There is one thing that kills new products and it’s treating them like products that already have this product market fit. The mission of a team that’s introducing a brand new product or a substantial new feature is radically different than the mission of a team that is scaling up a product market fit. They are on this, a new introduction team is on a learning mission not a scaling mission.
I will tell you the more I do this the more I realize just how fundamentally different it is that work feels different, the substance of it is different, the people you need on the team is different, the things that you look at, the successes that you get, and the failure that you have to iterate through. They’re all totally, totally, totally different. And the good news is, there’s some really great work out there that helps you structure your point of view about where you are and where you should be focused and I think that will also help you as a communications tool with your management and the rest of your team.
And the thing that I really like for this particular purpose is actually Steve Blank’s four steps to the epiphany. This was some work that kind of preceded the Lean Startup; Steve Blank and Eric Ries are buddies and this was some work that really helped us think about, what do we mean when we say that it’s so radically different. There are these four steps here. We start out in discovery, we move to validation with an MVP, and then, once we get a product market fit, assuming we get it, then we start the scaling.
The scaling, the scaling doesn’t really, the scaling doesn’t really start until here and then when we get into like really big scale, scaling the organization, we go into company building. Let’s talk in a little bit more detail about what each of these things mean and how you focus in each of these steps because for you, the product manager, that is the most important thing - creating the right focus because there will be a bajillion things you could potentially be doing. Most of them are a waste of time. At the discovery phase you don’t need to have these pivotal assumptions that we talked about in week two with Lean Startup.
You’re really focused on keeping an open mind, doing generative discovery with real subjects in their natural environment, watching what’s on their A-list, what do they care about, what shoes do they wear. You should not have a product at this point or even an idea about a solution. Okay, naturally you’re going to have one. That’s probably why you chartered and went off to go do this thing in the first place but you want to back it up and you want to just approach the customer or the potential customer with fresh eyes. It’s really important. Why? Because two reasons, one, you may find a much better opportunity that you didn’t even realize existed.
Two, that’s how you’re going to find out and it’s, believe me, the cheaper you iterate on an idea that a solution it’s not going to go here, the better you’re going to do. You’re going to remove waste and create opportunity to do other stuff so, you will find great opportunities and avoid waste if you back it up and stay focused on the discovery part of this. You want a customer development team or, at Agile, what we call whole team so these people are dedicated and 100-percent focused on this project. Ideally, the team is interdisciplinary, designers, developers, hustlers, hackers, like, like you and, if you use partners and channels in your existing business,
I would not work with them on this part.
And the reason why, two things: one, you have to be really close to the end customer, the place where the value is ultimately going to get delivered to do this kind of learning. And, even if you have the notion that, oh, well, maybe the partners or the channels can introduce me to them, it ‘s going to be too complicated and too messy for the kind of scrappy quick action that you need to have at this phase of the process. So, even if they are going to turn out to be a great way to amplify your product market fit, find a channel that’ll get you, find a way not a channel, to get directly to that end customer that you’re observing.
One tool that I really like to use here is this product hypothesis. This is just something to have on the board in a Google doc where you say, all right, where you’re going to iterate on this a lot but we’re saying, hey, this, this segment, this segment exists.
There’s these personas within it that have these certain specific problems: jobs that they need to do, habits that they have, desires that they have. And right now they’re using these certain alternatives and we’re going to know what those are. And we have a value proposition that, and this is the value proposition is obviously something you’ll get later on in the second half, we’ll say, of the discovery process. We have a value proposition that is better enough at solving these problems versus the alternative that they’re, our customer, is going to use our value proposition and buy from us. There’s an example here from an Enable Quiz, no need to read that. It’s in the “personas tutorial” that’s in the resources section.
You exit this customer discovery phase with some ideas for a minimum viable product that will help you prove or disprove a set of structured assumptions. Something like, “if we do this for the customer then they will respond in a certain way.” And you may have to iterate several times.
Now, if you remember the MVP could be something like: when we called the cell phone, duct taped it to the bicycle to see if the cyclists cared about the talking bicycle compass experience, the Indiegogo Kickstarter thing we saw for the hardware products, the way that Dropbox created demo and a sign up opportunity to hear about this cool new product. Those are all great examples of MVPs. All things that you can run in about a week to start seeing some kind of result, positive or negative. So you don’t have a product. Ideally, you have an MVP of some sort which is not the same thing as a product.
It is ideally a product proxy you can throw together and use to do this testing. That’s its only and main purpose, that’s its only purpose. You have the same team, same deal with the channels. Now, if you find a product market fit, and I hope that you do, it may take you several iterations of this to get there. Lean Startup, it works but it doesn’t work automatically. It’s got lots of points where it can get screwed up and you may need to practice. You may need to ditch MVP one and try something else. That’s natural. That’s okay. Keep at it. It takes practice. And then we move to this phase of customer creation.
And now, in the second half of this whole process, this is the only place we start to even think about scaling. And, so, we’ve got validated assumptions. Now we have a customer that will buy this thing in some repeatable way, product market fit. We are focused on iteratively extending and, the product, and making it better and maybe taking bumps out of that customer journey to make it better and make it more efficient for our feasibility and viability dimension; so we become more profitable. And we’re probably going to have more teams, maybe divided up on a more, perhaps, on a more functional basis at this point. And now is the time when you might conceivably bring in your channel.
Company building is when we build capabilities around this fantastic new business you’ve created. Congratulations. And, one thing I’ll note here,
is that a question you have to have to have a durable organization is: “What would a startup do?” And you have to loop back to the beginning. So that’s the circle of innovation, if you will. These are some very specific structured ideas about where, as a product manager, you should focus the team if you’re working on either a new product or a really substantial new feature or extension to your product. I hope this will help you focus. I think that it will. I use it all the time and it works great.