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Burning money. (Minimizing project failure through behavioral science).

The facts

It’s well known that 90% of startups fail, and that most projects will go down - about 7 out of 10. Many articles will cover these kinds of statistics - here in one about project failure and here is another about startups failure >> This last company sells insurance for startups, as you can see the problem isI so real there is true necessity for a solution to it.

Depending on the company's business vertical issuing the article, the main challenge they think startups might face will cover one or the other aspect of the equation (project managing, not enough devs, etc)

But there is a common denominator to all this conversation: They all focus on a “after-phase”.

In general, the common practice is to throw our teams into “production” as quickly as possible, in the hope that if we paddle fast enough we'll reach the other side of the river safe and sound.

The dilemma

So if these numbers are so overwhelming, why do we keep insisting on repeating the same strategy? 
- I believe there is a fallacy going on:

Fast production and iteration WILL secure a safe spot for you.

Agile strategies have gained popularity because of their effectiveness in moving forward.

You won’t get stuck into details, they’ll help you focus on the core aspects to secure your project’s viability, and also they'll show palpable results in a short period of time.

But… they can not secure anything for you!

They will help you stay focused and not waste your precious resources on things you shouldn’t.

The truth is that in an attempt to cross the river, before running and jumping, we should check if we even need to cross it. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we should use the bridge that is two blocks away…

Where to even start then?

First, we need to recognise the absolute importance of designing a proper strategy.

A well elaborated product/service design WILL save money.

Design is cheap, because at its core it's all about thinking before doing.

Design will allow you to define the optimal course of action, for a minimal fraction of the investment and unlock possibilities you probably hadn't even considered.

Once you have an idea, even though your stakeholders and close circles may be in sync with it, make sure to run it through a technical verification process. It's cheaper to stress your plan to the maximum and be open to hear other possibilities and courses of action, than to put all your chips down in a single bet.

I have decided to go through a Product Design process, what's next?

Now, you have to choose a methodology.

Different designers will lean towards different methodologies.

But the reality is that in this ultra complex world we are living in, designing around our users' needs (User Centric Design) or removing barriers for them (UX) is not enough.

Today, more than ever before, to achieve a solid loop of engagement and retention (the value you want), we need to go to the roots of human psychology, helping people change their behaviors, so they can achieve the value they want. In a nutshell, you need to give value, before you receive value, but you need to be super precise to define it. Here is where behavioral science is key.

So, now the question is what is “value”? And how do I deliver it? The best answer is to apply behavioral sciences to the design process.

About Behavioral Design

Behavioral Design nurtures from Behavioral Sciences and Economics, a field of study that has changed our world and that is more and more relevant in our society due to the overwhelming advancements in technology.

There are many ways to apply it. Here is our approach:

Design Situations > To Create Behaviors > That Deliver Value. 

In a nutshell, we need to create a specific behavior in our user.

If we achieve that, they will find value, and re-engage with our proposal along our product’s life cycle.

The first part of the formula, “Design Situations”, refers to the creation of a proper balance between the three types of behavioral barriers that anyone will encounter in their path between their current state and an action state, in which they will engage with a certain desired behavior.

These barriers are:

  • Motivation Barriers

  • Availability Barriers

  • Trigger Barriers.

So, if a user is highly motivated, but what needs to be accomplished is too difficult, or too expensive, for example, even if he or she is prompted with the right triggers at the right time, the behavior won’t occur.

Also, if there is a good availability, meaning the “friction bar” is low, and the user is up for the proposal, but there is no proper cue/trigger/prompting happening in a timely manner, the behavior won’t occur.

Finally, the same goes the other way around, you could have great prompting, super low friction, but if there is not enough motivation or reason for the user to engage, the behavior won’t occur.

The importance of this tricky part we just saw is absolute, and is completely missed by all other disciplines. 

Moving on: Value

Once you are able to design a proper situation for every user, you’ll form a mechanism, in which each user will behave in a certain way in order to obtain a certain value.

This flow of interests will make the wheel spin into a self sustained cycle:

- You help users to get what they want/need, in such a way they input the behavior that gives value to you and the other parts of the mechanism (every part "helps" the next).

There are no blind spots. Everyone should get something beneficial out of the interaction, something that is valuable to them.

That’s why going deep into the study of human psychology is so important.

What’s valuable to me might not be valuable to you, but still coexist in a mechanism where those things are equal to the system (function requirements or costs).

Now, these practices may sound complicated but they are not. It's not rocket science and it can be applied to any circumstance regardless of the business vertical (human psychology affects all domains).

We‘ve been pushing forward in this field for quite a long time -over 10 years now- and have plenty of experience and documentation to share with you.

If this is your case here are some resources you might find helpful:


We can also work as consultants.

Thank you for reading 🙌 - Marce.

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