Develop Your Superpower

Written by Jordan Rosenfeld, Contributor for Lean Startup Co.

At our Lean Startup Conference this past November, Bennett Blank, Innovation and Transformational Change Leader at Intuit, discussed how companies can apply what Intuit learned about Lean Startup to the way teams work.

Bennett launched into his talk with something of a love letter to Lean Startup. “It was really transformational in the early phases of my career, creating a little bit of structure out of the chaos that really is innovation. I love Lean Startup.”

He goes so far as to call Lean Startup a “superpower,” to him and his fellow early adopters at Intuit for how it can create structure out of “the chaos that is innovation.”

“A few of us figured out how to apply Lean Startup not just in a corporate setting, but inside the culture of our own organization, and from there we started teaching other teams.” In fact, Bennett added, “we would teach anybody who would listen.”

Lean Startup creates a shared language

While Bennett and his Lean Startup-minded colleagues knew they were onto something great, they didn’t expect that it would attract “a whole host of other kinds of teams” such as teams in HR, in finance, even in legal. “That they adopted these best practices and actually applied them to their daily work… that was a huge surprise for us.”

Fast-forward to today, Bennett shared that virtually every single Intuit employee has had some level of Lean Startup training. “That might be just lightweight principles, all the way down to in-depth weeks and weeks-long training. It’s really powerful.”

He says this gives everyone at Intuit a “shared language” and recommends this for other companies.

Now, as to how they went about doing this, he breaks it down into phases. In the first phase, teaching everyone about Lean meant starting with leadership. “We started with ourselves. For you, become an expert, figure out how to apply it inside your organization,” Bennett urged.

Then you can take it to other areas of a company. This may mean aligning it with an existing culture or leveraging things that your organization already does.

Once you do that, he insisted, share the methodology with everyone. “I mean literally everyone,” he said, meeting with audience laughter.

Purpose is powerful

After Lean Startup had been effectively rolled out at most levels of the company, they found that some teams were just doing it better than others. When they dug in and tried to figure out why, they discovered that some teams “developed an innate sense of why they should do it in the first place.” He suggested this makes sense because these are people who “really go beyond just the products they’re building but have a reason for doing it, a purpose.”

These are the people who have adopted phrases like “Fall in love with the customer’s problem, not the solution,” he explained. “They have a deep connection to customers.”

Know your customers better than they do

This leads to yet another phase of embedding Lean Startup more deeply into a company, which they call “deep customer empathy.” This means “knowing our customers more than they know themselves so that we can ultimately go beyond their expectation and deliver delightful products.”

“These are not just buzz words,” he added, but have led to a crucial technique he credits with a great deal of success called “follow-me-homes.”

“These are just going out into the world and meeting customers where they are”—from a small business in the context of one of their products, QuickBooks, to a team that went out and followed an Uber driver around for the day. “The spirit of that is to… observe in real-time, real life, exactly what’s happening to the customer so you can see for yourself what they actually do.”

This, Bennett explained, allows them to see things the customer doesn’t realize they are doing, and to create an emotional connection to the customer “that you can leverage later when things get tough and your idea is…running into headwinds.”

These follow-me-homes allow for “surprises that lead to insights, and insights change the game for our products.”

They don’t rely upon customer interviews or satisfaction reports; it’s a bit like being a scientist in the field, making observations.

To illustrate, he described what came out of a follow-me-home for Mint, a consumer product. They discovered that some Mint users were creating a custom category for “business” even though it was a consumer finance product.

Through a series of follow-me-homes they discovered that people were trying to separate their business and personal side hustles into types of business that weren’t traditionally considered small businesses, such as consulting or Uber driving. “They don’t think of themselves as businesses; they think of themselves as self-employed.”

This led to the creation of a new product called QuickBooks Self-Employed, which does exactly what the customers were trying to do manually on their own, and helped them potentially save thousands of dollars by finding tax deductions they missed.

What you can learn from observing customers

The Mint team credits the follow-me-homes with their breakthrough for making a new product the customer needed.

Additionally, Bennett offered, they lead to three valuable things: insights, shared understanding, and motivation.

Observing firsthand provides insights they might either miss or simply not have access to through traditional methods of getting feedback from the customer.

This leads to “shared understanding.” When everybody has gone out and actually experienced for themselves what the customers are struggling with, “it really cuts through the clutter and the long backlog of potential ideas,” Bennett said.  Prioritizing what really matters is much easier when the conversation is based in a shared experience of customer challenges.

And perhaps most important, “Once you observe somebody suffering or struggling or encountering a challenge, you really want to help them. You can feel it in your gut… it’s a really powerful thing.”

Measure your success by the customer’s success

Bennett went on to explain that they have an unusual way of measuring success, which he called “the customer benefit.” This is a metric that measures the success of a product “as viewed through the lens of the customer. It’s not a business metric or a financial metric, it’s… how the customer would measure their own success.” he said.

Improvement in the customer’s life is most important. “If you’ve done your job, you’ve actually improved their life in some measurable way that means something to the customer.”

In addition, they use three customer metrics: 1) “More money,” which is how much money they can put back into the pockets of their customers. 2) “No work,” which is a measure of how easy it is for customers to get tasks done. And 3) “Complete confidence” references how good customers feel about the process they’ve completed, and whether they believe they’ve done it right.

“For the first time ever the voice of the customer is actually showing up on our central dashboards. It’s pretty cool stuff.”

He credits Intuit’s success with Lean Startup by teaching “every single person we possibly could” how to do Lean Startup. Bennett suggests the way for any company to to make Lean Startup fit within the context of your own organization is by employing “deep customer empathy” which allows you to gain insights and understanding to solve problems in their lives.

“That’s become our guidepost on whether or not we’re actually solving for the customer. So we’re measuring whether or not we’re improving their lives.”

If you would like help applying Lean Startup in your organization, email Lean Startup Company’s Education program. We offer live and virtual training, coaching, and consulting geared to empower people and companies to solve their own problems using entrepreneurial management, no matter their industry, size company, or sector of the economy. Learn more here.


Also published on Medium.