Lab Zero

You're Ready to Build When You're Ready to Learn

The last time we hosted a meeting for entrepreneurs, one of the more interesting questions asked was, “How do you know when you’re ready to build?”

The conventional answer is that you’re ready when you have funding; or a spec; or a team that’s assembled and ready to go. We look at it this way: you’re ready to build when you’re ready to learn.

Being ready to learn means the delivery team is equipped to continuously listen to feedback, make sense of it, and respond quickly to strengthen what and how we deliver. This requires commitment from the entire team — product, design, and development.

So how do we empower our teams to learn? 

 

Focus on outcomes.

Rather than working from a detailed spec that prescribes a solution, our teams work from a lightweight document — a ‘speclet’ — that focuses on the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’.

Our first Director of Product, Aaron Cripps, introduced the speclet to our process. He wrote, “Without a clear description of the problem you’re trying to solve, it’s possible to focus entirely on building the prescribed solution — without actually solving the problem.” 

This shift in focus from solution to problem invests the team in meaningful outcomes — delighted customers, a profitable business — rather than metrics that have no intrinsic value. 

 

Shorten feedback loops.

While the speclet sets out long-term objectives that may take weeks or months to fully achieve, our teams deliver, measure, and learn in shorter increments of 1-2 weeks.

Incremental delivery shortens the feedback loop. We use lightweight research methods and playbooks to incorporate customer and stakeholder reviews into the delivery workflow.

By regularly listening to and observing them, we build trust and keep our decision-making grounded in evidence. Continual learning improves our ability to intuit the best ideas for future increments. 

Read more about our approach to shortening feedback loops:

 

Design efficiently with systems. 

Because we’re focused on solving problems, we don’t want new ideas to be stunted by the tools we use. Designers need to be able to quickly explore and test a range of ideas. But not recklessly. It’s just as important to maintain standards, so that developers can quickly implement new designs, and customers have a consistent experience.

To meet these goals, we create and use design systems. Designers explore ideas using a library of building blocks and guidelines. The building blocks are flexible so that we’re free to adapt them for different contexts. If we learn something that necessitates a change to the system, such as a usability defect, it’s easier to propagate those changes from the library out to the designs that use it. 

The system becomes a shared language for the team to communicate ideas, reducing the need to produce artifacts, so we can focus more time on ideation and testing. 

 

Level up collaboration.

Teams are not only learning how to solve customer and business problems. Just as importantly, they’re learning how to work together, with their cross-functional partners, and within their broader organization. 

Our team leads are responsible for facilitating and coaching teams to continuously improve collaboration. This includes assessing teams on methodologies, technical practices, and process; helping teams align on norms, roles, and responsibilities; and building working agreements.

Explore more about our approach to leveling up teams:

 

Are you ready to build? Let’s talk!

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Lab Zero is a San Francisco-based product team helping startups and Fortune 100 companies build flexible, modern, and secure solutions.