These days, thanks to Lean Startup thinking and Customer Development, we now know our biggest risk isn’t getting the software built, but validating that there are customers out there that want our product, and can use it. I’m going to call that stuff product discovery.
Now I suspect if you’re reading this, you’re familiar with Lean Startup’s build-measure-learn loop, but I’ll explain it anyway – from my perspective.
- Describe our big product idea (but recognize that it’s a hypothesis, we can’t assume people want it)
- Identify the riskiest assumptions hidden in our product idea (assumptions about who our customers are, and their needs, as well as assumptions about how they’d value and use our product)
- Separate out the few biggest assumptions (those that would sink your product if they weren’t correct)
- Identify an approach to validating those assumptions – your Minimum Viable Product Test (customers you could talk to, and potentially prototypes or examples they could engage with to validate your assumptions)
- Build your simple prototype (and write a few notes about how you’ll engage with customers to test your assumptions)
- Engage with customers to test your assumptions (pay attention to what you’ve learned as you do)
- Make sense of what you’ve learned, and rethink your big product idea
- Repeat steps 2-7 until you’re confident you’ve identified the smallest product you really need to build, or until you’re out of cash
“The difference between learning and failure is how much money you spend to do it.” — David Hussman @Discovery teams quickly figure out that what takes the longest time isn’t building working software, it’s getting time with customers in order to learn something that really slow you down. The Nordstrom team solves this problem by placing their small discovery team inside a teaming pool of customers that they could learn from. This allowed them to get around the learning loop many times a day. That’s a super-fast learning velocity. Keep the spirit of Agile, and discount the dogma If you’re in software development today, you really need to understand Agile development. But, if you’re a startup, be aware that common Agile practice is about predictable delivery and is best suited for the times when you’re confident you’re building the right thing. By using an Agile time-boxed development cycle, you can more predictably build it right. If you’re biggest risk is building the right thing, focus on building your learning muscles. Go back to original Agile values and principles. Remember that Scrum and Extreme Programming are good delivery approaches to using Agile thinking, but not the only approaches. As a team frequently ask yourselves these questions:
- Are we working together as a team collaboratively and effectively?
- Are we making our ideas visible fast so we can learn fast, whether it’s working software, or a simple paper prototype?
- Are we learning directly from our real customers, the people that will buy and use our product?
- Are we stopping frequently to take stock of what we’ve learned and to re-think our product idea, our plans, and the way we’re working?