I recently read a great chapter from Marty Cagan’s book “Inspired,” called “Startup product management.” Within it lies a remarkably simple framework for creating new products when the runway is short and the risk of failure is high. It starts with an archetypal story of product discovery modeling (or lack thereof).
“Someone with an idea gets some seed funding, and the first thing he does is hire some engineers to start building something. The founder will have definite ideas on what she wants, and she’ll typically act as product manager and often product designer, and the engineering team will then go from there. The company is typically operating in “stealth mode” so there’s little customer interaction. It takes much longer than originally thought for the engineering team to build something, because the requirements and the design are being figured out on the fly.
After six months or so, the engineers have things in sort of an alpha or beta state, and that’s when they first show the product around. This first viewing rarely goes well, and the team starts scrambling. The run rate is high because there’s now an engineering team building this thing as fast as they can, so the money is running out and the product isn’t yet there. Maybe the company gets additional funding and a chance to get the product right, but often it doesn’t.” 1
Not a fun place to be. Thankfully, there’s a great, two-step solution:
- “Create a high fidelity prototype that mimics the eventual user experience.”
- “Validate this product design with real target users.”
By creating a high-fidelity prototype, usability and value can be tested with real potential clients, and you end with a rich engineering spec to share with your team for development.
Be sure to bring in architects and engineers during the prototyping phase. They can contribute by identifying certain design decisions which may be problematic in the engineering/build phase. It’s not enough to validate user experience and value only, you must also validate the intended product’s technical feasibility with qualified experts.
Engineers will produce a functional version of your product much more quickly by referencing this rich prototype, rather than inferring requirements from unvalidated and nebulous ideas of product potential.
This approach eliminates waste, reduces stress, and almost guarantees you a reasonable chance of success in delivering a valuable and useful product to the right people at the right time.
If you need help with product development and software delivery, reach out.
Cagan, Marty. “Startup Product Management.” Inspired, SVPG Press, 2008, pp. 161–163. ↩︎