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Validating a Big Product Bet

Product
Team Processes

31 August, 2021

Mary Lauran Hall
Mary Lauran Hall

Senior Product Manager at Kevel

MaryLauran Hall, Senior Product Manager at Kevel, outlines -- step by step -- what it takes to validate a big product idea.

Problem

Imagine having a big product idea. You and your team are all excited about it. Of course, before you rush to build it, you should get validation from customers and the market about whether or not this idea is worth pursuing. Validation of customer value should help you understand whether this idea really solves a pressing problem for customers in order to help you achieve business goals.

Actions taken

Any product idea warrants validation to eliminate the 4 big product risks ([https://svpg.com/four-big-risks/]) according to Marty Cagan: value, usability, technical feasibility, and business viability. The most overlooked of these is customer value. With a really big product idea that would take substantial engineering time and effort to build, value validation is all the more critical. No one wants to spare resources on something that customers won’t like and that will not be aligned with business goals. I believe that conducting a product discovery sprint is one of the most effective ways to de-risk an idea in order to build a product that will be useful, loved, and profitable.

There are many resources out there on how to run product discovery sprints. I wholeheartedly recommend _Design Sprint _by Jake Knapp and the GV team as a starting point to learn about idea validation. They share a detailed step-by-step guide to the original five-day design sprint. My article ([https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-run-remote-discovery-sprints-dont-suck-marylauran-hall/]) about running remote product discovery sprints has some ideas for remote teams. Jim Morris also has solid resources on product discovery here ([https://productdiscoverygroup.com/learn#adopt]).

Make sure that your sprint is inclusive: bring together a cross-functional group including a PM, designer, engineer, and subject matter experts from across the company. Your subject matter experts could include folks from finance, sales, solutions, and/or customer success, depending on the project and your business context. Have them all be part of the process to articulate the customer journey in the world in which this new product idea exists.

One of the main challenges product managers face is turning a product idea into a testable idea. Narrowing it down to one or several prototype concepts that you can put in front of customers is the necessary next step. With a prototype in place, run tests with customers. Get the customers in the frame of mind you’d expect them to be in if they were to use this product if it actually exists. Draw out their thoughts on topics like how they would use this, what they would do with this, and what they would do next. You’ll get an incredible amount of feedback on the concept and, hopefully, gain directional insight on the best path to move forward.

While a product discovery sprint traditionally takes a full week and includes a cross-functional group of seven people, variations of all sorts can be helpful. First off, a product sprint doesn’t have to be concentrated in a week, especially with a team working remotely where the potential for Zoom fatigue is high. Doing what’s best for your team always wins out over following strict procedures, so consider spreading out the schedule and involving people who can provide the right input.

If you’re tackling a highly complex project that’s critical to the business, I highly recommend bringing in an external facilitator familiar with product discovery to lead this process. I know from personal experience how hard it is to both be the facilitator for a discovery sprint and be the PM in charge of decisions on the product. Finding someone external with expertise in running product discovery sprints is a worthy investment to ensure that you will get the insights you need to get and have a process that will set you up for success.

Lessons learned

It pays off to spend time validating the customer value of a big idea upfront. If something is not valuable to customers, they will not buy it. Nevertheless, we often breeze over the “value” risk, forgetting that validation is a cornerstone on which your product rests. Sometimes we believe we are validating customer value when, in fact, we’re doing usability testing. While usability testing is important to ensure a great user experience, it’s important not to mistake a test for task completion with a test for true value. Always make sure that ideas you pursue have received some level of validation around customer value. By going through a product discovery sprint or components thereof, you can tackle the customer value question while also thinking through the problem at a much greater level of detail. Further, your cross-functional team can help you de-risk business viability – whether it’s acceptable to our business and company stakeholders – and technical feasibility – whether this is something we can really build.

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