Can a Service Design Jam learn from a Lean Startup Competition?

So, last March I was involved in the London end of the Global Service Jam, last September I took part in Lean Startup Machine, and here I am again, helping to organise this year’s London Service Jam. If this is all word soup to you, let me explain.

The Global Service Jam is all about learning and doing Service Design. Lean Startup Machine is all about learning and doing product development and validation using the Lean Startup approach. What these two events have in common is that each involves self-selected teams using their skills and life experience to set and pursue their own mission in a crazy, 48-hour (Friday evening to Sunday evening) Le Mans-style challenge. In each case it’s all about getting out of the building to research the needs and desires of people out there in the real world and coming up with solutions, aided by mentors who help the teams and judge the final presentations.

At one level, the differences are obvious. The Service Jam emphasises creativity and spontaneity – for example, you are asked not to bring your own project or team, while the LSM is more focussed on development – in fact, you’re encouraged to bring projects and even teams. But I was more interested in their approaches to research. I was astonished that the Global Service Jam expected teams to get out there and do real, useful, research as part of a 48-hour event, and impressed how much research people managed. But I was even more astonished and impressed that the LSM not only expected teams to do exploratory research but to create a testable version of their proposition (known as a Minimum Viable Product, or MVP) and test it by seeking commitment from the target market using any measurable behaviour from clicks on adverts to email addresses offered, from tear-off tags pulled from flyers to letters of intent signed. Along with this, LSM builds your ability to learn from and respond to the results of these tests, if necessary to “pivot” by redesigning your proposition in response to problems uncovered by the tests.

One question we’ve had as Service Jam organisers is whether there will be any lasting outcomes from this event. The correct answer is probably that this is, in musical terms, a jam rather than a recording session, and the astonishingly creative collection of projects from last year’s jam shows how successful it was as that. But another good way of responding to this challenge would be to encourage our teams to test their solutions, Lean Startup style, so that we can record and publish the results, both positive and negative, for the benefit of those who follow.

(For another design perspective on Lean Startup, see this interview with Ryan Jacoby on IDEO’s view of the Lean Startup Movement)

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