Product Management

Running Lean: Forget the business problem…for now

Often in companies of different sizes, the product team is either forced, or voluntarily switches, to ‘solution mode’ hoping to solve a business challenge. A much better way forward is to fully understand the customer problem.

You might get lucky and guess the right customer problem to solve based on your experience, insights and gut feeling. But, realistically, what are the odds of that? It’s a bet!

Sadly, in most organisations, stakeholders already have a clear picture of how the solution should look:

“It will be an amazing app (showing design mocks of different screens) and based on our market research it will be downloaded 300,000 times in the first 4 weeks!”

Sounds familiar?

The next steps are also quite predictable: a business case, specs, design, build, test, and a release 6–12 months later. The result? You guessed it: the Waterfall Model strikes again and claims another victim — your new product.

Organisations often focus way too much on the business, rather than the customer problem. Your mission is to forget the business side and embrace the customer.

An easy way to unpick this puzzle is to ask your stakeholders a couple of questions that cover the business and customer aspects of the product:

  • What’s the business challenge?
  • What’s the value for the customer?
  • What would make potential customers visit your website / download your app in the first place?
  • What would make the customer return to your website / app?

Responses like “The financial model looks great, so the product will be successful” or “A similar model works really well in another industry” indicate that the product is in jeopardy and it’s time to pack your things and leave the building. Just kidding. You can solve this by gathering some real evidence.

I’d recommend introducing the Learn, Borrow, Forget method to your stakeholders. Highlight the potential risks associated with using the Waterfall Model and focusing on mythical numbers whilst ignoring the customer.

Kick off your Learn phase (“Problem / Solution fit” phase according to Lean Startup methodology) by identifying your potential customers (or users), their environment, journeys, and pain points. Don’t be surprised if it takes some time to get this right, but ensure you timebox it to 2–4 weeks. This is one of the most important steps in product management, so be patient.
Present your findings to the stakeholders and put forward the next steps. Usually it comes down to 3 options:

  • Not enough learned, so propose another 2–4 weeks to continue the discovery phase.
  • The problem doesn’t exist or solving it has low impact on the customer. Dump it as fast as you can and look for another problem to solve.
  • Customer / User problem has been identified and it’s worth solving.

Hopefully, you’ve identified the right problem so now might be a good time to think about your product team.

Feel free to get in touch on Twitter @MaxAntonovAU if you have any questions or find yourself simply stuck!