Product managers and entrepreneurs are always trying to find new ways to delight customers and, in turn, encourage them to open their wallets.
It seems simple:
1. A great new idea arises.
2. That idea gets turned into a product.
If only things were this easy. Unfortunately, the innovation process is arduous and requires a lot of hard work. Many can get lost as they journey through it. Take, for example, this classic error: “If you build, they will come". This is one of the biggest fallacies of the business world, but many keep falling for it.
If you build it, they will come.
I have seen the classic Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” (which apparently he never said) being used as a justification for the “visionary product development” process, where teams of “experts” have such in-depth knowledge of an industry that they know better than anyone what the market needs next. Therefore, they have no need to talk to customers, and instead spend months or years working on their vision in solitude until the launch day is finally there and they introduce the next big thing to the world. And that’s it. No one wants, cares, or knows how to use it, or even finds out the product exists.
“There must be a better way?!?
Luckily there is!
Entrepreneurs and product managers have been around for a while, and they tend to be very open about their learnings. Through trial and error, many have built techniques and frameworks that can help us launch our products faster whist considerably improving the chances of success, or help us avoid wasting time on products that are destined to fail.
I have listed six techniques that can be used by teams to start innovating right away. These techniques can help you guide and structure your work through the product development journey. For more techniques, and background information on each technique, I recommend reading Marty Cagan's Inspired: How to create tech products customers love.
The Design Sprint process
Created by three partners at Google Ventures, this four to five-day process is used to solve tough problems and has been used by hundreds of companies. It breaks down the innovation process in a formula that can be replicated by any business. When you are done, you will have moved from idea to prototype to decision in just a few days. See here for details on Design Sprints.
The Decision Sprint Technique
Inspired by the above Design Sprint process, the Decision Sprint was created by our team at Brew to help teams make critical decisions before or during the product development process. It combines some of the exercises of the design sprint and helps teams get on the same page, decide the right problem to tackle, and start moving towards a solution, all in two hours. It is a powerful exercise because its structured form and the use of an experienced facilitator help ensure tangible results, instead of the typical brainstorming sessions where ideas are discussed but no actions are taken.
Get started on your Decision Sprint journey with Brew Digital.
Opportunity Assessment Technique
A simple technique that asks you to answer four questions:
1. What business objective is this work intended to address? (Objective)
2. How will you know if you succeed? (Key Results)
3. What problem will this solve for customers? (Customer Problem)
4. What type of customers are we focusing on? (Target Market)
Customer Letter Technique
Write a mock-up letter as if it was sent from a happy customer to the CEO of your organisation, explaining why they are so satisfied with the product. This helps you think about the benefits of your product to the end client.
Customer Discovery Programme
The idea behind this exercise is to recruit six reference customers in your target market. You will need to recruit eight in total in case one or two ends up not being a good match. You will need to find customers who really express the problem you are trying to solve, and are willing to dedicate time to assist with the development, such as by giving feedback on the prototype. By the end of the Customer Discovery Programme, these clients will benefit from having a solution that solves their pressing problem, and you will have built something at least six customers find valuable. An important point is that they must have agreed beforehand to buy the product and serve as a reference if the final product fixes their pain point.
This way you will know the value is really there!
Hopefully, you are already doing these, but if not, start right away. Customer interviews do not need to be held at a specific time, but really you should have around three hours allocated every week to test the assumptions that you make as you develop the product and that your solution is aligned with what users need. You should write a script using open-ended questions and keep the conversation natural and informal. You will be amazed by how much you can learn from these conversations. By speaking with customers early and often, you will have customers that know you exist and who will feel connected to the product from day one. They helped you build it! Some of them might go on to become your first paying customers and a reference for your future prospective clients.