The weekend promised 2 days of ‘lean’ for start-ups, run as two separate events.  The first day was LUXr, which was a presentation and workshop run by Janice Fraser of www.luxr.co (@clevergirl).  At £50 for a whole day, you’d struggle to complain.  The second day was a free mini-leancamp event, organised by Salim Virani

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Perhaps the best way of explaining the lean design philosophy is to give a real world example.  Here’s one, from a firm I’ve worked with.  It’s is run by a man whose background is in the banking sector, and he’s used to having everything specified in minute detail before commencing a project.  In most cases, this doesn’t lead to a fast, flexible delivery of improvements.  By contrast, my approach is much more akin to lean methodology, and the approach I’ve advocated is to make very rapid changes to key parts of the process, iterating and improving as the project progresses.  That, to a large extent, typifies the approach of lean.  Try fast, fail fast, and engage your customer base and users in the process of development as you go along.  I won’t get too bogged down in this, as like all ‘schools of thought’, there are as many variants as there are protagonists (and sometimes more).  It’s far more productive, in my view, to concentrate on the tools and techniques taught, without worrying about whether they hang together into any particular design religion or not.

 

Here’s a few examples from exercises we did during the workshop.  The first I’ll cover is a use-case drawing exercise.  To do this, you get a sheet of paper and draw gridlines to divide it into six panels.  In each panel, you draw a picture of customers using your product for a different purpose.  For example you can use Twitter to get celeb gossip, arrange a night out with friends, follow news of a disaster, or write a secret blog.  The idea is that if you get stuck, the drawing process helps you elicit other use cases for your product.  The whole team follows this exercise, and ends up with selection of use cases which can then be subjected to a voting exercises with sticky dots.  You then take this ‘dot vote’ and see if the popular ideas seem to group nicely into a coherent product.  Our group did such an exercise, and it seemed effective.  But is it Lean?  Quite frankly, I don’t care.  It’s just a handy tool I might use to help me or a firm I’m working on to develop a new or improved idea.

 

A second exercise is a group interview.  I played the subject, as myself.  I was interviewed by 3 or 4 people, who asked me various questions about the way I organised nights out.  Having just come from a fairly disastrously-organised night out the day before, I had a lot to say on the matter.  The team made notes, then used post-its to grab the key points from the process.  Each interviewer made their own selection of post its.  These were then stuck randomly on a wall before being grouped.  As a subject, I have to say I don’t think that it was done very well, and a lot of the key points I made were missed or misinterpreted.  Was that the method, or the execution?  I’m not sure, but I think that the technique still has merit and it’s one I might look to use in future.  And I still don’t care whether it’s lean or not.

 

The course was held at UCL, which is an institution with a fine tradition of support for the entrepreneurial community in and around London.  Under the stewardship of the splendid Tim Barnes, the University has held events such as 3Cs, OpenCoffee and many indigenous offerings, too.  Facilities were spacious and comfortable, transport links were excellent, but lunch was not provided.

 

The first day, the LUXr event, was pretty heavy going.  Janice lead the whole day, and energy levels were visibly flagging around the room as the programme drew on.  For me, the style didn’t work well.  There were too few ‘real world’ example, and too much abstract talking, often without clear slides in support.  I found it a bit like a very long lesson at school.  However, a conference or seminar isn’t to be judged by its tedious bits, but by its inspirational bits.  There was some good quality content, and engaging exercises.  The staff were  clearly top-drawer in their experience and calibre.  Overall, both newbies and experts would have found plenty to  get out of bed for.  However, I have to say that my concerns about the teaching style seemed to be reflected by other delegates I spoke to.  A more varied programme, with more concrete examples and activities, would have been more engaging for most delegates in my view.

 

The second day was an ‘unconference’ style, which seems to be exactly the same as a conference, but organised on the fly.  The format worked pretty well, and I found most of the sessions engaging and good quality.  There was a much greater focus on practical experience with specific projects, rather than an abstract consideration of the subject area.  It worked well for me, and of the two days I think I gained more from the second, including a couple of good contacts.  The two styles may well work well for different groups of people.

 

At £50 for the whole weekend (with the second day free if you’re really a cheapskate), the whole experience was a bargain.  Nice place, good people and relevant content.  The somewhat tiring delivery on the first day was the only real downside.