Ours is an industry of entrepreneurs, so it’s no surprise that the events of this spring have been a mixed bag. On one hand, there is plenty to be dour about. On the other, businesses (the smart ones at least) are looking for the opportunity buried in the chaos. Throughout and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, clients will still be there. They’ll still need technology (arguably more than ever), but new products, services, and methods of delivery will be needed. And the brightest future will belong to those companies that are attentive and skilled enough to reinvent themselves to meet these demands. This sort of innovation is, of course, challenging even in the best of times. Here are three principles from the world of product development you can use to maximize your chances for success.
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Fall in Love With the Problem, Not the Solution
When it comes to developing new products or services, most of us gravitate toward focusing on the solution. We know our clients have a problem, so we go work on the tool that will solve it. Seems logical enough, but there’s a well-known adage in the world of product — fall in love with the problem, not the solution.
The hard truth is that we can rarely, if ever, be sure we’re developing exactly what our customers want/need. Until we’ve successfully validated our approach (by producing the business outcomes we’re after), we have no idea if it’s actually the right one. And even then, situations change. Get clear with yourself about the exact customer problem you are trying to solve. Then become obsessed with it. Stay adaptable and open-minded. And be quick to correct yourself when you begin to fall in love with your solution. Tools and tactics evolve; the customer’s problem remains constant.
Create a Minimum-Viable Product
The idea of a “minimum viable product” (MVP) is a popular concept in the world of so-called “lean” product development. It’s a simple idea — develop a first version of your product that has just enough core features to be presented to customers, and no more. Then, put your MVP in front of customers quickly and incorporate their feedback into a series of rapid iterations.
The MVP approach dramatically speeds up learning, keeps us from getting stuck on insignificant details, and allows us to validate/disprove assumptions quickly. So focus on figuring out the most simple method of validating your idea. Then, approach a small group of clients who you think would be willing to act as early adopters. Be open and honest with them. Let them know that they will be engaging with an early version of the product or service. Solicit their feedback, incorporate it, and keep developing. You’ll learn more with this approach than months (or even years) of planning will teach you.
There’s a hard truth about developing new products and services — you will make mistakes, you will get caught off guard, and you will come up short more often than not. You will fail, but don’t let that hold you back. Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, once famously said, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”
We learn from our failures. And if we get good at incorporating these lessons, then it actually means that failure can become a competitive advantage. “Fail fast,” as the saying goes. As you set out to develop your next product or service, remember that failure is not something you can avoid; it’s not even something you should try to avoid. Instead, embrace it. Approached thoughtfully, the ability to fail fast can put you at a tremendous advantage.
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If this spring has taught us anything, it’s that the future is uncertain. But as in any shakeup of this magnitude, opportunities will present themselves. Spotting these opportunities will be hard enough. Successfully capitalizing on them is another thing altogether. But the brightest future will belong to those businesses that successfully use this climate as a catalyst for change. By staying focused on the customer problem, adapting a lean approach, and embracing failure, we can maximize our chances for success in our efforts to reinvent ourselves.
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