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Cindy Alvarez: Embracing Hypothesis-Driven Design

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What I like most about the Lean philosophy is the concecpt of Gemba, that you have to get out of your office and go and see with your own eyes to fully understand the situation and how to improve it. Working with usability and user experience, I've often used Gemba as a powerful argument to persuade the companies I've worked with to give me access to real users and real live usage situations.

The Lean Startup movement has added an extra dimension to the Gemba concept by advocating hypothesis-driven design and development, and this was the topic that Cindy Alvarez talked about at this year's From Business To Buttons.

Hypotheses and assumptions - we all have them. But they won't do much good if we keep them to ourselves and never express them. Cindy describes hypothesis-driven design as a way of elevating the user experience, if we make the effort to formulate hypotheses about user behaviour it becomes very clear that we must in some way interact with users to validate or invalidate our hypotheses. There is strength in getting assumptions out in the open, something we often experience when doing Impact Mapping, and it can be a great catalyst to valuable discussions.

A common argument against user testing is that it is too expensive, and it might be if you start testing too late when development is already underway. If you start formulating hypotheses early on in the process, before development has started, it's fairly cheap to test your hypotheses by using a Lean Customer Development approach. By continuing using the hypothesis-driven approach in development and governance phases, you'll be reminded of the fact that being right is a temporary condition, as Cindy expressed it.

When Cindy was asked about the unique strength of Yammer, she replied that it is the fact that they are admitting to be wrong often.

–If it's ok for you to be wrong it must be ok for me too.

 I would imagine that this kind of intellectual humility can help us create better products, and that we could all benefit from voicing I could be wrong