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Alex Cowan
Course Instructor

Introduction to Alex and the Venture Design Process

My name is Alex Cowan. I teach at UVA Darden, my background is that I’ve been an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur, meaning I started a new venture inside an existing company. Now, three of those ventures were successful which apparently is actually a reasonably good track record for creating new ventures. You can read more about me here and watch this video to learn about my background. Please also feel free to ‘follow’ me on my profile here.

As I looked at what was working for myself, my teams, other similar teams, I formulated this venture design process. And it’s just a systematic way to apply some of today’s best practices. And speaking of systematic, I found that for organizing the work of teams, agile consistently delivers much better results than the alternatives and I’m an enthusiastic practitioner. 

I’m also super excited about this tension, I’m going to tell you about here. The cost to launch a tech startup, the cost to create a new product, it’s been plummeting. Okay, but the amount of software that’s really valuable to the user, that’s commercially successful, it really hasn’t improved a whole lot. So there’s a real tension there that I think we can fix with agile. And that’s what you learn about in this course. How do we get you to this happy place where you’re building awesome products, rolling out great systems inside your company, is it having really terrific ideas? Well, when we get a new idea, we’re excited about it. We want to tell everybody, we want to render it into software so we can be magically successful. But the reality is, a lot of the time that idea is not that good or it’s not ready yet to be rendered into software and we crash and burn. 

Is it being really technical and code savvy? Well, that will help you certainly, engage in the details. But your job isn’t to tell your developers how to do their job. Your job, if you’re the product person, is to do your job really well and create an environment where they can be successful, so by itself this isn’t the answer either. The answer is grinding it out. We go out, we talk to users in a very specific way, so we learn what is on their alias, what’s important to them. We test our proposition, our solutions before we go build them so that, we make sure we’re not going to build something no one wants. And we organize that in actionable ways for a development team and that’s how we get to a happy place and we get there as a team. 

Let’s talk about how to do this, well in the venture design process, we move in this particular sequence because as you go along, your options are going to decrease, your cost is going to go up. Now, that is just the nature of developing software systems, but you want to make sure that you’ve maximized your opportunities to understand your user, to test your ideas, so you increase your odds of building something that’s valuable. 

Now in this, we’ll show you how to do that. We’ll show you how to humanize your customer or your user with personas and learn what’s on their a list by using problem scenarios. So you don’t build something nobody wants and we’ll show you how to bring that forward into better user stories and prototypes to drive better, more purposeful discussions and better more purposeful action with your team. 

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This article is from the free online course:

Getting Started with Agile and Design Thinking

Darden School of Business, University of Virginia