I consider most healthcare innovations to be too complicated, lacking my favorite KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) approach. I assume it’s because they involve doctors, scientists and providers who make a habit of focusing closely on details, and are often perfectionists when it comes to their primary profession. Of course, that approach is perfect for what they do. However,  mHealth projects and health care startups need more of an entrepreneurial approach. Not only that, but you also have much more to consider than your typical startup. So when I heard about a new methodology – “6 Steps to mHealth Success” – I thought it sounded promising. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more disappointing it became. Why?

For starters, nearly every new mHealth project is a startup. That means that startups like Mentegram, Patient IO and TrueVault are dealing with a lot of the same daily challenges as non-mHealth projects. At a certain level, it doesn’t matter which industry you are in (health care, e-commerce, pet sitting) because, according to Eric Ries, a startup is still a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This means a few things:

  1. It, unfortunately, is very likely that you will fail.
  2. If you fail, you should fail fast and recover from it.
  3. To succeed in the long run, you need to learn from your failures as quickly as possible.
  4. To learn quickly, your learning loop needs to be fast.

That’s why Eric Ries came up with a simple Build-Measure-Learn loop. Three key stages that let you go through the process at nearly the speed of light.

Let’s imagine that you have an idea for how to change the world and have done the basic customer validation as well (meaning that you went out of the building a talked a lot to your potential customer about this idea, NOT your friends). Then the three stages would be really simple

Build – You have an idea? Great! Now create your MVP (minimal viable product) to validate the idea and learn from it. Very often, your MVP doesn’t need to be a product. Mockups or presentation can be enough. It all depends on how you can do it. Just remember, if you aren’t embarrassed by your MVP, then you spent too much time on it. It’s not your final product.

Measure – Measure how your early adopters use the MVP. For example, do they only register or do they keep using it? Do they follow along the happy path you’ve set up for them, or do they drop off in the middle and do something else? Incentivize them to send you feedback, ask them what’s good and what’s wrong.

Learn – Go through the metrics and learn from them. Your startup (and mHealth project) is not going be an overnight success. You need to know the sticking points, reasons why they don’t use some features and what are they missing.

And that’s about it. Once you learned, you can start the whole loop from the top. And your goal is to make the loop as short as possible, while learning the relevant things. This works for any startup, considering that the founders and team know the industry.

What’s wrong with “6 Steps to mHealth Success” approach?

Let me come back to this one (I’ll link to the article at the end of this post). It has a loop that goes through 6 stages. Although I consider 6 too much, it’s not my main concern:

  1. Identify viable opportunity – Are you really going to do this every time? By this point it should be automatic anyway.
  2. Identify all stakeholders and benefits for each of them – This is another thing that goes without saying. Both of these steps should be done in the very beginning, since they are parts of brainstorming and idea validation.
  3. Build sustainable business model – You need to have a business model and understand who is going to pay you, but as anyone in startups knows, your business model may change over the time. It usually does change, and not just once. What would you do if your business model expects providers to pay and then you realize that the patients are your interested users? It’s overkill to create a new, sustainable business model for every loop.
  4. Design for success – I quite agree with this one. You need to choose the right set of features to start with and make a good UX.
  5. Acquire/build/deliver – Build your MVP and don’t over-complicate it with technology. This looks pretty lean, which means quickness, which is good.
  6. Measure and improve – This one is also good. You need to evaluate each success or failure, to know how to improve from where you are now.

I hoped to see a methodology that applies lean principles to real life use cases from health care industry. Essentially that’s what you will find with the “6 Steps to mHealth Success” except that it’s bogged down and bloated by unnecessary processes. As a methodology created by a consulting company, you have to admit that it certain does look professional. In fact, it’s probably very effective for selling their consulting and training services. However, it’s easy to see these sort of tactics as predatory, targeting funded startups, who might be struggling or desperate, and relieving them of resources.

That’s why I find this to be sad and disappointing.