Design thinking vs the lean startup: which one should you use?

When it comes to creating a startup, two methodologies for products and customers have become prominent: design thinking and the lean startup. Question is, which one should entrepreneurs adopt for their company?

In an article sent to Ventureburn by the MTN Solution Space, the organisation breaks down the methodologies in order for startup founders to figure out which version is best.

“Both approaches take an idea to product in the fastest way possible, but the key difference is where the product appears in the innovation cycle,” writes the director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at the University of Cape Town, Richard Perez, in the piece.

What is design thinking?

These days, looking for customers after you’ve designed a product is a risky business model. Instead, design thinking focuses on finding the underlying need for the product, researching it, and then creating it for your customers.

This allows entrepreneurs to validate the product before going to market and gives the consumer the product they asked for and not something unneeded that is forced on them.

“The discovery phase is critical in design thinking. Most of the work is focused on developing a human-centred understanding of the problem before going into solution mode,” says Perez.

“Design thinking helps to break down silos across corporate departments. With multiple disciplines around a table, it’s possible to bring new perspectives to a problem within a structured framework for working together,” he adds.

What is the lean startup?

The way the lean startup methodology works is to create a minimal viable product all the while making incremental changes to it through feedback from users. It meshes customer and product development in order to grow relationships and develop research.

“The lean startup approach is about reducing risk, which sometimes requires changing an idea on the spot,” says the co-founder of Afrolabs and Lean Iterator, David Campey.

This method was popularised by The Lean Startup, a book written by Eric Ries, which describes the startup process as “build, measure, learn”.

“Lean startup is about minimising waste, so you’ll have say two or three founders working to develop a product. They will work to prove an idea. Hopefully this leads to investment, which will allow them to prove other ideas. Through this validated learning, the team grows over the time as the product and business develops.”

So which method is best?

This may be a bit of a cop-out, but there is no definitive answer. Why? Well, each and every startup and entrepreneur is different and therefore has different needs.

In fact, choosing between the lean startup and design thinking methodologies is very much up to what the founder wants to do: would they like to build a product, test, and then pivot, or let the problem take lead before the product exists?

There’s a bit more to it

There is another aspect to consider, which is the innovation cycle. According to the MTN Solution Space, it has “developed a Solution Lifecycle Framework, which helps founders better understand their approach to building new solutions, based on where they are in the innovation cycle”.

While it includes desirability, feasibility, and viability, which is adapted from CEO of IDEO, Tim Brown’s diagram for the three successful criteria that a startup needs, also adds in reliability as the fourth factor.

“Founders need to be honest in their self-assessment of whether they are in love with the problem or the solution. We often see entrepreneurs who are in love with their solution focusing on the technological feasibility of the product, but who ignore the user feedback that is critical to establishing whether the customer wants their product at all,” says manger of the MTN Solution Space, Sarah-Anne Arnold.

Feature image: Petras Gagilas via Flickr.



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