery the next day”, similar processes are going on in the world of big freight. Both shippers and carriers are under the pressure to lower the prices while making the delivery faster.
Whenever a shipper places a tender, they receive only one quote from each carrier. They remain blind regarding the price dynamics. This insight resulted in Uber Freight introducing a new feature, Lane Explorer. This tool allows shippers to see what are the market-based rates on their lanes not only on a given date but also two weeks in advance.
Such a simple idea was realized with an elegant UI solution: the calendar with rates reminds us of the rates calendar that we see on flight booking websites: you can see which day the prices go lower.
As we can see from this example, digital solutions try to fight the above-mentioned issues by any means. Logistics management is well suited for automatization, as little improvements in the workflow can make a big (and easily measurable) difference in the overall company performance.
Here are a few pieces of advice that we can give to those who aim to improve user experience in logistics products, such as freight management systems (FMS), tender platforms, and so on.
Make communication between distant agents smooth
Logistics have experienced all the difficulties of remote work long before the rest of the world in 2020. In the freight industry, managers have to organize the work of warehouses located in different states and coordinate numerous drivers that are constantly moving all around the country or a continent.
To improve communication between these parties, many freight management systems now connect their drivers with GPS to a big network and give the managers a real-time view of the shipments. From the design point of view, this means that software needs to be usable not only on a big screen, but also on mobile or tablet directly from the truck. For instance, Optimise logistics, as well as many other FMS, have mobile versions of the app apart from the desktop one.
Collect and analyze data
The visualization of each truck’s route gives us an illusion of control. But then, what can we do with all this information? How to understand the efficiency of all the elements of logistics business when they are spread all over the country or world?
Logistics is all about optimization, and to make thoughtful decisions shippers have to analyze loads of data. Freight platform Convoy provides their clients with huge amounts of data, structured and analyzed. The dashboard of Convoy shows a range of facilities metrics, such as volume, incidentals, and median dwell time.
All this data can be filtered to highlight the most problematic ones, or shown in an elegant scatter plot that shows how the volume of facilities relates to final incidentals. Diving deeper into the masses of information gathered by Convoy, the shipper can find the causes of the incidentals and take measures to prevent them.
Tailor to different kinds of freight
When trying to automate as many processes as possible, it is easy to forget that the cargo is not only measured in weight and volume. There are many requirements for transportation conditions that vary depending on the kind of freight. Some need a special temperature regimen, others — extra protected containers, and so on.
With a large amount of freight procurement software on the market, some companies make customized logistics solutions. For instance, Shipsta, a freight procurement software, focuses on pharma, chemistry, and automotive industries. For clients who need something more specific, they would adapt their services for an additional fee.
Learn from real clients
As you already know, procurement management is not a “competition-free” niche, so there is no sense in building another platform that would be a little different from the others. However, when you are aware of the problems that clients face, you can create something that helps solve them better than the competitors do.
Let’s take as an example FreightTender. This is a platform for management of the whole tendering process, from freight sourcing to validating tender data and processing transactions. This product had seemingly everything that shippers and carriers needed for their work. However, there were some moments in this process that needed improvements.
That is how the idea of TendrX was born: a platform that helps shippers and carriers get to know each other and establish initial contact. This product is addressing the problem that we have mentioned previously, the lack of trust between the two, and provides an advanced logistics solution to it.
This platform complements FreightTender: before placing a tender, shippers make information requests to carriers, see their experience, working conditions, and so on. Based on this information, they shortlist the ones that seem more reliable and can invite them to participate in future tenders.
All the trusted carriers can be grouped, so that in the future, you can easily reach the ones that you can contact for a specific type of freight, for example.
TendrX aims to build relationships between carriers and shippers. How do people build relationships in the 21st century? Correct, through social networks. We didn’t have the ambition to build a new Facebook in the world of logistics, but we used the newsfeed structure so that users feel engaged.
To learn more about logistics solutions, read TendrX case study.
Invest in good UX
This advice works for logistics as well as for any other sector. However automated the processes are, human work is a key element. And to make it efficient, we need, you guessed it, good user experience.
Before you start developing a logistics solution, think about people who will be using it and how the product can make their lives easier. Want to talk about your logistics project? Contact us and let’s see what we can make together!
Using Design to Achieve Product Owner's Goals and Objectives
Although many people believe that designers love creating aesthetic images, what designers love most is finding a solution to a problem. Our UX design agency is focused on this: solving problems that the product team faces.
One of the key responsibilities of a product owner is to organize the work of designers and developers to make great products. Design can help achieve the main product owner’s goals and objectives. Today we’ll show how exactly it can be done with examples from our experience.
Let us tell you five stories about our clients to show you how design helped them at different stages of the product lifecycle – from discovery to redesign.
1. Figuring out what needs to be built (product discovery)
A typical startup founders garage band looks nothing like a balanced product team. Designer, researcher, engineer, product manager, owner, busyness analyst… No, a typical startup can consist of two engineers or one manager, or just one passionate professional who has a great idea.
In the case of Haven diagnostics, the founders are a physician and data scientist, and a developer. They had to perform the role of product owner without having all the experience and background needed. With our designer Aleksandra, they went through the stages of product discovery that otherwise might have been overlooked.
Haven diagnostics is a product that helps companies make office spaces safe and compliant with state regulations. It surged during the pandemic and needed to find its place in the dynamic situation.
