How We Work

Neo is kicking off a new project with ICANN, and they asked us to write a few words on how we go about our work for their new blog for ICANNLabs. Starting in August, ICANN will be working on a number of innovation efforts, and publicly communicating about the process. You can follow the innovation efforts at ICANNLabs or visit the related blog.

Below is an excerpt of the post: When Neo starts a new project, their ultimate goal is to create a successful product. Behind the scenes, they use a few different methodologies to get there. Two of the strongest influences on how they work is “agile software development“ and “lean startup” approaches.

Agile emerged in 2001 as a reaction against rigid, over-planned software development practices. There are lots of flavors of agile, but ultimately it presumes that a product’s requirements will change over time and builds flexibility into the process itself. They do it through short time cycles (called “iterations"), early and constant release of code to the market, with automated testing to keep quality high, and lots and lots of human communication rather than formal documentation.

But agile by itself had two failings: It was primarily an engineering approach, and it focused on how you built products as opposed to questioning what you were building.

This is where lean comes in. Lean product development emerged from the thinking of folks like Steve Blank, Eric Ries and Marc Andreessen.

Lean values evidence above everything else. It says, “Ok, you have a neat idea — now go prove that it is a good idea." With lean, you try to apply this proof-based approach to all parts of the process, from the core vision down to a feature of the product itself. Lean also requires a healthy balance of contradictory impulses: vision and humility; rapid execution and patient analysis.

How do you test and prove ideas? The answer depends on the idea, but it usually consists of a mix of qualitative research (i.e. talking to people) and quantitative observation (i.e. put people through an experience and measure the results).

On ICANNLabs, we’ll be putting agile and lean together in practice, and it will looks like this:

  • We’ll work in small, cross-functional teams that bring business, design and engineering together into one group.
  • We’ll view ideas as hypotheses to be proven, rather than requirements to be built.
  • We’ll try to create what are called “minimum viable products" (MVPs). An MVP is the smallest experience you can put in a customer’s hands that helps you learn and validate (or invalidate) an idea.
  • We’ll scale up our engineering rigor as our belief in the product increases, but we don’t over-engineer when an idea is still speculative.
  • We’ll continually gather qualitative and quantitative feedback from real users of the product, and use that learning to drive rapid improvements and necessary changes in strategy.