I get it; you are lean, you "have ideas", you test, you learn, you change, and you do it again.
When you take this idea-first approach you: create a hypothesis of struggle, you design a solution, and you go and test it. The issue, of course, is in this process you are changing the problem space and the solution space at the same time. You are constantly throwing things at the wall to see what sticks – with little understanding of the wall itself.
Moving the problem space and solution space at the same time
When you take an idea-first approach and work with users in a very exploratory way, you tend to frequently redefine the problem space, if it was defined at all, at the same time as you try to test various solutions to it. To what? Exactly!
Letting users design the solution
In most cases, people even allow the test subject to "design the solution". Your users may be experts in their own experience of the problem, but it is your job to be the expert in the solution design.
Most importantly, and to add to the issue, when you show people ideas and ask them how they feel and what they think they are rarely sincere. Not because they have anything against you; it's just human nature, i.e. the way we think we would behave (professed behaviours) is not how we actually do behave outside of test conditions. There's what we think we would do and what we actually do, and for humans, these things do not always align - in fact, they rarely do. This is a basic insight of behavioural science; if you don't trust me, I recommend Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational; nice book, nice guy.
Finally, let me say something that is key to the point and the biggest reason this approach is just not good enough.
Have you considered the idea that your prospective customer is struggling and in most cases, they don't know why or what is wrong to start with?
So taking this lean approach, you end up with a product that people think they would like but never use. You go down the "lack of engagement" path and come up with all kinds of excuses for that. The worst is when you end up blaming your users. I once heard a product lead say "My users are just lazy; that's why they are not using the platform." Of course, that is just not true. What he was offering was just not good enough to be worth their time, or in other words, the outcome they are getting by using the product is just not good enough for them.
Turning the approach on its head
Now let me propose a different approach to start with. Let's turn the lean approach on its head.
Why not LEARN first: nail the problem THEN iterate the solution.
Sounds great, right? Let me show you how you do that.
The first thing to do is to FORGET YOUR PRODUCT. People don't want your product; they want to achieve an outcome.
Stop, read that line again, let me re-write it.
People don't want your product, they what to achieve an outcome.
Businesses don't want eCommerce sites; they want to sell their products to prospective clients.
People don't want to take a taxi to the airport; they want to get to the airport on time.
People don't want a quarter-inch drill bit; they want a quarter-inch hole in the wall.
People don't want your product; accept that.
Once you have accepted it and only when you have, you can take the Learn-First Approach.
Concentrate now on the Desired Outcome (Goal) your users are trying to achieve. What do they want to achieve? Talk to users. Determine what they want to achieve first. Talk about how difficult is it for them to achieve that outcome. Talk about how much time they spend trying to achieve that outcome. Talk about how often they do it. Talk about how important it is in their life to achieve that outcome.
You are trying to identify a difficult outcome, which they find necessary and important and that they often try to do.
Remember, keep your product ideas out of the conversation for now. They don't want your product!
Great, you now know what the outcome is ... time to create a product! NO! You still don’t have enough to design a solution. Stay away from the idea space!
Once you have an outcome, you also have a market. Your market is basically everyone struggling to achieve the outcome.
I’m gonna say something controversial now. To get to the bottom of the problem, you need to look outside your target market segment. What you do instead is talk to Masters. Masters are people that understand how to achieve the outcome. They are experts in the field; they know the steps, in what order they need to be followed and the criteria for success. This is the “map” for achieving the outcome.
Talk to masters, map their process, learn how to achieve the outcome, and become a master yourself. Some people call it “lead user innovation”; I call it “talking to masters.”
Now it’s time to go back to your users. Yes, your target market. Remember, they are struggling. They are not masters; they don't know what's wrong or how to fix it; they only know how they struggle. All they can help you with is their experience.
Ask them to tell you the story of when they last tried the achieve the outcome, e.g “When was the last time you tried to make a hole in the wall? Tell me all about it.”
Then shut up, grab the master recipe and follow along to determine where they go off track, what they find difficult, or, as in most cases, what they are doing at the wrong time or simply not doing at all - missed steps and success criteria.
Congratulations, you now understand the problem! Now it’s time to use a product design framework to create something that helps people achieve the outcome and is naturally engaging. Read about how to do that here.
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