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Is Customer Development Pseudoscience?

The “Science” of Lean Startup Lean startup practitioners embrace the scientific method, seeking the "truth" about what business model and strategy will lead to product success. We do so by: Formulating hypotheses Crafting and running experiments to test them Learning from the experiments Iteratively feeding our learnings back into revised hypotheses Sounds pretty scientific, at least in spirit, doesn't it? Yet this process actually neglects a key ingredient in the scientists' mode of operation. To identify what’s missing, let’s examine “customer development”. Customer Development Steve Blank is one of the pioneers of the lean startup movement. He introduced into the lean startup lexicon the term “customer development”. Customer development consists of sessions and interactions with customers to test hypotheses. For example, a product manager might interview a prospect, asking if she agrees with the product manager’s hypotheses abo
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Why Spreadsheets Suck for Prioritizing

The Goal As a company executive, you want confidence that your product team (which includes all the people, from all departments, responsible for product success) has a sound basis for deciding which items are on the product roadmap. You also want confidence the team is prioritizing the items in a smart way. What Should We Prioritize? The items the team prioritizes could be features, user stories, epics, market problems, themes, or experiments. Melissa Perri  makes an excellent case for a " problem roadmap ", and, in general, I recommend focusing on the latter types of items. However, the topic of what types of items you should prioritize - and in what situations - is interesting and important but beyond the scope of this blog entry. A Sad but Familiar Story If there is significant controversy about priorities, then almost inevitably, a product manager or other member of the team decides to put together The Spreadsheet. I've done it. Some of the mos

What Is Design Thinking?

The Context Over the years, various product management and development methods have come into vogue, most notably agile and lean startup methods. Agile methods addressed requirements , architecture, and development risks using frequent iterations. Lean startup methods take it a step further, iterating on the entire product strategy, including the unique value proposition , the target market, revenue and cost structure, and marketing and sales channels. Recently, you may have heard more and more chatter about "design thinking". I certainly have. What is it, and how does it differ from agile and lean startup methods? How can companies leverage it to innovate and develop better products? The Definition If you do some web searches, you'll notice a lot of vague references to design thinking and a diversity of views about what it is. After exploring some definitions, I'll borrow from various descriptions and accounts of design thinking to form what I believe is a

What Product Managers Can Learn from the Apple iPod

The Story When Apple unveiled its iPod digital music player back in October 2001, I dismissed it as a  parity product . I already owned the Cowon iAUDIO CW100 MP3 player, loaded with my favorite tunes. There was Apple, generating great hype over the iPod as if it were a breakthrough product. The idea of a portable digital music player was nothing new. The first mass-produced MP3 players came out in 1998. In late 2001, the concept may have been new to a lot of Apple customers, but it wasn't new to me. I proudly showed my MP3 player to friends when they gushed about the iPod. Thus Apple's iPod was not an innovative product in and of itself. Years later, however, I realized the significance of ecosystem of which the iPod was a part. Apple had released iTunes (with technology purchased from  SoundJam MP ) and created the iTunes Store for finding and downloading music. Unlike Napster , it was a safe and legal way of distributing and acquiring music. The prior way of playing

Website Product Management

Managing a website, whether the target visitors are internal to an organization or are in the public at large, is not merely a matter of slapping together some web pages and linking them together. It's also not merely about design. No, managing a website includes such challenges as: How do you elicit and prioritize the requirements for the website? How do you position and market the website to the target audience? How do you test your assumptions and continuously adjust to the needs of your target audience? Note that those who manage any product face the same challenges. In his recently-published  book,  Website Product Management ,  David Hobbs teaches us how to manage websites as the "products" they are. David was gracious enough to allow me to interview him about website product management and post his answers here. Enjoy! Q. Why is product management important for websites? A. Organizations are usually stuck in the rut of thinking of their web pre

Join Me for ProductCamp Austin 13

UPDATE: The presentation won "Best Session" at ProductCamp Austin 13. Check out the slides here . Join me Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 for ProductCamp Austin 13. I think  I missed only one ProductCamp Austin "unconference" since helping to organize the first event. At ProductCamp, product management and marketing professionals teach, learn, and network. For the upcoming event, I've proposed a session called "Google or search.com? Why We Suck at Naming Products and Companies". What the heck is a hopdoddy? Did you know that scientists have studied what makes a great brand name? The findings may surprise you. Our intuitions about brand names are the opposite of what the science tells us. In the session, we’ll answer: What goals should you strive to achieve when choosing a name for your product or company? What does the science say about what types of names best accomplish these goals? How should you choose a name? Prepare to chal

Stop Validating and Start Falsifying

The product management and startup worlds are buzzing about the importance of "validation". In this entry, I'll explain how this idea originated and why it's leading organizations astray. Why Validate? In lean startup circles, you constantly hear about "validated learning" and "validating" product ideas: The assumption is that you have a great product idea and seek validation from customers before expending vast resources to build and bring it to market. Indeed, it makes sense to transcend conventional approaches to making product decisions . Intuition, sales anecdotes, feature requests from customers, backward industry thinking, and spreadsheets don't form the basis for sound product decisions. Incorporating lean startup concepts , and a more scientific approach to learning markets, is undoubtedly a sounder approach. Moreover, in larger organizations, sometimes further in the product life-cycle, everyone seems to have an opinio