You Say “Fail Fast,” I Say “Don’t Fail in the First Place”

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Digital products fail for a variety of reasons. But digital products that don’t align business goals with user goals always fail. This is especially critical with emerging technologies (artificial intelligence, voice, blockchain, augmented reality), powered by a technical layer that is difficult to explain to consumers who want technology to just work. The good news is that customers don’t have to understand a technology in order to appreciate and embrace it. The bad news is you’re not going to get the product or the user experience right on the first try. But neither is anyone else. 

The startup scene loves to say “fail fast.” Many people misinterpret the intention behind this mantra. They build products quickly, but those products are destined to fail. Consumers don’t find value in them or find them difficult to use. If you’re building digital products in the emerging tech space, I want you to avoid failing altogether. Instead, I want you to “learn fast.”

“Learning fast” is a cyclical process

If you’re building digital products in emerging tech—whether you’re part of a larger organization or a startup—you’re often investing in a technology where you see a lot of potential while simultaneously making a lot of assumptions as to how end users will use the product. You’re building the plane as you fly it. And that’s ok, as long as you have a process to sustain it. If you don’t, you’ll crash and burn until you eventually run out of resources.

How do you maximize the resources you have to align business goals with user goals, crafting an ideal user experience along the way? You learn and react quickly (for Voice+Code’s clients, often only one to two weeks) during a cyclical process where you team observes, measures, and improves. Why is it effective? It helps you answer critical questions and gain the insights you need to move forward.

(Disclaimer to all you speedy folks: keep in mind that extra time may be necessary in some circumstances. For example, you’re at a point where you need to establish personas, scenarios, and user journeys or you need to understand how users use your app over a period of time. I strongly recommend you take the time to get the insights that you need.)

Set up an experiment

Think of each cycle as a small experiment. Before you do anything else, you need to decide what two or three most pressing questions you need to answer to move your product forward. The questions will likely change each cycle—unless you didn’t adequately answer a question from a previous cycle. Any more than two to three questions and you’ll require more time for planning and analysis. 

Research questions will be specific to your product but could include:

  • How can we facilitate product installation or setup?

  • What roadblocks are users experiencing as they try to accomplish a task?

  • How can we encourage engagement with specific content or a specific feature?

Observe

The research questions will determine how you construct your experiment and how you measure the results. But the most important part is that you include actual or potential customers in the experiment. At Voice+Code, our sessions with participants typically include part interview/part observation. If we don’t have a fully-functional product, we have participants react to a prototype or simplified representation of the product. That way we can avoid asking unhelpful questions like “would you use this?” and instead observe participants’ reactions to the product based on realistic tasks we ask them to perform—a more effective way to get authentic feedback.

Try to include as many team members—and especially decision-makers—as possible. This is important for two reasons. First, it decreases the time required to get everyone up-to-speed through meetings or formal reports. Second, team members tend to pay attention to and gain more understanding from sessions they watch first-hand, as opposed to a recording after-the-fact.

Measure

Your research questions will determine how you measure the user experience throughout your study. Just like your research questions, how you measure will be specific to your product but may include:

  • Task success rate (how many participants could successfully complete the tasks you gave them).

  • Error rate (what problems participants encountered, categorized by type).

  • Subjective reactions like perceived ease-of-use.

  • Analysis of how users referred to or asked for specific things.


Assign each team member a role (facilitator, note-taker, task success marker) to increase the efficiency of compiling—and later, analyzing—data. You can measure from cycle to cycle and you may decide that these metrics are so critical to improving the user experience that you measure them through your product’s analytics platform to gain additional insights and hold your team accountable.

Improve

Wait until all the sessions have completed before jumping to conclusions. Since most your team members were present, you’ll be prepared to analyze the results shortly after the sessions have ended. To maximize your limited time, focus on answering your research questions. Many times, you will have only partially answered a research question or the research unearthed more questions than definitive answers. That’s fine. The goal of the “improve” phase is to either answer your research questions and make decisions on how to move forward or use your findings to inform the next cycle.

Repeat

The key to making this process effective is to repeat it over and over again. Don’t become complacent in thinking you now have all the answers. Successful digital products are never “done” and the emerging technology ecosystem is constantly changing.

Don’t “fail fast” by launching a product no one wants and can’t use. “Learn fast” through a cyclical process of validating your assumptions, preserving precious time and resources while building products that align business goals with user goals.

Interested in how this process can improve the customer experience of your digital product? Learn more about our process. Need your team to embrace a process of continually learning? Check out our corporate workshops.