Tag Archives: minimal viable product

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1. Start with Provisional Personas

As its name suggests, a provisional persona is not a fully-fledged, detail rich user model, but a first version that is good enough to start discovering the right user experience and the right product features. Working with sketchy but good enough personas is particularly helpful in an agile and lean context where we want to very quickly test our assumptions, rather spending a lot of time with upfront market research.

To get started, learn enough about the users and customers by employing, for instance, direct observation and problem interviews. While your initial personas can be sketchy, they should be based on market insight and nor speculation. With your provisional personas in place, gather feedback on prototypes, product increments, and MVPs to validate and adapt your personas. As you run more iterations, your personas should become more refined. The following picture illustrates this process:

ProvisionalPersonaProcess

Note that provisional personas are different from proto-personas, as defined by Jeff Gothelf, as proto-personas are not necessarily based on user research.
 

2. Keep your Personas Concise

It’s easy to add more and more detail as you create your personas: Enriching the description and adding, for instance, another cool spare time activity or a cute pet can be so much fun. While your personas have to contain enough information to be usable, too much detail bloats them, and they become difficult to work with.

Only include information that is relevant, that helps you make informed decisions about the user interactions, the visual design, and the product functionality. Leave out the rest. My simple, minimalist persona template wanst to help you write concise personas (you can download the template by clicking on the picture):

RomansPersonaTemplate

3. Distinguish User and Customer Personas

Create separate user and customer personas whenever the users and the customers are not the same people. This allows you to capture the user and the customer-specific needs, and it makes divergent or conflicting goals easier to see.

Say we want to develop a new, advanced X-Wing Fighter. The pilots would want a plane that’s easy to fly and well protected. But the purchase department of the Rebel Alliance is likely to be concerned with the purchase price and the maintenance cost. Employing two different personas allows us to model the user and the buyer, and to state their different goals.
 

4. Choose a Primary Persona

Whenever you create several personas for a product, choose one primary persona. The primary persona is the character you mainly design and build the product for. Say we choose Luke, the pilot, as the primary persona in the X-Wing Fighter example above. Then meeting Luke’s goal – creating a plane that’s easy to fly and well protected – becomes our top priority. But if we choose John, the purchase guy, as the primary persona, then the resulting product would be very different.

PrimaryPersonaLuke

5. Make your Personas Believable

Your personas should help the development team cultivate empathy for the users and customers, and to view the product from the user’s perspective. To achieve this, your personas have to be believable. There are three practices that help you create believable personas:

  • Base your personas on user research.
  • Respectfully choose a persona’s name, picture, and characteristics.
  • Refine personas together with the development team.

 

6. Identify the Main Benefit or Problem

I frequently see personas that contain a lengthy list of problem and benefit statements. While is it is perfectly OK that a persona description provides more than one problem or benefit, I recommend selecting one main problem or benefit – the true reason why the persona would want to use or purchase the product. This creates focus and facilitates effective decision-making.
 

7. Test your Personas

Validate your persona descriptions, as you lean more about the users and customers and their needs by building prototypes, product increments, and MVPs. This is particularly useful in an agile and lean context, where you want to minimise the amount of initial market research to quickly test your crucial ideas.

Adjust and refine your personas when you decide to persevere. But rewrite your personas or start with brand-new ones if you have to pivot and change your strategy.
 

8. Connect Personas and User Stories

Make the most of your personas, and use them in the scenarios, the storyboards, the workflows, and the user stories you discover. The following format helps you connect your personas with your user stories:

StoryTemplate

9. Visualise your Personas

Make you personas visible and accessible to everyone involved in the development effort. I find working with paper-based personas very beneficial, and I like to put them on the Product Canvas.

PersonasOnTheProductCanvas

10. Recognise when Personas are not Appropriate

While personas are a powerful tool, there are instances when they are not appropriate. If you create a product that serves a small user group, then working with personas not be necessary. Similarly, if your product does not have any end users, the employing personas is not advisable.

Take a client of mine that develops a physics engine, software responsible for the clever animations in computer games. The users of the software are games developers who integrate the engine into their code. Creating personas for the physics engine is not beneficial in my mind. But for the entire game it is, of course.


More Information and Help

You can learn more about working personas in an agile and lean context by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner an Product Canvas training course. The courses are also available for onsite delivery. Please contact me for more information.

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The Minimum Viable Product

The minimum viable product (MVP), as defined by Eric Ries, is a learning vehicle. It allows you to test an idea by exposing an early version of your product to the target users and customers, to collect the relevant data, and to learn form it. For instance, to test the viability of using ads as the major revenue source, you could release an early product increment with fake ads, and measure if and how often people click on the them.

