“The Perfect Square Has No Corners” Tao Te Ching 41
Product Managers and Engineers who want to develop harmoniously in a Lean Startup that practices Customer Development. There is an opportunity for us to merge the Agile Manifesto and Customer Development into a reliable method for product development in a Lean Startup.
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Today’s dominant Agile software methodologies function on the assumption that the “Problem” the software will solve is known. Lean Startups that are practicing Customer Development do not have a known problem. They have the hypothesis of a problem, that they are hoping a paired process of Customer Development and Product Development will validate as a real problem. This disconnect of known/unknown causes the customer development team and the product development team to encounter friction and conflict at their intersecting points.
We have learned from Customer Development, that startups do not initially understand the “Problem” they are trying to solve. Initial product development efforts enable the business to validate the “Problem” and start to understand the “Solution” by measuring the effectiveness of the product against the hypotheses of the business about the “Problem” and the “Solution”.
Steve Blank’s Customer Development and Eric Ries’ Lean Startup (which includes Customer Development Engineering) suggest that product development in a pre-validated startup is done in the interest of validating hypothesis about the Customer, the Problem and the Solution. If you choose to build your company as a Lean Startup, what you may find missing (as I believe I did), is an Agile Software Methodology that fits in the loop of Customer Discovery and Customer Validation properly, using the Customer Development team model.
Customer Development and Scrum Co-Exist In Disharmony
Software Development has been greatly improved because of the Agile Manifesto. Agile thinking inspired protocols for rapid deployments, shifting priorities and enabling small batches of functional improvements as a release. However, the majority of today’s agile methodologies do not include the core premise of Customer Development Engineering, which is that both the problem and the solution are unknown to the team. The assumption that the problem is known to the Product Owner can lead engineers to have inappropriate expectations on Product Designers and Managers in Lean Startups.
The deliverables in agile today are noise and generate lots of debate within the team. Index cards, photoshop mockups, point estimates and user stories. None of these deliverables is actionable towards a working product, they all must be interpreted and translated into code.
Roles and Responsibilities in Agile must match Customer Development
Today’s popular agile software development methodologies are also very role/responsibility/deliverable driven. Scrum Masters, Product Owners, Pigs, Chickens, etc. These roles don’t map well to Customer Development, where there are really two critical roles: “Business Visionary” and “Tech Co-Founder”. Furthermore, there is no logical way to fit the existing engineering and product teams into the Business Visionary / Tech Co-Founder paradigm, so many teams wouldn’t know how to start Customer Development Engineering.
Goals in Agile must match those of the Lean Startup
Today in Agile, a working product that matches the user story is the key measured unit of progress. In the Lean Startup, it is always “Validated Learning About Customers”. An agile customer development engineering methodology must seek validated learning as it’s key success metric.
Customer Development not known amongst many pure engineers
Great engineers stay on top of the latest and greatest methodologies that pertain to software development. Customer Development is not a developer centric model, and when it discusses the product development phase, it consistently says it needs to run parallel to Customer Development, but it doesn’t explain how that works in a way that developers everywhere can adopt and become effective technical co-founders (or part of the ‘tech co-founder’ team) in Lean Startups. Software Engineers need a proper, product execution focused, counterpart to Customer Development so that they can embrace and contribute to it.
Engineering Process must support all Four Steps to Epiphany
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