Thursday, April 25, 2013

Four Pitfalls To Lean Start Up in HR Products


Can human beings in the work place ever be guinea pigs? 

I recently started an HR data company. We are using a proprietary artificial intelligence tool to help us discover critical human resource information that can help both the employer and the employee. At least that’s the idea. Our first product is in the social recruiting space and we are in the process of testing our assumptions. Tune in later and we’ll let you know if we are on to something.

I have been in the HR products business for awhile (longer than I like to admit – I remember using punch cards in graduate school) and know a thing or two about product development. When my partner and I formed our new company and decided on our first product we also opted to follow the product development guidelines espoused by Eric Ries in his book The Lean Start Up

Lean start up techniques were more than a fad concept we wanted to try. We really were lean (as in we had no money) and wanted to be very smart about what we built and how much we spent building it.  We are also building something no one is doing today (more about that later) and we weren't sure that employees and employers would adopt the concept. Lean Start Up seemed like the perfect answer. And it was. But there are four pitfalls that need to be addressed if you are going to follow Lean Start Up processes in the HR space.

These four pitfalls start with a core concept of the Lean Start Up process called the MVP – Minimum Viable Product.  In a nutshell (he wrote a whole book about this so excuse me if I miss a few of the details) you invest in building only enough of the product to test your major assumptions. In our case – this involved employee adoption and sign up. We built the MVP and found a company willing to be our BETA test site. 

After weeks of testing, these are the four pitfalls we see:
  1. Human resources is a bad place to experiment. HR by its very nature is conservative. You really don’t want to mess with people! If you are going to do an MVP in the HR space, you can’t disrupt the work place and you can’t give the employees a bad experience.
  2. Workplace versus home environment. People don’t mind “playing around” with a concept at home. Most people love to experiment with a new website or software tool or tinker around with a new app on their phone. They don’t like to do this at work. 
  3. Limited test period. Many of the examples in the Lean Start Up talk about getting feedback from early MVP experiences and tweaking the product to see what happens. You can’t just tweak away in HR. Employees won’t tolerate it and the HR department can’t allow it.
  4. Greater need to know. At home, you are comfortable going down the rabbit hole. Not so at work. If you really don’t understand what the application does or exactly how things work, you tend to freeze up. This means that you have to give employees a lot more training with an MVP in HR than you might need to do with a typical consumer based product. 

I am a huge fan of The Lean Start Up and think it has its place in building Human Resources products and solutions. But anyone opting to follow this process should be careful about how far you take the process of experimenting in HR.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to run off and explain to our BETA customer why that button in the upper left hand corner of the screen really wasn't supposed to offer a job to the employee’s dog.  (Although I stand by the fact that the dog’s social media profile looked like a perfect fit). 

(image courtesy of Gerd Altman on Pixaby)