The Lean Startup Method: What to Do When Members Don’t Tell You What They Want!

The Lean Startup Method: What to Do When Members Don’t Tell You What They Want!

Today Bruce Winner writes about an extraordinary method for associations to use in order to experiment their way to greater results and success. This method, pioneered in the Silicon Valley, is changing the way that organizations innovate.

Associations and businesses spend millions on surveys and other means of collecting information, but often find that people do a poor job of telling the organization what it is they want or need.

This blog will introduce you to Lean Startup, a method that many Silicon Valley startups and other forward thinking organizations are using to find out what their customers really want. The method has the potential to change the way you develop new products and services and could turn your association into an innovation machine. Lean Startup will decrease your reliance on survey responses or second-hand information and provide you a means to allow your clients to “show you what they want”.

The Lean Startup Method

The Lean Startup Method originated in the Silicon Valley and has launched startups worth billions and been successfully used by larger companies to develop new products and services. It was first proposed in 2011 by Eric Ries, the author of “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.”

Lean Startup encourages an organization to experiment or:

  1. Start small, with a “minimum viable product” or MVP
  2. Take small steps to introduce a new change or modification
  3. Follow each step by a test (often by a very small groups of users),
  4. Learn lessons from each step (by way of rigorous measurement)

The goal is to learn more at each iteration or experiment. At the end of each short cycle the association learns from the experiment and continues to move in the same direction, if the learning was positive. If the learning was negative or indicated a misstep, then the association knows they should pivot or change directions. In Lean, your members are “showing you what they want” by responding to your experiments.

Validated Learning or the Build, Measure, Learn System

  • Lean Startup is also known as “validated learning” because the goal of each test or experiment is to learn one thing, validate or invalidate the lesson, by paying unbiased attention to the outcome.
  • It is also called the “build, measure, and learn system” because this is the cycle through which every experiment is conducted.

The cycle is to build a minimum viable product, test and measure how it works, and then learn from the results. It allows organizations to capture the results of experiment after experiment and build on this learning to achieve greater results and success. A popular phrase among lean practitioners is “fail fast”. Remember, the goal is to learn. The faster you fail, the more you learn, and the sooner you develop a product or service that your association audience wants from you.

Can Experimentation like this Really Make a Difference?

Lean Startup originated in the Silicon Valley, so much of the experimentation has been conducted by testing web sites, web-based offers, and examining web-based analytics.

  • An example from an online wine sales site showed a 41% increase in sales, simply by testing and then choosing the top performing web design. All the tested versions had the same information; there were simply design differences between tested versions.
  • A recent publication on lean analytics cited a seller of tickets who changed the wording on a call to action button from “Get started free” to “Try it out free”. The test and final selection resulted in a 376% increase in sales!

How can Associations use this Method?

A/B Tests – In an A/B or split test an association tests one offer or product variation against a control group, that receives the old or original offer or product. For example, Group A receives the standard email offer for membership renewal you have been using for years and group B receives the offer with one small modification.

Segmentation – An association could test the same message, product, or service by sending test messages to different demographic segments. This is not a new method and has been used effectively for years by direct mailers. Through the test, the association can determine if the offer is equally effective among women versus men or younger versus older members.

Cohort Testing or Longitudinal Testing – In this method a number of changes can be introduced over time and the group’s responses (one time period versus the others) are compared.

What Could Associations Learn through Testing?

  • Associations could learn how to modify retention programs by testing various email offers, special bonuses, web-offers, or all of them over time in a cohort or longitudinal study.
  • Experiments with professional development topics could be tested via low cost webinars or even short you-tube videos, and then promoted to select member and non-member groups to increase member attraction.
  • One association I know has done simple experiments with food, by changing caterers, offering special meals, and paying extra attention to vegans, vegetarians, and gluten-free attendees. The goal was to measure if this resulted in greater member or attendee satisfaction.
  • Your association could discover a powerful and attractive member service that is currently not being offered, and that you may NEVER offer, unless you find audience interest by doing some innovative small group testing.

What do you think? Is the Lean Startup Method a good fit for your organization?

  • It is a low-cost method
    • The method allows small inexpensive experiments around a variety of program efforts. (New speakers, programs, events, topics, and methods of delivery)
  • Learning is the goal
    • Since learning is the goal, the method is ideally suited to any organization that believes there is always something new to learn. Go ahead, don’t be afraid to take some risks and learn from them. Your members will appreciate the fact that new things are happening.
  • It is truly cutting edge
    • This is a progressive technique that is being used by some of the most forward thinking companies and organizations in the world. Don’t your members deserve the same?

Here are a Few Resources if you Want to Learn More:

  • Eric Ries’ book, “The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses”, published in September, 2011. The “bible” for practitioners of the method, this is the best place to start.
  • “Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster”, Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz 2013. For my money, after you read and absorb “The Lean Startup”, this is the book to read. The heart of the Lean Startup Method is disciplined experimentation and an unbiased approach to using the data you collect. This book provides a stepwise approach to building this expertise.
  • Eric Ries website and a goldmine of information
  • Lean Startup Meetup Groups exist all over the United States and the world. Tap into one of the “meetups” to learn more about how to use the process in your association.

Programs Get Results
Bruce Winner

Free Tip – An idea for a professional development program or event at your association. In addition to being a powerful new way to plan, learn, and develop new programs for your association or organization, you might want to consider “The Lean Startup” as a professional development program or event for your members. No matter what industry you cater to, this method is very popular with startups, and is increasingly being adopted by existing large corporations and public sector agencies. There are a number of great speakers on the topic. If you can’t find one, call me, I’d be happy to help you find an appropriate speaker.

Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner, MBA, has been a trainer, program developer, business owner, training manager, and active participant and consultant in the association industry during his professional career.

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