For better or for worse I admit it - I am an addict. I am a addicted to making data driven decisions, with that out in the open, why I am I filled with fear of pending foolish decisions when presented with research from focus groups and surveys?

The learnings from focus groups and surveys can be very valuable, it is the management decisions that follow which really scare me. 

Survey and focus group findings are normally surface level. The findings should be seen as signals which provide direction to explore and learn. Instead management take the surface level signals as hard fact and react immediately resulting in, often terrible, at best worthless activity.

To illustrate, consider the common research finding, “customers feel your product is too expensive”. Unimaginative management get hooked on this surface level price problem and decide on unimaginative action, such as adjusting the price strategy, or launching a marketing campaign to compare their low price to their competitors expensive price. Both activities are really dumb, the first is likely to reduce yields while pissing off existing customer and the second positions your product as bargain basement cheap and may well ignite a pricing war.

In the price example there is a need to explore and learn what the weakness is with the value proposition or product positioning. Through iterative experimentation we can derive learnings to inspire innovation that will transform the products fortunes. Unfortunately exploration typically does not take place, management display little or no curiosity.

The lack of management curiosity is coupled with an obsession with finding quick solutions instead of quality solution. Most managers are fire fighting against a never ending bombardment of incoming tasks (email, meetings, customers, staff, etc) that requires more attention than they have bandwidth. Time is finite and many tasks get missed or rushed, company culture conditions managers to reduce their attention span. This is counter productive for product managers who need to use focus as a tool to create time to be curious. 

Given the context of the never ending "todo list" and challenge to achieve “inbox zero” it is understandable why so many managers lack motivation to explore their curiosity and eagerly latch on to the first loosely justifiable solution. 

The outlook, skills and tools I am passionate about such as lean, agile and gtd methodologies can empower managers to achieve high focus and afford time to be curious. Through rapid low cost experimentation we can fail and learn fast to shape successful innovation. These frameworks are not silver bullets, the companies that use them to create world leading products and achieve hockey stick growth have to cultivate an environment to reap the biggest rewards from lean and agile.

Company culture will accelerate or kill innovation. 

Explore and learn requires curiosity, too many managers are reluctant ask “why” enough times to obtain a deep understanding. The typical organisational culture has killed off managerial curiosity. 

As technology continues to challenge established business models across all industries those that survive and grow will be the companies that have cultures that encourage innovation.  The rest will ignore what is happening around them and miss out.

AuthorDave Martin

New ideas are common place in product management to the extent product managers are often repeatedly saying “NO”.  So when the embryonic idea is given a “YES” what should be next?

Following a lean approach the typical cycle repeated is “Build, Measure, Learn”. This requires a MVP (Minimal Viable Product) or perhaps more accurately MVE (Minimal Viable Experiment) to test the hypothesis presented by the embryonic idea. There are many forms of experiment to learn more about the hypothesis, some require significant more investment than others. 

If the lean mantra, “Build, Measure, Learn” is not taken literally then the experimentation may not require anything to be built - the build stage can be a customer interview.

Before customers can be interviewed the “Build” stage does require some effort, you need to define the following:

  1. Who is the customer? Or, who is the addressable market?
  2. What is the monitisable pain your idea solves? 
  3. In a few brief sentences how does your solution solve that pain?
  4. It unusual to find a pain not solved by anyone else, so what makes your solution different?

That is the “Build” done, now time to “deploy” which requires you to talk preferably face to face or over Skype with potential (or existing) customers from the segment you defined.

When interviewing customers do not sell to them, the aim is to learn from them, these tips will help you:

  • If possible it, helps to have a colleague so you can talk and they can scribe.
  • Consider your "talk to listen" ratio and make sure you are doing the listening.
  • Take notes throughout the interview.
  • After introducing yourself define the problem and ask if they have it. (If they don’t there is no point talking to them any further)
  • Ask how they handle the problem today.
  • Breifly, without waffle and going into sales mode, explain your solution and ask if this solves their problem and why.

After three to six interviews its is time to “Measure”. Review the findings into concise points. What have you learned? Do the findings validate your hypothesis, do you want to reshape the hypothesis based on your new findings? Your MVE (Minimal Viable Experiment) is complete. Your first cycle of the lean “Build, Measure, Learn” process is in the bank.

It is normal that your learning give you cause to to reshape your hypothesis. This is the start of your next iteration of the “Build, Measure, Learn” process. My personal preference is to repeat this cycle until you can interview 6 customers and not want to reshape your hypothesis - at this point you may have learned all you can from customer interviews. It is now time to progress to a different type of experiment.  

AuthorDave Martin