As lack of knowledge, uncertainty, and risk are closely related, you can also view the MVP as a risk reduction tool. In the example above, the MVP addresses the risk of developing a product that is not economically viable.

Since the MVP is about learning, it’s no surprise that it plays a key part in Lean Startup’s build-measure-learn cycle, as the following picture shows:

BuildMeasureLearn

The MVP is called minimum, as you should spend as little time and effort to create it. But this does not means that it has to be quick and dirty. How long it takes to create an MVP and how feature-rich it should be, depends on your product and market. But try to keep the feature set as small as possible to accelerate learning, and to avoid wasting time and money – your idea may turn out to be wrong!

While the MVP should facilitate validated learning, I find it perfectly OK to work with MVPs such as paper prototypes that do not generate quantitative data, as long as they help to test the idea and to acquire the relevant knowledge.

The Minimal Marketable Product

The minimal marketable product (MMP) is a different type of product. It is based on the idea that less is more. The MMP describes the product with the smallest possible feature set that addresses the user needs, creates the desired user experience, and can hence be marketed and sold successfully. The MMP is a tool to reduce time-to-market: It can be launched more quickly than a fat, feature-rich one.

Creating a product with just the right amount of features sounds like common sense. Why would we create more features than necessary? Sadly, I have seen many projects develop over-engineered products with lots of shiny features that provided little value to the users, but cluttered the product and increased the maintenance cost. And it’s not just the others: I am constantly tempted to add just another cool feature to a product, or to write a few extra lines in a blog post. Using the concept of an MMP helps me focus on what really matters, and remove unnecessary features (and lines).

A great example of an MMP is Apple’s original iPhone launched in 2007. I know that the first iPhone was a complex product, and that many people worked incredibly hard on it. But I find it amazing how many features the phone did not provide compared to its competitors: no copy-and-paste, no Outlook integration, and no voice recognition, to name just a few. Nevertheless the phone was still a staggering success. How come?

The key to creating a successful MMP is to “develop the product for the few, not the many,” as Steve Blank puts it, and to focus on those features that make a real difference to the users. To discover the right features, the MVP is a fantastic tool.

Combining the MVP and the MMP

To combine the two concepts, develop one or more MVPs to test your ideas and to acquire the relevant knowledge. Then use your new insights to create and launch the MMP – a product with just the right features and a great user experience, as the following picture shows:

CombiningMVPandMMP

Note that a minimal marketable product differs from a viable one: It is complete enough to be ready for general release, as indicated by the gift wrapping in the picture above. What’s more, launch preparation activities have to take place for an MMP, for instance, creating advertising campaigns, or gaining certification. Some of your MVPs are likely to be throwaway prototypes that only serve to acquire the necessary knowledge; others are reusable product increments that morph into a marketable product.

More Information

You can learn more about applying the two concepts by attending my Agile Product Planning training course. You can also find a more detailed discussion of the minimal marketable product in my book “Agile Product Management with Scrum“.

Picasso_Pablo-Nusch_luard

As the product owner you should look outward to the market, and inward to the team and the stakeholders – similar to a cubistic Picasso portrait where the person’s eyes look in two different directions, as the following picture shows:

PicassoProductOwner

The picture above is based on Pablo Picasso’s portrait of Nusch Éluard. Picasso created the painting in 1938 using charcoal and pencil on canvas.

The Outward View: Users, Customers, and Competitors

As the product owner, you should be first and foremost concerned with understanding the needs of the users and customers, and figuring out how well your product is meeting them. Helpful techniques to test your ideas and acquire the necessary knowledge include observing users, conducting user interviews, carrying out product demos and users tests, and employing MVPs. You should hence “get out of the building,” as Steve Blanks puts it, and engage with users and customers. Don’t blindly trust the opinions of senior management or the sales group. Use data to validate your assumptions.

Don’t forget to pay some attention to the competition, and the overall market developments. Even a company like Apple cannot afford to ignore their competitors, as the latest iOS release shows: Some of its new features, such as killing an app by swiping upwards, had been available on other devices.

The Inward View: Team and Stakeholders

While the users and customers should be your number one priority, creating a great product requires the product owner to closely collaborate with the development team. This collaboration is essential: It provides direction to team, and it leverages the team’s creativity and knowledge. Helpful techniques include jointly carrying out the research/validation work such as product demos and users tests, and updating the Product Canvas or backlog together.

As important as it is, collaborating with the team is not enough – particularly in larger organisations. Take into account the interests and needs of the internal stakeholders including senior management, marketing, sales, service, operations, and other business groups. Involve their representatives early and regularly, for instance, by inviting them to review meetings. This allows you to align the stakeholders, and to benefit from their ideas and knowledge.

