Lean startup: behind the scenes at MYOB

One of the biggest improvements we have made in MYOB’s product development cycle is adopting the concept of a lean startup. The origin of a lean startup can be traced to Toyota’s production system, championing the lean manufacturing concept of stocking inventory to the right levels to minimise waste.

Just as Toyota made its production lines efficient and enviable, lean startup focuses on developing products with continuous feedback from end users ensuring you don’t waste time building something nobody wants to use. One of the key concepts of Toyota’s production system is the Andon cord.

The Andon cord is literally a cord on the production line that workers can pull any time something goes wrong in the manufacturing line that could compromise product safety and quality. The whole production line freezes immediately so everyone’s attention is on resolving the issue at hand. Production will not restart until the problem is solved, ensuring scraps or defects don’t leave the factory gates.

Lean startup in action

Over the past three years MYOB had invested heavily in the move from providing desktop-only software to delivering cloud solutions. In November 2012, we launched our flagship cloud accounting solution, AccountRight Live.

Shortly after launch, we received customer feedback that the speed of AccountRight Live did not match their expectations. Existing customers were used to the superior speed on our previous desktop-only version. With a customer base of 1.2 million, I knew we needed to make a tough decision with our roadmap.

After internally announcing a roadmap full of sexy new features, we decided to re-draw the roadmap and changed our focus to speed and performance.  Our clients do drive our world and they told us they wanted the fastest online accounting solution – so we stopped and prioritised speed, above all else.

Moving in the right direction. Fast

Getting everyone to agree was just the first step.  We quickly learned that speed isn’t improved by applying a single technique, it takes a variety. So we tackled the problem in various ways.

1. Focus on Power users

We dived into the needs of power users, basically those who can list off the keyboard shortcuts by memory and describe AccountRight screens in detail even when they are far from their computer. We looked at improving speed in terms of improving the underlying architecture of our code base and streamlining user workflows (removing unnecessary steps and clicks).

Some of the changes would have seemed insignificant to occasional or non-users but made a huge difference to power users. For example, one improvement enabled clients to solely use keyboard shortcuts to enter data, instead of having to switch between the keyboard and mouse. This opened up huge time-savings.

2. Feedback loop

The other way we tackled this speed challenge was to continuously validate our direction. We sought in-depth feedback from clients of all types, getting real people into the building to watch them use AccountRight Live from our new purpose-built focus group room.

We also built a network of partners to give us feedback on every innovation idea, which we tested with mock-ups and dummy examples of the product before building the features. We recorded how users went about their day-to-day work and what they were saying. We then took these voices straight to the developers for feedback.

Today: it’s how we roll 

As a result of our journey to develop the fastest online accounting software, we now have the skills and know-how to make the product even faster…. and we’re not stopping. We have internalised the lessons and we now look at workflows from a different perspective.

The design and experience of our offerings aren’t owned by one team or rigidly followed from a style guide. It’s a value that’s embraced company-wide. This is a huge cultural shift for us. It’s a solid foundation to build an exciting future.

I am also pleased to report that over the past few months we have delivered a bunch of sexy new features in addition to speed improvements.

If you’ve been involved in any user tests, shared insights on our blogs, forums or directly to our team, we thank you for the feedback and will continue to build a better and better product for you.

Thank you. Here’s to an exciting 2014. It’s going to be awesome.