Starting Small Can Make A Big Difference
By Keith Shields, CEO at Designli, a digital product studio that helps entrepreneurs and startup-minded enterprises launch transformative apps and web apps.
As consumers, we rarely get a glimpse of work in progress. Instead, we’re accustomed to experiencing the end result—the feature film, not the storyboard; the broadway performance, not the rehearsal. So, it’s no wonder that when you have a great idea, it’s tempting to dive in and make it happen all at once. Anything less than the full-blown business or digital product you envision can feel like a compromise.
Psychologists have a name for this discomfort. The Zeigarnik effect refers to the concept that our brains are more likely to fixate on tasks that feel interrupted or unfinished. In other words, we love when things feel all wrapped up, but loose ends tend to bother us. The problem is that when it comes to launching an amazing app or startup, it’s important to remain nimble. Rushing to the final draft version of whatever you’re building can impede your success.
Too much, too quickly can be the death of a great idea.
“Start small” is more than a nice saying; there are real reasons to take this approach, especially when it comes to building an app. If you don’t limit some of the bells and whistles upfront, you can quickly fall into the trap of scope creep. This phenomenon, also known as kitchen sink syndrome, happens when a few seemingly minor additions add up to a significant drain on budget and resources. Running out of cash is among the top reasons why startups fail, so scope creep is not something to take lightly.
Of course, time is also an important consideration. If there’s truly market demand for your idea, you’re likely not alone in pursuing it. Speed-to-market matters. Remember that complexity and time go hand-in-hand, so the more you add to your to-do list, the longer it will take to accomplish. Before you know it, you’ll be months off your target launch date.
Neglecting a small and simple start can also have implications for user experience. There’s a saying that goes, “A design for everyone is a design for no one.” Your efforts to make an app engaging with tons of features will backfire if they’re built on assumptions or an imprecise idea of who your app will serve. So before you charge ahead on a massive list of features, consider the impact this could have on your users down the line.
There are obvious disadvantages to taking on too much, too quickly. Luckily, there’s another way. Adopting an iterative approach is key to avoiding scope creep and overcomplexity. Whether you’re building a company or a digital product, try these simple steps for starting small.
1. Start with an MVP.
The agile software development camp has long embraced the concept of starting with a minimally viable product, or MVP—and for good reason. If you’re not familiar, an MVP is the simplest functional version of an idea. It’s more than a concept sketched on a napkin but less than the final product. A good MVP should be developed enough to be usable all on its own. For example, if you wanted to build a car, your MVP might be a skateboard or a bike, but not the frame of the car or a set of tires. Sure, a skateboard isn’t as well-developed as a car, but unlike a single car part, it could still get you from point A to point B.
2. Get feedback.
After you have an MVP, it’s time to test it. This is the part of the process where you should seek as much feedback as possible. Depending on the product or business you’re testing, how you solicit feedback can take many forms. Focus groups, surveys and closed beta tests are all great ways to put your software or business idea into the hands of real users. Getting feedback is essential to validate your assumptions and reveal new information that could affect the way your product develops. Ideas and opportunities might surface that you never could have imagined otherwise. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll discover that your concept doesn’t solve a relevant or significant problem for users. Remember, failing with an MVP is much cheaper than sinking too much time and money into a fancier product.
Once you’ve gathered feedback, it’s time to upgrade your vehicle, so to speak. Maybe your users validated your bicycle and expressed interest in a vehicle that resembled something more like a moped. Now you can add features with greater confidence, knowing you’re building for specific user needs, not just your notion of what someone might want. The feedback you received in the previous step will be invaluable for acquiring the funding and team members necessary to iterate on your MVP.
The journey to your final project usually isn’t finished after just one iteration. Keep the cycle going. After you make changes, go get more feedback from users. Figure out what’s working well and what could be better. Iterate again. Then repeat! Great products are shaped through many small changes over time. Some of the most successful apps and startups, like Airbnb and Instagram, became what we know them as today through a series of many tiny tweaks over the years. If you value your users, the improvements should never really end.
In summary, it pays to narrow your scope and focus on doing a few things well at first. The excitement of a fully-polished final product is even better when you’ve confirmed, through a methodical iterative process, that every feature you’ve built serves your users’ needs. Time, money and teams are never indispensable. Starting small makes a big difference in using your resources effectively and efficiently.