Make sure, though, that you own the product and have the final say about what gets done. Avoid the trap of becoming a feature broker – someone who negotiates compromises between the stakeholders. Great products are not created by determining the smallest common denominator, and a product that tries to please everyone is likely to please no one. Follow your vision instead, and test your ideas with actual users.

Summary

You certainly don’t have to become a world-renown painter to be a good product owner. But to create a successful product, you should keep a firm eye on the market while collaborating with the development team and the internal stakeholders. Balance the two aspects, and avoid neglecting any for a longer period of time. In doubt, focus on understanding the user and customer needs and how to best address them. Leverage the ideas of the team and the stakeholders. But follow your vision, and validate your ideas early and frequently.

You can learn more about becoming an effective product owner by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course.

NPDProcessLeanStartupScrum

Discovering Lean Startup was inspiring for me: I felt I had found an approach that could complement Scrum nicely. Since then I have been combining the two approaches in my own new product development work as well as helping my clients to do so. This post shares my experiences and insights. It maps out a high-level process for creating new products within existing businesses focussing on product management practices and tools.

From Vision to Launch

Lean Startup encourages us to first investigate if there is a need worthwhile serving before we worry about the details of the new product. The former is called “Problem Validation”, the latter “Solution Validation”. While traditional approaches also suggest carrying out market research and analysis before we engage in product planning and definition, lean approaches increase the speed at which we operate. This allows us to fail and learn faster, to adapt our product strategy and tactics quickly, and to hopefully launch the right product with the right features sooner.

The following diagram illustrates the process I apply to create new products:

Problem Validation

The new product development process depicted above starts with a vision. It then uses a series of cycles or iterations to transform the vision into a product ready for launch. The focus of the early iterations is to understand what problem the product solves, who the customers and users are, and how the product benefits the company creating it.

I find it important that the product owner leads this effort and carries out the necessary work together with a cross-functional team. While the team composition depends on the product, having a marketer, sales representative, service representative, a UX designer, and a developer on board is usually helpful. Product owner and team capture their assumptions about the market by using a tool like the Vision Board, Business Model Canvas, or Lean Canvas.

Employing techniques such as direct observation, problem interviews, and competitor analysis helps them validate their assumptions and update the board or canvas, as the following pictures illustrates:

Additionally, the developers may create spikes (throwaway prototypes) to explore the feasibility of the product. Target users and customers participate in the process, for instance, by acting as interview partners.

Solution Validation

Once product owner and team have shown that there is a problem that’s worthwhile addressing, the focus changes to validating the solution and developing the actual product: The team needs to learn what the desired user experience is, what functionality the product should provide, and how it should be built.

The new focus requires adapting the team composition: The product owner, the UX designer and the developer stay, but the marketer, sales and service representatives leave the team. They continue to participate in the development effort as stakeholders. New developers, testers, and other roles required to create a great product join the team.

Product owner and team capture their assumptions about the product including the user interaction, the user interface design, the functionality, and the nonfunctional aspects using a tool like the Product Canvas and techniques such as scenarios, user stories, and design sketches. The assumptions are tested by collecting and analysing feedback on prototypes, mock-ups, and product increments/MVPs. Useful techniques to gather the feedback include product demos, users tests, and releases (to selected users).

As you may have noticed, the picture above suggests that “Stakeholders incl. users” participate in the process, and provide feedback or data on work results. While using target users and customers to validate ideas is generally helpful, it is not always appropriate. Imagine addressing a key technical risk in your first solution validation iteration: It probably makes little sense to invite users to the review meeting to understand if the approach chosen is viable. Similarly, if a disruptive product is developed it can be hard to find target users that are not too attached to their current solution.

Scaling and Launch Preparation

Once the Product Canvas and the architecture have started to stabilise, you can start adding more people to the project. I find it useful to break-up the original team so that at least one or two members are part of each new team, as this helps the new members get up to speed. I also suggest you grow your new product development project in a step-wise fashion: Scale from one to two teams, then from two to four, and so forth. This allows you to understand the impact on the people and the process including product ownership .

Be aware of the danger of premature scaling: Adding too quickly too many people. This tends to lead to a bloated, over-engineered product in my experience, and it prevents you form being able to experiment effectively. Therefore delay scaling until you have resolved the main risks – until you can focus on completing features and adding new ones.

Finally, as you make progress with your solution validation work, don’t forget to prepare the product launch. Having a marketer present at the sprint review meetings should help, but you may find that a dedicated marketing may be required to prepare and execute the launch well.

