Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Applying Lean Methods to Fat Companies

@enricgili and I @sprabu from the Career OnDemand team attended the lean startup conference, learned the lean startup techniques evangelized by @ericries and tried to apply them to projects within a large company such as SAP. We were not in a position to code everyday and take the final code to customers. Our current development process is too rigid to change that fast. We use an agile development process. But are still required to meet the requirements of governments and regulated corporations. We also work from three different countries. So, instead we did the next best thing. We built prototypes everyday and took them to customers every week. Instead of "code" in the lean startup methodology diagram below, we said "prototype".

We did not test usability. Instead we tested if customers found what we built useful and if their purchase will help our long term product strategy. We built more than 60 prototypes and took them through multiple iterations. We slowly and steadily built tens of co-innovation customers with the help of @esdediego and designed a product that tens of customers are ready to pay for and use. Tens of enterprise customers mean millions of dollars in revenue for us. A handful of large customers ( from the 12,000 who already use our other people management products) can bring several million dollars a year in revenue.

After a while we started incorporating the final UI framework in the prototype. It made the prototype look and feel almost like the final product. We got very good clear feedback from customers and incorporated their feedback into the prototype almost everyday. @enricgili and I built the prototypes ourselves without having to rely on another dedicated prototyping person.

The prototype is the specification. We did not write very elaborate requirements documents or use cases.

We are still developing the product. So we may still run into usability related issues and minor feature issues. But we are pretty clear about what customers are willing to buy and use to make them better companies. The process is not perfect. I am not sure if it is scalable or even repeatable. But it works very well for us even in a large company such as SAP.

@MChewD and his team are trying to take this one step ahead and write code that customers can try. It is not easy to do this within SAP. But they are doing some innovative things. 

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