We started with competitors’ research and went on to learn the needs of potential users. It was all on the virtual whiteboard: user pains, user goals, user questions, and insights. We found out that scheduled collaboration in the office and hybrid work schedules can fix some of the issues related to remote work efficiency and workplace safety.
Next, we conducted a two-factor analysis, trying to evaluate the desired features with two scales: difficulty and value. For a new product, it is crucial to avoid the desire to include all the functions and focus on the most effective and feasible.
The final stage of our brainstorming was developing a value proposition. We used Dr. Alexander Osterwalder’s Value Proposition Canvas. This tool helps to see customer pains and gains and the ways that the product can relieve those pains and be useful for people. It shows clearly how value proposition relates to the customer profile.
All of this motivated founders to conduct interviews with their customers to analyze the direction where the product should be moving. This is how founders/product owners got on the right pace of product design.
2. Building a prototype to show to investors
When you want someone to invest money in your project, the best you can do is to show that some work has already been done. Investors are visual animals, too, and quality mock-ups bring the pitch deck to the next level. Seeing one prototype is worth one hundred presentation slides.
Tromzo is a security app that helps find vulnerabilities in code. Similar to the previous case, the founders were developers who had to become product owners at the prototype stage when the team size did not allow for product owners.
When Tromzo founders came to us, all they had was the code. Together, we worked on creating a visual look of the pages that would make the product appealing to the investors. The main challenge was the time: we had to prepare it in one month.
Since the founders reflected the profile of potential users, they could afford to skip detailed user research at this stage. The idea and code are worth gold, but a good design is what truly makes the presentation shine and attract investments.
3. Evolving a prototype into an MVP
After the initial prototype is done and some user feedback is collected, the next product owner’s goal is to develop an MVP that users would love. Under this goal, there are various tasks: create good user flows, make the onboarding smooth to avoid bouncing, and provide all the essential features that users need.
Designers can help a lot with these tasks by applying best practices and design principles to develop an efficient product.
Let’s look at Habstash, a product that makes the process of saving for buying a house easy and transparent. They came to us with a prototype and plans to turn it into an MVP.
First of all, we simplified the sign-up flow. The initial idea of Habstash product owners was to make it in a form of a calculator. It makes perfect sense for such an app, but when you try to put it all on a screen, it looks cluttered. Having to enter lots of information often makes users reluctant to sign up.
Still, a certain amount of information has to be entered at the initial stage to start the saving process. To make it look less overwhelming, our designer used the Wizzard pattern: it splits the onboarding into several pages, and the strip on the top of the screen shows how many steps are left.
In order not to lose those users who don’t have time or patience to enter all the information at once, designer suggested adding a “save exit” button. Users can leave their email addresses and continue entering information some other day. And Habstash can use these addresses to remind about unfinished sign-up.
To make users feel the process of finding housing more real, the map was added to the page house searching. And finally, one more little change that our designer suggested based on the findings of user research: the option “save with partner”. All of it helps to bring the Habstash as close as possible to a real situation of saving to buy a house.
4. Improving user experience through redesign
Behind redesign, there is always a clear goal that the product owner has to accomplish. If there is none, we would discourage clients from redesigning. Another common goal is to make it all fast. Not our favorite part of the work, frankly — but we have some tricks for fast results.
Here is a story of Ricochet360, a CRM platform, and cloud phone system. In the past, it took them a month to onboard a new client. Imagine all the fuss connected to that. Good CRM design can help shorten this period by making the usage easier.
To fit into a tight schedule, we suggested our client implement small improvements to the existing design first. Little pain, maximum gain.
Take a look at the “add a new lead” screen. There was a list of 31 fields for entering, without any sign on how to enter them correctly and which ones are essential. Small changes: asterisks on the required fields, tooltips next to each field, and instant error messages when the entered info has an invalid format.
After that, we decided to go on with bigger changes. The new screen showed only the essential fields, hiding the rest under the “Additional information” drop-down.
A similar process happened with the lead management screen. We noticed that the “delete all” button was accented, which may lead to the accidental deleting of leads. So, on a new screen, the “New lead” button was highlighted, and the Delete function was hidden under the three dots menu.
5. Shaping new features
Product owner’s roles and responsibilities includes prioritizing features and focusing on the ones that need to be developed first. Of course, this decision should not be taken by just one person. Designers help shape features and fit them into the product so that they are consistent with the overall style and are understandable to the users.
Meet our next hero. Enroly is a SaaS product that helps universities automate their student engagement processes. Their goal was to have 30% of UK universities using Enroly and expand to Australia and New Zealand by the end of the year 2022.
The new reporting feature was a key element that would help the product to become the leader in the market. To decide how this tool would look and work in the app, we did some brainstorming with all the product team: designers, developers, and product owners.
Reports are based on a number of metrics. In order to organize them, we defined four categories:
- Pipeline. Data about enrolled students, how many students applied, from which countries, how they cope with their arrival milestones, and so on.
- Market. Data about the industry and competitors necessary for market analysis.
- Agents. Data reflecting the work of student recruiting agencies. Helps to find out the best performing agencies.
- Team. All the information on internal team members, their plans, and progress.
The task of the designers was to find the best option for visualizing each piece of data and combining everything into an easily readable report. Here is an example of how it looks on the screen.
This dashboard works great for presenting big amounts of information. And modern design makes it stand out among other types of software for universities.
Product owners and designers work hand in hand. In fact, the product owner’s objectives often are the designer’s objectives, too. If you want to learn more about product owner/designer collaboration and how to assign responsibilities between them, read our article “An Overlap! Or? Product Owner vs UX Designer”.