It is humbling to see how bad experts are at estimating the value of features (us included). Despite our best efforts and pruning of ideas, most fail to show value when evaluated in controlled experiments. The literature is filled with reports that success rates of ideas in the software industry are below 50%. Our experience at Microsoft is no different: only about a third of ideas improve the metrics they were designed to improve.
Customers are what make a product successful. Without customers willing to buy, it doesn’t matter how good or innovative or beautiful or reasonably priced a product is: it will fail. It makes no sense, then, that we spend most of our time and effort optimizing our product development process. What about customer development? Shouldn’t we invest at least as much time in understanding our customers, their needs and pain points, and how to deliver solutions to them? You may have heard of customer development. So what’s the difference between “customer development” and “lean customer development”?
I call my approach to customer development “lean customer development.” I’m using “lean” as a synonym for pragmatic, approachable, and fast. Lean customer development takes the heart of Steve Blank’s ideas and renders them into a simple process that works for both startups and established companies. It’s what I write about on my blog, speak about at tech events, and teach when I mentor companies.