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Lean Startup vs. Design Thinking – What Should You Use For Your Digital Venture?

With an ultimate goal of helping your company make the right decision on its methodology, let’s analyze both Lean Startup and Design Thinking, including their most important strengths. Choosing either approach – or perhaps a combination of the two – ensures a successful project outcome and a compelling digital venture delivered to customers. 

Before beginning any modern software project or digital venture, determining the project methodology becomes critical. After all, it serves as the roadmap for the initiative; helping to define and organize the overall effort. 


Lean Startup and Design Thinking are two methodologies increasingly used for digital projects. Both approaches, while not mutually exclusive, offer their own advantages. In fact, leveraging Design Thinking concepts within a project structure provided by Lean Startup provides one example of using both in concert. Ultimately, crafting a digital venture alluring to customers in a cost effective manner remains a goal worth achieving. 


With an ultimate goal of helping your company make the right decision on its methodology, let’s analyze both Lean Startup and Design Thinking, including their most important strengths. Choosing either approach – or perhaps a combination of the two – ensures a successful project outcome and a compelling digital venture delivered to customers. 

A Closer Look at Lean Startup 

Simply stated, Lean Startup focuses on quickly determining the validity of a product or service concept. The project team, after meeting with the client or stakeholder, rapidly builds a prototype known as the minimum viable product. The goal for this step involves encapsulating as much of the overall concept of the digital venture into this model. 


Selected customers then interact with this prototype, verifying the efficacy of the overall concept and interface. The project team analyzes the metrics generated by this interaction, and applies any lessons learned. Typically, this involves enhancements to the design and/or concept of the digital venture. 


In Lean Startup, this iterative process is called the Build-Measure-Learn loop. In some cases, the conceptual idea simply isn’t viable, and no further work happens. The rest of the time, these customer-focused iterations result in a compelling digital venture meeting the conceptual goal of the client or business stakeholder. And the price is usually right.


The major benefit of the Lean Startup approach involves determining the viability of the initiative as quickly as possible. After all, fixing any issues remains much more cost effective early in a project. When a fully built digital venture enters the marketplace without proper vetting from customers, a substantial risk of failure exists. Expect to spend prohibitive resources to fix any product determined to be unviable at this point.

A Closer Look at Design Thinking 

Design Thinking shares some of the same concepts as Lean Startup; most notably its customer-focused approach. An iterative process also gets used in both. The Lean Startup methodology, however, tends to be more vigorous and technical compared to Design Thinking. In fact, Design Thinking also sees some use beyond technology-related initiatives, such as crafting effective print advertising or optimizing non-technical business processes. 


As a more open-ended process, a project using Design Thinking foregoes the crafting of a Minimum Viable Product or other singular prototype. Extensive research into customer needs typically happens at the beginning of the effort. Afterwards, multiple prototypes might be built depending on the nature of the business problem being solved. This scenario generally requires some form of A/B or split testing to vet and compare the quality of each prototype. 


Throughout this effort, determining the needs and desires of the potential customer remains an important focus. Because of this, members of the project team need to follow an empathic approach to build the best possible product. Remember that time-honored motto: “The Customer is Always Right.”

What Approach Works Best For Your Company’s Next Project? 

So which methodology seems the most appropriate for your company’s next digital venture? The relative rigor of Lean Startup, the empathic approach of Design Thinking, or perhaps a mixture of the two are all valid options. Ultimately, the nature of the business problem to be solved helps inform the final decision.


In fact, having both methodologies in your organizational toolbox provides the necessary flexibility for a successful project outcome, now and in the future. Additionally, using both methodologies in tandem offers some valuable synergies that result in a digital venture better able to meet the needs of the customer. 


For example, follow a Design Thinking approach for the initial customer research on a business problem. Afterwards, use the output of that process to empower a Lean Startup cycle crafting a minimum viable product. The extra time spent iterating through the customer research process ultimately provides more accurate insights used to build this initial prototype. This approach illustrates how the two methodologies work well together.  


If deciding between two closely-related software development methodologies seems overwhelming, consider partnering with experts in this area. NineTwoThree boasts significant experience with both Lean Startup and Design Thinking. We crafted multiple successful digital ventures using both methodologies separately and in tandem. 


So be sure to connect with our team to discuss your company’s next great product idea. Let’s work together to determine the best approach for crafting a compelling digital venture. Our skills and experience make us the perfect partner for your organization.


Tim Ludy
June 7, 2021