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Problem Exploration for Lean Startups


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How Entrepreneurs Can Think Like a Researcher to Improve their Effectiveness

So you have an idea, what next? Learn techniques that qualitative researchers use for more effective interviews that uncover deeper insights about customers and market needs.  Lean Culture Meetup attendees will leave with a better understanding of how to diagnose whether prospects have a problem and if they view your product as a potential solution.

Presented at Lean Culture Meetup, July 31, 2018 in Palo Alto, CA

Published in: Business
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Problem Exploration for Lean Startups

  1. 1. Problem Exploration & Idea Validation for Lean Startups Think Like a Researcher Series Mary Sorber, Principal, Practical Insights Lean Culture Meetup, Palo Alto, CA July 31, 2018
  2. 2. © 2018 Practical Insights Agenda •  So you have an idea…what next? •  Introduction to qualitative research •  Why research •  Where research fits into Design Thinking | Lean | Agile •  How to interview •  Demonstration Interviews (Good & Bad) •  Documenting
  3. 3. © 2018 Practical Insights About Me
  4. 4. © 2018 Practical Insights Where do YOU stand in relation to talking to customers? I’m petrified I’ve done some with moderate success I haven’t gotten around to it I’m a Pro
  5. 5. © 2018 Practical Insights Introduction to Qualitative Research
  6. 6. © 2018 Practical Insights Validation Funnel for your Idea 1.  People believe they have a problem. 2.  People agree your idea is a solution (or partial solution) to their problem, that is better than the alternative. 3.  People are willing to pay for your solution. 4.  Your solution is easy to use and fits in the context of people with the problem. Today, we are here
  7. 7. © 2018 Practical Insights Tech workers mostly here End users mostly here •  You are not your users. •  Your end users likely will not share your knowledge, values, skills or assumptions.
  8. 8. © 2018 Practical Insights This is what we’re trying to prevent.
  9. 9. © 2018 Practical Insights
  10. 10. © 2018 Practical Insights
  11. 11. © 2018 Practical Insights “If I had only one hour to solve a problem, I would spend up to two-thirds of that hour in attempting to define what the problem is.”
  12. 12. © 2018 Practical Insights Planning & Preparation
  13. 13. © 2018 Practical Insights Plan & Prepare: Goals • Establish your goals. • Write them down. Don’t mix information gathering and evaluation in the same interview; plan 2 rounds.
  14. 14. © 2018 Practical Insights Six Elements to Extract From Customer Discovery Interviews 1. High level description of current work process or work flow in their own words. This forms the basis for any delta comparison or differentiation of your solution. 2. Prospect’s description of the problem in their own words.  This is rarely more than a sentence or two and capturing the essence in their own words is key. 3. Any constraints they mention If you hear the same ones multiple times you will more than likely have to satisfy them. 4. How they will tell that a new solution will leave them better off This is different from asking them to specify the solution, it’s asking for “future state” or the end result they would like to achieve. 5. What else they have tried to do to solve the problem Probe for why they were not satisfactory. 6. Key metrics or figures of merit they would use to evaluate a new outcome.
  15. 15. © 2018 Practical Insights Plan & Prepare: Who Find your target audience and talk to them •  DO: talk to who is relevant •  DON’T: talk to who is easiest Example: Maxine Clark, Build-A-Bear Practice with your friends and family, but don’t count it as validation. If you can’t find your specific audience, think about users of competitive products, or people in analogous situations to yours.
  16. 16. © 2018 Practical Insights
  17. 17. © 2018 Practical Insights Plan & Prepare: Questions Prepare a set of questions focused on what you want to learn and who you are talking to •  Align question to roles and responsibilities. •  One person involved in a complex process cannot speak for the entire process. •  Start with easy questions Focus on the most important questions. Plan about 3 min per open-ended response
  18. 18. © 2018 Practical Insights Describe your product / idea in terms of value delivered (not on the technical challenges you had to overcome, etc.) •  1-2 sentence elevator pitch •  Without technical jargon Plan & Prepare: Content Create some distance between you and the product / idea. Don’t refer to it as “my idea” or “my product”
  19. 19. © 2018 Practical Insights Plan & Prepare: Location Plan to go where they are. Determine what location meets your objective: •  A quiet location where you will not be disturbed? •  Desk side, immersed in their workflow? Stay safe; Don’t go alone. Work out logistics, especially recording, in advance.
