Knowledge Library

Let’s get Lean

Business and Marketing Strategy

By Jacqui Maroun, Head of User Experience, NATIVE VML
The Lean Startup philosophy, when you hear it, is so obvious you can’t believe life existed without it. How did we ever not realise that we should test our assumptions in our market in the easiest, cheapest ways first, before buying equipment, renting factories, building websites and all the expensive stuff that startups tended to focus their venture capital on?

What good was all of this if our consumer didn’t want what we had to offer? Successful entrepreneurs have always done this instinctively, yet Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup, surfaced this thinking for all startups to understand and use, toward fail-proof success.
The ripples of this movement have moved beyond the entrepreneurial world now.  They have certainly influenced the digital marketing world and specifically, User Experience (UX) design. The discipline of UX emerged as digital has become pervasive. Its chief goal is to ensure that experiences are designed around the humans using them. These experiences may be marketing oriented, such as websites, or more functionally oriented such as self-service platforms, apps and kiosks. Even integrated experiences, across marketing channels (above- and below-the-line) are now demanding the principles of UX.
So where does Lean come into the picture? The notion of Lean UX has emerged as a ripple of the larger movement, and was well described by Jeff Gothelf in his book Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience. According to Gothelf, Lean UX combines three approaches:

  • Design thinking: the principles of designing for humans, specifically by understanding and addressing their unmet needs. Companies like Apple and Ideo are built around this thinking.

  • Agile: A software development methodology that is iterative and collaborative, and is widely used for its ability to manage the many risks of large-scale projects.

  • Lean Startup: Getting to a Minimum Viable Product as quickly as possible in order to test if users/consumers respond in the way that you assumed they would, and then building on their actual behaviour, even if that means moving away from your initial assumptions.
I have learned that new approaches are never a silver bullet, and making them practical for your own business is never a given. So I decided to use lean thinking to try out this lean thinking. At the time, I had a brave client, and a passionate team, ready to go on an open brief, which is the kind of brief which states a problem rather than a solution – the best kind of brief. The timing was serendipitous, the client and team were keen. So we did it.
We agreed no documentation, and a prototype in one week. We workshopped, we brainstormed, we designed and our client visited daily for check-ins and input. And the result, a small but working prototype that amazed both us and our client. But we were only a third of the way through the Build-Measure-Learn cycle. Next, we set up user interviews with our target audience and exposed them to the prototype to get feedback as quickly as possible, the Measure step. Then we regrouped to discuss the feedback, agree on the common themes and refine the prototype to address the issues raised, the Learn step. Two weeks. Done.
We had just completed our first lean loop and our client was able to take this work to their organisation as a proof of concept and to justify budget for the full delivery. It made them look like heroes and they were as thrilled as we were.
Since this small lean victory, we have found this prototyping to be repeatable on many kinds of projects, much to our clients’ delight as the value for money, speed and active involvement they get is most clients’ dream come true.
Can we do a full project, prototype to final development and go live, in a lean way? That’s the subject of another article that will be written as soon as we know the answer. At this point, we can say that, we are trying it on several projects, it takes different shapes in different contexts and the more we look at it, the more this actual build part looks like the classic agile methodology. Maybe that’s ok. Agile is a solid, tested, highly iterative and collaborative process. If we layer the user focus of Lean onto this, that seems like a great first step, at least. Time will tell, and we continue to Build, Measure, Learn.

Check out the NATIVE VML website:
Visit us on Facebook:
And follow us on Twitter: @Native
About Native VML
NATIVE VML is a strategically and creatively-led agency whose ideas are born digital, but often extend beyond the digital canvas. With a staff compliment of over 170 people across both Johannesburg and Cape Town, NATIVE VML is one of Africa’s largest digital agencies. NATIVE VML offers a full-range of integrated digital marketing services, from strategy and creative ideation to production and media. The agency’s positioning is simple – “to produce purpose-driven work that lives in people’s live.” They pride themselves on being able to marry client’s objectives with the insights necessary to create work that is meaningful to them and their customers.
Distributed on behalf of Native VML by Cathy Findley PR. Media queries contact Tessa Marsh, 011 463 6372,

Share The Knowledge
The Importance of Formulating Business-Aligned CSI Initiatives

Business and Marketing Strategy

According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, there are a number of elements that successful CSI initiatives have in common. These include a clear theory of change, quality and depth of information, concentrated effort and expert partnerships.

Share The Knowledge
'Boardroom Dancing'

Business and Marketing Strategy

As a strategist and ballroom dancer, I have had the unique and fortunate experience of living a life that (quite literally) straddles two worlds. Two ostensibly different worlds. Yet two worlds that, surprisingly, share a great deal in common with each other.

Share The Knowledge
What do your clients say about you?

Business and Marketing Strategy

Technology and the ability to share information has democratised the perception of brands. Customer opinion is more influential than ever in determining brand perception.

Share The Knowledge
Sure you can paint, but that doesn’t make you Picasso

Business and Marketing Strategy

At some point everyone can admit to thinking “I can do that”, especially when looking at a craft project, piece of furniture, cake recipe or photograph. Yes, you probably can, but what will the end result be?

Share The Knowledge
Strategy for Success

Business and Marketing Strategy

Maintaining your competitive edge in today’s fast-paced, constantly evolving business environment is key for success – especially when it comes to branding your business and how you are communicating your services and products to the outside world.

Share The Knowledge