Monday, April 22, 2013

The Best Best Practice

I get asked for a lot of what I call "generic" advice, which I'm not really very good at giving. People will ask questions like, "Should I make a prototype?" or "Should I build a landing page?" or "Should I do more customer development?"

If you've asked this in email, you've probably gotten an unreadable 5,000 word manifesto that is essentially a brain dump of everything I can think of on the topic. If you've asked me in person you've almost certainly had to listen to me blather until your eyes glazed over.

Wherever you've asked, I've probably started the response with the words, "Well, it depends..."

And it does depend. What you should do right now with your product depends on a tremendous number of factors.

However, I think I've got some better advice for you.

You see, there aren't really Best Practices in Lean UX that apply in every situation. There are merely things that would be extremely helpful, except in cases where they'd be a huge waste of time. You can learn all the techniques in the world, but you still have to know when to apply them.

Every time you are wondering, "should I do this thing?" you should immediately ask yourself the following three questions:
  • What do I hope to learn by doing this?
  • How likely is it that I will learn what I want to learn by doing this?
  • Is there a faster, cheaper, or more effective way that I could learn what I want to learn?

An Example!

Somebody recently asked me if his company should build an interactive prototype of a proposed new feature. 

I asked him what he hoped to learn by building an interactive prototype. He said he wanted to know if people would use the feature. I explained that, actually, interactive prototypes aren't terribly good for figuring out if people will use your new feature. They're only good for figuring out if people can use your new feature. 

So, by building an interactive prototype, you're very unlikely to learn what you want to learn. A more effective way to learn if people will use a new feature might be a Feature Stub (also called a Fake Door). 

Note: A Feature Stub is where you put some sort of access in your product to the proposed feature. For example, if you were wondering if people would watch an informational video, you might put a link on your site called Watch This Informational Video and then record how many people clicked on the link. If nobody clicked your link, you wouldn't bother to make an informational video. 

To be clear, it may be that he should also build an interactive prototype in order to figure out if people can use the feature as designed. However, his first step should be to learn whether the feature is worth building at all. If nobody's going to use the feature, it's best to learn that before you spend a lot of time designing and building it.

It's All About Learning

The reason these questions are so important is that Lean Startup is all about learning quickly. If a particular Best Practice helps you learn what you need to learn, then you should use it. If not, you shouldn't. At least, not just yet. In other words, it depends.

Want to learn more? Buy this book.

My new book, UX for Lean Startups, will help you learn how to build great products. It also includes all sorts of Best Practices and when you should use them.