  20. 20. © 2018 Practical Insights Plan & Prepare: Yourself Adopt a beginner’s mind. •  Be insanely curious. •  Be open to surprises. Check your enthusiasm at the door. Enthusiasm for your idea makes you a great entrepreneur, but is not an asset in your role as researcher.
  21. 21. © 2018 Practical Insights “You shouldn’t approach interviews with a vested interest: the user researcher’s job isn’t to convince people to use a service, or to get the results management want; it’s about digging for the truth.” -- David Travis
  22. 22. © 2018 Practical Insights How to Interview
  23. 23. © 2018 Practical Insights Trying to learn from customer conversations is like excavating a delicate archaeological site. The truth is down there somewhere, but it’s fragile. While each blow with your shovel gets you closer to the truth, you’re liable to smash it into a million little pieces if you use too blunt an instrument. -- Rob Fitzpatrick
  24. 24. © 2018 Practical Insights
  25. 25. © 2018 Practical Insights Interview Demo What did you notice?
  26. 26. © 2018 Practical Insights How To Develop Interview Questions •  Avoid leading questions •  Ask open-ended questions, not yes/no •  Use balanced emphasis on options •  Ask about actual behavior for them personally •  Encourage storytelling •  Ask the shortest question you can; avoid complex questions •  Don’t ask people to design your solution •  Use their language (but make sure you know what it means) •  Don’t use jargon, or insider catch-phrases •  Redirect if they start talking about “other people”
  27. 27. © 2018 Practical Insights Listening •  Don’t talk too much •  Don’t lecture, pitch or sell your ideas •  Be aware of confirmation bias •  Listen ‘to’ their experience, not ‘for’ what you want •  Accept awkwardness; silence is OK •  Listen below the surface; watch for self-censorship Remember the “doorknob phenomenon” where crucial information is revealed just as you are about to depart
  28. 28. © 2018 Practical Insights Interacting •  Be aware of your body language •  Maintain eye contact •  Reduce power distance •  Minimize distractions (e.g. annoying or repetitive actions or phrases)
  29. 29. © 2018 Practical Insights Be like Studs He purposefully made a mistake right away to reduce the power distance. “It can help to be inept.”
  30. 30. © 2018 Practical Insights Understanding •  Reflect/restate to understand •  Probe when necessary; don’t assume you know; •  Probe without blaming, judgment or skepticism •  Follow-up on surprises •  Try to reconcile inconsistencies •  Ask question a different way if unsure •  Example: “Cisco” Systems vs. San Francisco
  31. 31. © 2018 Practical Insights Request for specificity “Who, specifically do you mean by ‘We’?” “Is it really never or does it happen sometimes?” Request for elaboration “Tell me more about that.” “Give me an example of that.” Request for definition “What do you mean by…” “What does the term ___ mean to you.” Request for clarification “How does that differ from ___” “In what circumstances do you …” Request for comparison “How is X similar to Y” “Better compared to what?” Request for classification What else is in the category of …” Silent probe Non-verbal: can be raised eyebrows, head nodding, or rolling hand motion Probing
  32. 32. © 2018 Practical Insights Analyzing & Documenting the Interview
  33. 33. © 2018 Practical Insights Documenting •  Capture verbatim quotes •  Standardize documentation format for quick reference •  Immediate debrief & summary after each session 1. What surprised us? 2. Any patterns or familiarity? 3. Any process improvements needed? •  Batch review after a series of interviews •  Some things make sense in retrospect / batches Don’t over-rotate on the first interview
  34. 34. © 2018 Practical Insights “What looks like noise may be a signal; what looks like an outlier may be a harbinger.” – Sean Murphy, SKMurphy
  35. 35. © 2018 Practical Insights The Practical Insights UX Research Approach When we conduct research, it’s not driven by one specific deliverable. Instead, like any good researcher, we like to do a little digging into the specific factors motivating research projects. So when you contact us you don’t have to know what technique, or deliverable you need; we will collaborate with you figure that out. Since every client is unique, we customize each engagement by clearly defining your research objective, designing a research strategy, and conducting the research to meet your specific needs. Let’s Conduct Research Together We’d love to hear more about your current or future research needs, so please contact us to connect so we can discuss how we might work together. Mary Sorber, Principal
  36. 36. © 2018 Practical Insights The Mom Test, Rob Fitzpatrick Further Reading Interviewing Users, Steve Portigal The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Steve Blank The Lean Product Playbook, Dan Olsen
  37. 37. © 2018 Practical Insights QUESTIONS?
  38. 38. © 2018 Practical Insights THANK YOU!