Build a Better Product with Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Agile


Remember Google Glass? An invention that would literally open our eyes to the world. Although an ingenious idea, due to many reasons including health and safety it failed to make a splash in the market.

A quick internet search on “failed products” will fill up your browser screen. These are products by well-known companies that were successfully launched but ultimately failed in the market.

Companies are rapidly learning how to increase their chances of success by tweaking their traditional ways of the product development lifecycle and go to market strategy. They are moving away from “making people want our products” approach…. to “making things that people want”. As an example, Apple has generated an empire on user-centric devices, allowing there to be a clear vision of why their product is a want but also a necessity.


Leveraging Lean Startup practices, business owners can find which products will give them the best chance for success. By employing Design Thinking, they are making that connection with their consumer base from the begging and getting feedback early. Utilizing an iterative Agile approach, organizations are able to validate incrementally and go to market faster with quality products.

Lean Startup, Design Thinking and Agile approaches are relatively simple to understand but hard to implement. Innovation requires courage, disciple, an open mind, an ability to listen and to be extremely value driven.

Lean Startup

The Lean Startup way is a systematic process for quickly vetting program and product ideas and raising our odds of success. Experimenting with low fidelity prototypes in an actual customer environment provides deep insights into the real use of a product and the problems it is meant to solve.

Successful Startups such as Zappos (bought by Amazon for $1.2 billion) and Dropbox (market valuation of $12 billion) are proving out new models of reaching their end client and continue their growth by really listening to what the market is ready for. Innovative companies have started releasing new features when they are ready instead of waiting to launch a fully featured product. This technique helps test customer appetite for the first cut of a "minimum viable product".


To visualize potential trade-offs between customer – market – products, Alexander Osterwalder developed the Business Model Canvas. A visual representation is built by bringing institutionalized/outside knowledge together about firm or its products in terms of infrastructure like Key Resources & Partner Networks. Layering in what is the value propositions both quantitative and qualitative. What channels to explore for different customers segments (Mass, Niche, Segmented) and how the finances structured. This strategic management template and variations of the concept allow early collaboration to illustrate opportunities and challenges with existing or research knowledge.

Serial entrepreneur-turned-academic Steve Blank emphasizes learning about customers and their problems as early in the development process as possible. The Customer development model is:

Find a Problem/Solution Fit

  • Customer Discovery - Understanding customer problems and needs
  • Customer Validation - Developing a replicable sales model Find a Product/Market Fit
  • Customer Creation - Understanding end user demand, and how to create and drive it.
  • Customer Building - Focus is changed from learning to growth.


Organizations are learning to get early insight into their customer needs and market reactions by rapid cycles of:

  • Leap-of-Faith Assumptions - Identify the beliefs that must be true for startup success
  • Minimum Viable Product - Experiment to test assumptions quickly and inexpensively
  • Validated Learning - Learn what is working and not working.
  • Build - Measure – Learn Feedback Loop
  • Pivot or Preserve - Decide to change strategy or continue

Design Thinking

The traditional process for launching a new product is writing a business plan, pitching it to investors, getting funded, assembling a team, introducing a product, and start selling as hard as you. Proof of whether you have a successful product comes after launch. Most consider that too late a time horizon to find out about market reality.


Design and Development consultancy companies like thoughtbot, use Design Thinking approaches to bring companies digital product ideas to life. A weeklong workshop with company representatives from various departments such as Marketing, Sales, Development, etc. who come together to ideate, explore and really understand and match their target customer needs with what is technologically feasible and has business viability.

Facilitated collaborative activities help the team adopt creative strategies, innovate to solve complex product problems that sometimes start with an idea with so many unknowns.

There are five phases of Design Thinking, and according to Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (, are as follows:

  • Empathize – with your users
  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights
  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype – to start creating solutions
  • Test – your solutions with your users


Organizations competing in the marketplace are taking an iterative and incremental approach in building their product. In an Agile methodology, requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams. The focus is on agility in thoughts, the works, and the outcomes.

Agile is a mindset based on the Agile Manifesto that values Individuals and interactions within a team, all self-organizing and collaborating to developing working software with an ability to responding to change.


With Agile, the shortness of an iteration allows teams to focus on the most valuable of deliverables. Every iteration involves the complete cycle of design/development/testing and building a potentially shippable increment. On demonstration, the tangible incremental delivery allows rapid feedback from the customer.

An iteration means priorities can be shifted from iteration to iteration and new features/changes can be added into the next iteration. Responding to a customer, course correcting and only doing what adds value helps build the right product and the product right.

In Conclusion

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and GE, have rapidly adopted innovative approaches to problem-solving and product development. Approaches such as Design Thinking, Lean Startup and Agile have revealed innovative practices to the business world that allow an early insight into customer and market reactions to your new idea. Get ready and open to experiment with these new concepts, blend it with traditional practices and maybe give your programs/projects/products a chance to truly make a world impact.

About the Author

somoth ghosh, author of the article

Somnath Ghosh is the Global Lead Partner for Strategic Offerings with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He leads large enterprise Agile and DevOps Transformations. Som has over 20+ years of strategic consulting experience in leadership, software development, Agile and DevOps enablement, and change management.

As a thought leader he guides organizations to achieve dramatic improvement and efficiency of their product delivery. Som is a frequent conference speaker on the latest practices and advances on Project Management, Agile and DevOps.

Find Som on LinkedIn at SomGhosh

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