Wednesday, September 11, 2019

How We Designed Lean Startup Conference 2019

Guest post by Lean Startup Co. Events Team 

This October marks the 10th anniversary of the Lean Startup Conference. We’ve come a long way over the last decade, but this year we also decided to go back to the fundamentals. This past spring, we used our own techniques to structure and plan a program that truly meets customer needs. Our team was deeply invested in the process and as Hisham Ibrahim, Senior Faculty at Lean Startup Co. described it, “The program you'll see at this year's conference is a direct result of us getting out there and talking with our customers.”

It began by brainstorming a series of assumptions about topics and skills of interest and conference formats that we planned to test out.

After prioritizing which ones were both most critical to the success of the conference and least certain, we created a discovery guide — essentially a list of questions designed to give us real information about what people are most interested in learning at this year’s conference, and in what kinds of session format. We spent a few weeks speaking to pre-registered 2019 conference attendees, and asked them things like:

•    What’s your current level of Lean Startup expertise?
•    What size is your company and what’s your role there?
•    What challenges are you facing at work?
•    What do you hope to learn from the conference?
•    What problems do you hope to solve?
•    What were the memorable features of another recent conference you’ve attended?

The discovery process brought us two major insights:

1. A list of topics that people wanted to learn more about, which included solutions for tactical challenges like conducting effective customer interviews, and getting venture capital funding, as well as broader challenges like methods of innovating outside of the software world, leadership transformation, rapid prototyping, and innovation accounting for startups within enterprises.

2. An understanding that conference attendees want sessions tailored to multiple experience levels, depending on whether they’re new to Lean Startup or coming to us with some practice under their belts.

From there, we ran an experiment. Since effective customer discovery is based on observing how people actually behave rather than how they say they’ll behave, we sent a larger number of pre-registrants a mocked-up conference program (our MVP), offering them the chance to sign up for sessions based on what we’d learned, without telling them it wasn’t the real thing. Included in the offerings were workshops on every topic that had come up in our discovery process each one designated as “beginner,” “advanced” or “applicable to all.”

When more than half the test group signed up for advanced sessions, we knew it was time to build a variety of levels into our signature practical workshops. The numbers were also very clear on what people wanted to learn about most: the fundamentals, like defining customer problems, conducting effective interviews, and applying the methodology outside of technology.

From all of this work, the conference’s new Core Concepts track was born. As Hisham explained, the demand for this addition was obvious “in our debriefing and analysis both from the qualitative conversations and interviews that we did, as well as from the MVP. People wanted to be able to learn about an end-to-end holistic innovation process. In past conferences, we might have touched on these different components of innovation but not deeply and not in an organized way.”

Now, we’ve created a mini-curriculum within the conference that walks participants through the innovation process from A to Z — from problem discovery using effective interviews through solution discovery, prototyping, introducing Lean into your enterprise, and on to designing experiments (at two different levels). The work done at each stage will serve as the content for what follows. What you learn in Problem Discovery will be the basis of the work you do in Solution Discovery, which will then be your jumping off point for Experiment Design. Also included in this track are sessions on accounting for innovation projects, and storytelling.

By taking participants through a complete innovation cycle, we hope to give you not just a taste of what Lean can do, but real learning that you can take back to your organization and use to solve real world problems. This is just one of this year’s tracks developed on feedback. There are also tracks for Enterprise & Government, Startups, and Nonprofit & Lean Impact.

We’re also pleased to be offering another new kind of session: the opportunity to receive personalized coaching for your team of 2-4 people. Expert faculty will provide guidance to 10-15 teams selected to participate after filling out this application. Each team will leave with specific, actionable steps on how to move their project(s) forward. All the details about the deadline and selection dates, as well as when the coaching will take place during the conference are included in the application.

We’re thrilled we’ve been able to build a program that will give every conference participant the experience and value they’re seeking.