Harvard-style Matchmaking: A Note to my LTV classmates

By Emma Heeschen

Lean methodology, I’d like to introduce you to Design Thinking.  Design thinking, meet Lean.

I have matchmaking on the brain, probably thanks to hearing about Maxine’s take on an online matchmaking start up at the business model exercise on Monday.  The past couple of months have immersed all LTVers in lean methodology but, leaving class after Monday’s exercise, I couldn’t help but feel slightly incomplete.  Sure, Lean helps you focus on what’s important—the user—and to put your ideas through a process of testing and revising that quickly improves product-market fit, but where’s the magic in that?  Can lean really go it alone?

After LTV wrap up, I went to plan a session on Design Thinking for a group of educators and couldn’t help but think about how good Design Thinking and Lean Methodology would look together.  Yes, design thinking is a little older and perhaps not as fashionable, but it provides a powerful way to translate lean into sectors that may, as noted in our final class, present barriers to lean because of high risk associated with failure or long product development cycles.

I agree with Jill Nussbaum, who states in this blog post that “pairing Design Thinking and branding strategy with agile methods of development that encourage quick validation and team collaboration,” is truly the better way.

As I imagine it, a marriage of Design Thinking and Lean would look a little something like this:

1.            Problem-Setting
Involves identifying the pain in the market and defining the problem or challenge that you are trying to address.  In lean terms, this is a part of ideation, but design thinking gives more attention to this part of the process, potentially avoiding some of the pitfalls of a strategy-market mismatch, like we saw in the Aardvark case.

2.            Empathy and Interpretation
Rather than waiting until there is a minimum viable product to test with customers, lean design thinking (LDT) would add a step of listening to the customer before there was even a product.  I would argue that BabbaCo’s pivot happened because Jessica Nam Kim took a step back and intuitively used the process of listening to the customer to do an interpretation exercise that is straight out of a design thinking playbook.

3.            Ideation
DTL would have this step be a combination of creative thinking and generating falsifiable hypotheses.  Entrepreneurs would answer the questions What, why, and how in this stage.

4.            Iteration
In both design thinking and lean methodology, there is a process of testing, reflection and testing again.  In both cases, rapid iteration with a bias towards action allows a product to evolve quickly.  The added emphasis on problem setting can allow iteration to happen more quickly in domains that are less amenable to lean-only methodology—health care for example, or more complicated software development.

What does this mean for LTV?

In our last class, we talked about how to support entrepreneurship at HBS and multiple students talked about the need to cross-pollinate ideas with other schools on campus.  Last spring, I spent a quarter in a field course that brought designers from the GSD and education leaders from HGSE together to create schools for the future.  I can read about design thinking all I want but it wasn’t until spending a few months with Designer Dan, who eats, sleeps and breathes the methodology, that I was actually able to rearrange the furniture in my head—I used to take an approach to problem-solving that Mark Moore calls the “better mousetrap.”

I think Harvard is on its way to promoting cross-school collaboration with it’s new Common Spaces, but the spaces will only be as meaningful as the amount that we use them.  So, HBSers, I’m sure you have met many of “the rest of us” at various events and competitions at the iLab and I’ve heard about a few startups that involve students from different Harvard graduate schools.  I hope you will also venture across the river, and not just to look for dates in Gutman Library (likely the HKS guys beat you to it anyway).  Thanks for letting me learn with you!


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