Summary

The following table summarises my recommendations for transforming an idea into a shippable product:

The process described in this post is based on work by Steve Blank, Ash Maurya, Eric Ries, and Ken Schwaber. The eagle-eyed process historians amongst you may have noticed that the idea of progressive scaling has its roots in the (Rational) Unified Process. Experimental, iterative product development has been around for quite some time of course, I believe at least since the late 19th century when Thomas Edison established the Menlo Park laboratory.

You can learn more about combining lean and agile techniques to create new products by attending my Agile Product Management training course. Please contact me for onsite workshops.

If you have any feedback, comments, or questions, then I’d love to hear from you!

This post helps you use your product demos as an effective agile market research tool: to collect relevant feedback in order to validate your ideas and improve your product. If you employ your demos to sign off user stories then this article will show you how to get much more out of them.

In an agile approache like Scrum, the latest product increment is demoed to the stakeholders in the sprint review meeting, as the picture below illustrates. (Please see my post “The Scrum Cycle” for a detailed explanation of the picture.)

While the product demo allows understanding which stories have been completed, I find that using it as qualitative market research technique unleashes its real potential. Its primary goal is then to collect feedback from users and other stakeholders in order to validate ideas and improve the product. The demo is best done in person with everyone being present in the same room, but you can also conduct it as a videoconference. The following tips should help you leverage your product demo as an effective market research method.

Be Clear on your Research Goal

Understand what questions you would like to get answers to, and what ideas you would like to validate before conducting the demo. Your sprint goal should help you with this: If, for instance, your sprint goal is to test your user interface design ideas, then you should plan the demo accordingly: You may want to present different versions as mock-ups to the users to understand which one they prefer and why that’s the case. Having one sprint and research goal helps you focus the presentation. It increases the likelihood to collect relevant feedback, and it makes it easier to analyse the feedback.

Invite the Right People

Use your sprint goal to decide who can help you validate your ideas and improve the product and who should therefore attend the demo. If the goal of the sprint is to establish the right software architecture decisions, then end users are probably not the right attendees. In the worst case, the demo could be a frustrating experience and prevent them from attending another review meeting. But if the goal is to better understand how users are likely to interact with the product, then end users should be present. Otherwise, you are in danger of collecting lots of interesting but irrelevant or misleading data.

Explain what the Product does for the User

Avoid listing features and functionality in your demo, and describe what the product does for the user in order to receive meaningful feedback. A great way to do this is to use a scenario. If you develop a mobile banking application, for instance, you may want to say: “Imagine you are on the train on your way to work, and you remember you still need to pay your water bill. You open the banking app, log on, and then you would see the screen I am showing you now.” If you employ my Product Canvas, then you should be able to use its scenarios and storyboards for your demos.

Engage in a Dialogue

An agile product demo should not be a one-way communication or a sales event. Instead, its objective is to generate valuable feedback that allows you to gain new insights. Unfortunately, users and other stakeholders don’t always provide helpful feedback straight away. You sometimes have to ask the right questions and create a dialogue. For instance, if the feedback you receive is “Great demo, I really like the product”, then that’s nice. But what does it actually mean? How does it help you, and what can you learn from it? Dig deeper, ask why the individual likes the product, which aspects are particularly valuable, and which could be improved.

Take Notes

To be able to analyse the feedback afterwards, I recommend you record who provides the feedback and what you hear and see. Ask the team members to take notes too. This reduces the risk of overlooking feedback. I also suggest you record relevant background information about the attendees including demographics and job role. The information will be handy when you analyse the feedback.

Separate Research from Analysis

I prefer to separate collecting the feedback from analysing it. This allows me to listen to the users, and to decide afterwards what I can learn from the information gathered by carefully considering if the feedback is relevant and how it is best acted upon. It also makes it possible to compare notes with the team members thereby leveraging the collective wisdom of the team and mitigating cognitive biases. But I do suggest that you reject an idea or request immediately if you know that it does not make sense or that it is impossible to take it on.

Understand the Limits of the Product Demo

A product demo is a great tool for getting feedback particularly in the early sprints when the product has not enough functionality to be exposed in other ways to the users. But it does have a drawback: Users provide feedback based on what they see and hear. The demo does not validate how people actually use the product. I hence recommend you employ user tests and software releases once your product has progressed further. This allows you to understand better how the users interact with your product, and how well your product meets their needs.

Summary

A product demo is a great tool for collecting feedback particularly in the early sprints. To fully leverage your demos, make sure that you understand your research goal, invite the right people, explain what the product does for the user, create a dialogue, record the feedback, do the analysis afterwards, and consider employing user tests and releases as soon as your product as progressed further.

You can learn more about product demos in Scrum by attending my Certified Scrum Product Owner training course and my Agile Product Management training course.