Duct tape is enjoying a well-deserved and rapid prototyping. Yet I’ve noticed many of the folks I work with as a manager and a mentor don’t go as far as they could in looking at the (usually metaphorical) duct tape solutions their prospective users create.
A B2C Example
I’m on the advisory board of Making Friends, which is working on an iPad/tablet app for children with autism (actually all conditions in the autism spectrum disorder, ASD). One of their earliest inspirations was the fact that parents of children with ASD learn to practice a technique where the parent draws out a story for social interactions, like going to the dentist. The story then serves as a primer for future social interactions that the parent and child can review together. From the fact that users of interest perform this process by hand, it’s a reasonable to suppose that software might make this story creation process easier and better. And this is where I see lots of folks doing customer discovery stop when they’d likely benefit from going further- They discovery a manual process where they can build software and take that as a proof point (which it probably is).
But making great products is hard and the single best predictor of success (I’ve found) is the degree of empathy the customer discovery team has for the user. So it’s important to take a close look at how the user has used that (metaphorical) duct tape and what it tells you about what they want to do and how they do it. The little facets matter a lot- great products are the accumulation of lots of well-executed details. The team at Making Friends does just that, looking at as many actual hand-created stories as they can get their hands on.
A B2B Example
I’m the founder and CTO of an enterprise software company, Leonid Systems. We make software for cloud communications operators. They have lots of different assets in their network inventory- all the physical and virtual stuff that makes up their network. We have a product, Loki BPM, that helps manage this.
I was talking a few weeks ago with one of our account executives about a facet of Loki BPM’s inventory management related to one of his accounts. We talked about the problem scenario and he mentioned the customer was still managing this one part of their inventory in a spreadsheet- a good proof point that there was a specific, actionable need. We then agreed that said spreadsheet would be a good source of implementation ideas for our new product feature. He got the spreadsheet, worked with the customer to understand it, and, indeed, it turned out to be a great source of details and specifics on the relevant problem scenarios and user stories.
And so. . .
The focus of Lean Startup is making your assumptions explicit and figuring out the quickest, most effective way to validate or invalidate them. That being said, asking the right questions about the user and creating high quality assumptions is equally important. In learning about the user, details are often critical.
Asking users about their metaphorical duct tape may seem strange- obsessive or stalker-ish. Here are a tips to help you on your way:
1. Don’t Be Weird. It’s not Weird
The truth is on your side- you’re just trying to get the information you need to build a good product. Internalize that and try not to project weirdness.
Few people have professional training where they’d understand why you want to see these details (hence all the blogs, book, and general hubbub around design thinking). Explain to them in the simplest possible terms why you want to see the items in question.
3. Make it Easy
Make it easy for the person. This might mean flipping through a few things with them and telling them what you want. It may also mean seeing everything you need while you’re on site or on a screen share since they don’t like the idea of having it leave the building or house. Put yourself in their shoes, think about what’ easy and what’s hard.
The talk’s about using a consulting business as a springboard for product development (a ‘concierge vehicle’ in Lean Startup speak). The slides, footage and original event description appear below.
Many consultancies dream of creating a scalable product out of their consulting practice, but few succeed. Some try to switch over and are unable to focus enough resources on the product to be successful. Some try to stop consulting altogether and roll the dice by raising funds.
Leonid Systems bootstrapped not one, but four successful products out of a consulting business. Leonid’s products are now deployed to many of the world’s largest cloud communications operators which together had over $350 billion in revenue last year.
This talk will walk through Alex Cowan’s recipe for moving from pure consulting to productized consulting to a scalable product. In this recipe, consulting work provides your business an immediate ‘concierge’ style MVP to test out and fund new product ideas.
Alex will go over how to quickly initiate a rapid improvement loop using design thinking, Lean Startup, customer development, and agile. There will be a few hands on exercises.
We’ll also have lightning talks, MVP presentations, and the traditional lean repast of beer and savory pies.
ABOUT ALEX COWAN:
Alex is the CTO of Leonid Systems, an enterprise software startup with offices in the Bay Area, Washington, Toronto and various points abroad. Leonid works with communications and SaaS providers on innovative solutions to leverage and growth their franchise. He’s also the Author of ‘Starting a Tech Business‘ (Wiley, 2012), a primer for non-engineers who want to up their game with the latest techniques and foundations concepts in product development.
Meetups are held at RUNWAY, a brand-new 30,000 square foot incubator and co-working space at 1355 Market Street (the new Market Square development). Tenants in the building include Twitter, Yammer, and One Kings Lane. The building is the centerpiece of a new startup hub in the mid-market section of San Francisco.
The venue is conveniently located one block away from the Civic Center/UN Plaza Station. The building has two lobbies; however, you must enter through the lobby closer to the corner of 9th & Market.