In his book, Running Lean, Ash Maurya presents a workflow for taking a product from idea to launch to Product/Market fit.
In the Problem/Solution Fit stage, you are trying to answer the question, “Do you have a problem worth solving?”. Ash breaks this down further into three questions:
- Is the problem something customers want solved? (must-have)
- Can it be solved? (feasibility)
- Will they pay for it? If not, who will? (viability)
Problem/Solution Fit is pursued by capturing your business model hypothesis and then doing Customer Discovery via what Ash calls Problem Interviews and Solutions Interviews with customers. Once you’ve validated from customers that you have a viable problem worth solving, you move into Product/Launch Fit.
In the Product/Launch Fit stage, you are trying to answer the question, “Are you ready to learn from customers?”. Key activities pursued here are reducing down your MVP, getting to Release 1.0, defining your key metrics, and continuous deployment. The purpose here is to lay the critical groundwork to maximize speed and learning for future iterations, and to establish “just enough” traction among customers to support learning.
Finally, in pursuing Product/Market Fit you are trying to answer the ultimate question: “Have you built something customers want?” This is where the rubber hits the road, and you’re validating your complete product. Identifying the “right” metric or set of metrics, prioritizing your feature backlog, and ensuring retention and getting paid are critical to the success of achieving product/market fit.
Having built and launched a number of new products as a product management professional, this workflow strikes me as one that could possibly be used by a product manager pursuing a new product idea or looking to introduce an existing product into a new market, vertical or channel. After all, the product manager in such a situation must be able to answer the same set of questions about who is the customer, what customer problem is the product trying to solve, and will enough customers care enough to pay for the solution profitably. The product manager typically starts with some sort of informed hypotheses to answer these questions, which form the basis of the product vision. And the product manager must stay in close touch with customers to validate whether the product is truly something they want.
I feel there is one critical step missing in this workflow, though. It has to do with the unique situation product managers find themselves in versus entrepreneurs. Whereas an entrepreneur is trying to discover a business model that works, a product manager is typically an employee in an existing company already executing a (hopefully) repeatable and scalable business model. As such, the new product idea being pursued by the product manager, or the introduction of an existing product into a new market or vertical, could represent an extension to the company’s existing business model at the least or a disruption at most. Either way, because of the potential impact on the company’s (ostensibly) successful business model, a critical consideration for the product manager pursuing a new product or market is whether the new product is aligned with the company’s corporate strategy.
In his book, Product Leadership: Creating and Launching Superior New Products, author Robert G. Cooper talks about the need for new product development efforts to be closely linked to the overall business strategy. In Beyond the Core, Chris Zook makes the case that the further a new product or business idea is from the core business – what he calls an “adjacency move” – the riskier it is and more prone to failure. At a tactical level, what this means is that the more closely aligned the new product idea is to the company’s existing business strategy, the more favorably it will be looked upon by the company’s executives. This does not mean a completely first-of-its-kind-to-the-business idea or something outside of a company’s core competencies will never be approved, but it does mean the bar to get that buy-in is much higher. Hence, in order for the new product idea to garner the necessary stakeholder support, its business case must be able to articulate the business opportunity it presents to the company, how it fits (or departs) from the company’s current business model and strategy, and the risks associated with pursuing it.
As such, Ash’s workflow can be modified as follows:
I call this stage Opportunity/Company Fit.
In a way, an argument can be made that this is really the first thing that matters, as it’s distinctly possible for the new product idea to be killed at this very stage by non-approval or a “half-approval” that says yes, but starves the new product idea of resources and adequate support (which is much more painful).Critical questions for the product manager to figure out are:
- Does the idea align with the company’s strategic goals?
- Who do I have to convince to get buy-in?
- Can I get a sponsor? Who?
Just like with using customer validation to achieve Problem/Solution Fit, I’m sure it’s possible to use lean principles to achieve Opportunity/Company Fit.
What do you think?