Is "best" getting in the way of "better"?

I have been on the receiving end of the dreaded waterfall/manufacturing process devised over 100 years ago. You know the one, you start with thinking there might be an opportunity, spend 3-6 months doing some brilliant modeling with expected forecasts to build a business case. Once that business case is approved, a Business Analyst will come in and start pulling together a Business Requirement Document (another 3-6 months), but never actually speak to a customer to find out what they want. That’s then passed over to technology were a Functional Requirement Document is completed (another 3-6 months) and sent around for approval. And you had better read that with a fine toothed comb, as once you sign that, there are no changes to be made unless you want significant delays and costs. Over to the build team where it takes n +/- 100% (sidebar: I have never seen a project be – anything, let alone -100%!). Unfortunately in the 9-18months since inception and business case approval, there is new management and they want to review the business case…..

I’ve seen good products and millions of dollars left on the table as nothing was launched because of this process. So how do we fix this then? It’s a relatively easy fix, but one startups and smaller and more progressive companies seem to be the only ones really adopting.

I’ve also seen products that went through this process and were launched and were epic failures as they forgot about one important factor in the modeling. The customer. Do they even want what you are selling? Imagine wasting 2 years and a ton of money on a product that ends up being taken off the shelf in a couple of years.

My thoughts below are largely driven from two schools of thought: Design Thinking and Lean Startup (these will be recurring themes).

1.      Watch, listen and learn

If you think there is an unmet need, get out of the office and validate it. Perform customer interviews (face to face). Watch what the customer is doing and what their workarounds are. Is it still a problem that you think you can solve? Cool…. Next step

2.      Test and learn; test and learn; test and learn…

We’ve all heard about a Minimum Viable Product, and people would build the MVP with a view to ship and get real life customer learnings. Sure, you could do that. OR you could mock up a lo-fi version. There are plenty of tools and apps that can assist, but I tend to default to really boring stuff. My fellow co-founders in a fintech did a laugh when I brought a website mock up in excel (I’m obviously not a designer!). But it worked.

3.      Test and learn some more

Once the product is to a level you can ship, it doesn’t mean the learning has stopped and you can sit back and count your money. We always need to understand how they are using it now, and what their needs might be in the future. No doubt some customers have re-engineered the product to fit into what they want.

These are 3 pretty easy things to consider when developing a new product or business, but sometimes the easiest things have the greatest impact.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll look to break this down further as a resource for anyone to come back to and see where they are at in the process.

And one last thought: don’t let best get in the way of better

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