Lean Principles At Experts Exchange

Posted by · March 10, 2012 2:36 pm

Experts Exchange Managing Director Mark Barbir shares a few of the lessons he’s learning at SXSW this week and how Experts Exchange will be applying those lessons in 2012.

First impression of SXSW Interactive? A hipster carnival in which I’m culturally obsolete. Glad I packed some Adidas, or I’d be carted away to the Sleepshop in Logan’s Run. That said, this conference has been very informative, especially with discussions around building stuff. Today’s talks about few lean manufacturing principles stand out.

Transitioning an established company with legacy processes and ancient infrastructure to lean principles is a daunting task. Over the past two years, Expert Exchange started over with a brand new site framework, while simultaneously reorganizing our company, and gradually adopting lean processes. The result was EE v10. Even though we’re proud of how far we’ve come, we admittedly have a long way to go.

Today’s SXSW lean sessions reinforced our thinking. Talks from Chad Dickerson from Etsy and Mary Poppendieck, formelry of 3M – in addition to invaluable resources like The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries, have provided us a roadmap which we can continually apply to our problems.

Below are some fantastic SXSW tips:

Small, accountable groups yield the best results.
Clear expectations for small teams, coupled with measurable and realistic goals are important for team success. EE adopted this model by switching to small teams for focus on mobile, products, and the site itself. This has forced our teams to be resourceful, focused, and more cooperative.

Shipping is good for morale.
Have you worked on a project that lasted multiple months or years before it saw the light of day? Few of us want to build without seeing how the things we build perform in the real world. Today our staff sees what it needs much faster, which makes us less risk averse because we know we can change products or features that may not be working well.

Dashboard driven development.
Code talks. Make sure performance metrics are consistently distributed, especially after releases so your teams understand the actual outcomes. EE has made it a point to report site metrics to the staff and we eventually hope to pair metrics with our weekly releases so everyone can follow how we’re doing.

Interdisciplinary kickoff and blameless post mortems are essential.
You need collective buy-in early before you begin the project in effort to vet concerns early on. And once the project is finished, blameless post mortems are needed to learn valuable lessons while not stifling discussion.

Don’t make what you think people want, build what people are actually buying.
You aren’t Steve Jobs, so don’t try to be. Build products and features you can validate quickly instead of investing multiple years and resources into projects that don’t have guaranteed success. If they sell, invest more effort. This is how EE intends to operate in 2012.