Product managers and innovators are using Lean Startup practices to create products customers love. But, many product managers are still learning about the right ways to apply Lean Startup to their work. To find some answers, I interviewed Tristan Kromer. His bio shares that he “helps product teams go fast.” He does this by coaching teams in Lean Startup principles, breaking down big problems into small steps and running experiments to improve product and business models. He’s done this for large enterprises as well as startups and companies in between.
With his remaining hours, Tristan volunteers his time with Lean Startup Circle and blogs at GrasshopperHerder.com.
In this discussion, you will learn about:
- prioritizing product features,
- tools to validate product concepts, and
- what customers value.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:
- A few milestones in your past include a philosophy undergrad, being a bandleader and music producer, Marketing VP, and a startup co-founder. What is the thread through your experiences that led to Lean coaching? Except for philosophy, they all have creativity in common. The music industry is shockingly similar to the tech industry. It’s basically a bunch of people running around claiming to be rock stars of one form or another and trying to become famous while desperately looking for money . You have the same types of personalities and the same product development problems. They both want to bridge the gap between your delusions about what the world wants, your reality distortion field, your inward facing reality distortion field, and what people actually want and desire. So it’s a question of bridging that gap.
- Why is there so much interest in Lean principles from startups and organizations of all sizes? One reason is because it’s the latest buzzword and bestselling book by the same name. Eric Ries is absolutely brilliant and does amazing things that appear magical but are not. We have successful disruptive companies, such as Dropbox, who have used it, adding to the interest.
- If we have a concept for a product but have done nothing else yet, what is the first thing we should do? I want to reframe the question. The job of a startup is to find a repeatable business model. A startup is any sort of organization that exists in a highly uncertain and risky environment or situation. Because of that, a startup has to essentially identify risks and eliminate them as quickly as possible. Knowing if customers will buy the product or not is a key risk area that is often considered. Several tools can be used to determine if customers will commit to buying the product (a few are discussed by name). But that is only one area of risk. Once that is addressed, there may be technical risk, distribution risk, product use risk, etc. Clearly addressing risk leads to a repeatable business model.
- What is an example of addressing risk? Let’s talk about evaluative experiments. If you have a clear hypothesis about who your customer is and what they want, you can run an experiment that will give you a relatively clear answer. For example, say my target segment is skateboarders who are 20 years old and had a broken arm within the past three weeks. My product concept is a magical cast that heals their broken arm in half the time of traditional casts. My hypothesis is that if I show them a specific landing page, they will purchase the product – a simple if-this-then-that hypothesis. I set a fail condition for the hypothesis to be 20% – if less than 20% commit to purchasing, the hypothesis fails. I show that landing page to one hundred skateboarders. If less than 20% sign up, clearly this product is a bad idea or it’s unbelievable.
- What do we do when we don’t have any hypothesis yet – we are still learning about what a customer problem is? Generative research is used to generate and solidify an idea to the point that you can do a very focused test. That’s customer discovery, which can be done in interviews with potential customers. I do not like to interview with an absolutely rigid hypothesis because you’re going to invariably lead the interviewee into a box that you want to talk about, eliminating the possibility that you might actually discover new or unexpected information. A helpful resource for conducting interviews is the little book The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. It teaches you to not ask questions that forces people to respond like your mom – that your idea is nothing but awesome. To conduct effective interviews, bring someone objective to take notes for you, avoid asking leading questions, and ask “what do you mean by that” and “tell me more” frequently. Take time to listen and be comfortable with silence. Also make note of emotional responses and ask what is creating the emotion.
“Actions express priorities.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Listen Now to the Interview
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.