Tag Archives: business case

Before Product/Market Fit comes Opportunity/Company Fit

In his book, Running Lean, Ash Maurya presents a workflow for taking a product from idea to launch to Product/Market fit.

Ash Maurya workflow
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 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.

This Lean Startup workflow is one that could be used by a product manager pursuing a new product idea or looking to introduce an existing product into a new market. 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. 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 repeatable and scalable business model. As such, the new product idea being pursued by the product manager could represent a change to the company’s existing business model. As such, because of the potential impact on the company’s existing business model, a critical consideration for the product manager pursuing a new product 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. 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 something completely outside of a company’s existing core will never be approved. But it does mean the bar to get that buy-in is much higher.

So 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:

opportunity-company-fit

I call this stage Opportunity/Company Fit.

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.

A successful business case is not about the analysis

You’ve worked hard to prepare an air tight business case for that new product idea or that additional investment your current product needs to take it to the next level. You’ve clearly quantified the opportunity, identified the product solution, crafted the marketing strategy, thought through all possible risks and mitigation strategies, validated all assumptions, analyzed the investment requirements, and have developed a robust, stress-tested ROI model. You’ve vetted the business case with your boss and his or her boss as well. You’ve even practiced your presentation in front of the mirror. Despite some understandable anxiety, you’re feeling confident. You’re ready.

But your presentation ends in disaster. Your business case, while solid, falls flat. The execs either trash it completely, or worse, end up making no decision at all leaving you in limbo with no direction whatsoever. What happened? What did you miss?

In a nutshell, the people factor. When I started out, I thought if I had a well thought out presentation backed by solid analysis, that would be enough. After all, that’s what they taught us in business school, and it’s what the experts tell us we should all be doing. Good enough, right? Wrong. What I learned in the real world is that at the end of the day business runs on people, and you need to get people on your side if you want buy-in for your ideas and proposals. Yes, your analysis and recommendations have to be solid – that’s a given. But if number crunching and logic were all it took to convince people, this would probably be a very different world.

I learned that “pre-selling” ideas are critical to getting buy-in for my proposals, be they from execs or even among peers. And to do this, understanding “trust networks” is critical. This means figuring out who trusts whom, who has credibility with which folks, and understanding the personalities involved – what are their motivators, concerns, agendas. And the larger the organization and the more layers between you and those whose approval you seek, frankly, the more intricate the trust networks and the more “pre-selling” you will have to do.

The goal here is two-fold. For one, you can identify potential concerns and challenges early, and so be prepared to address them during the formal pitch. Second, in a ideal situation, everyone is already pre-sold on your proposal, so the meeting is really more of a formality with everyone at the table prediposed to nodding their agreement.

It’s tough work, and it requires its own special planning. But if done right, it can make your actual formal presentation go a whole lot smoother.