Since the “Lean” in the “Lean Startup” methodology basically comes from Toyota, it was fascinating to see two engineers from Toyota, Matt Kresse and Vinuth Rai, speak at the 2013 Lean Startup Conference. Matt and Vinuth (pictured below) are from the Toyota software development center in Silicon Valley, talked about their use of “Lean Startup” methods to prototype and iterate with a new Android-based in-car entertainment system.
It's really interesting to see how big companies, like Toyota and GE, are using “Lean Startup” approaches to create and refine new products – by better understanding their customer needs, creating a “minimum viable product” and then iterating based on real feedback that comes direct from customers.
I took some notes on their talk as part of my broader set of notes that I published and the video of their talk is now online:
The Toyota video (link):
My notes (expanded a bit for this post):
Matt Kresse @mattkresse
Vinuth Rai @vinuth_rai
TOYOTA INFOTECHNOLOGY CENTER, U.S.A., INC.
- They are part of a team in Mountain View building a “connected car”
Why is Toyota trying to learn Lean Startup?
Consumer expectations are changing quickly… but it takes about 3 years to get a new system out the door (safety and regulatory issues are part of the delay?)
- They were not doing a good job of listening to customers (not getting feedback until the car is already on sale and out on the road)
Focused on the “customer development” process –> aiming for a better product
- Their goal was to incorporate user feedback much earlier in the process
Matt read Eric's book, then Vinuth –> they said, “this is awesome” – joking: “We should do this and it will solve all of our problems, ha ha.”
- Their idea — to experiment… let's run Lean Startup at a small scale and see what the gains are
Our “MVP” – looking at a “head unit” navigation system
- Took an Android tablet wired into a car as an MVP
- It didn't have the typical car features like AM/FM radio etc.
- Wanted to learn more about providing mobile technology in a car
- “We have never directly interacted with customers” (Mark's comment: Isn't this amazing to hear, coming from Toyota?)
- Put out a Craigslist ad to get people to come in (300 of them, wanting to complain about their experiences)
- Found 30 people and interviewed them
Chose 5 people to put the MVP into their existing car and trial was live
- Those 5 were told you can use it for a month – then keep using it or we'll pay you $100 to take it back
- 60% retention, 40% wanted to refer it to someone else
- Big Question: How to connect this to the mainstream product development process?
- They thought perhaps they'd build an MVP, establish a customer base, and the Toyota tells everyone to do lean startup? That didn't happen
Asked Toyota tech teams to benchmark their MVP-based product against others
- Ran experiments together with test cars
Prioritized features in a matrix
- Easy/hard and low/high impact
Looked at “innovation accounting” – will we stay on track? are we learning?
- Often went back to bad habits and built what felt good to us
- Worst – we stopped learning
- Used google docs to track the experiments and it worked well, it's boring but it has to be done (See template shared by David Bland)
This process has forced us to be more creative – be creative in validation other than customers riding around with the tech in their cars
- Cheaper ways to learn? Ideas from TLS community
- Goal – most learning in shortest amount of time
- TLS is not easy, but it's better because we get customer feedback before vehicles are on the road
I'm impressed (and not surprised) by the humility and I'm thankful Toyota would share this openly. It's risky to spend three years developing a product and THEN getting customer feedback (especially when it's hard to iterate once it's out in the field). It seems so simple to get customer feedback along the way (in real use, not just focus group type discussions).
What are your thoughts on this? Questions? I am trying to get Matt and Vinuth to join me for a podcast. What would you ask them?
How can your organization use Lean Startup methods and concepts to create new products or services, even in a big company?
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