Due to COVID-19, many people are digitalizing their lives and being forced to get out of traditional ways of doing business. This can be really scary. People with companies and careers of all sorts are wondering, what do I do now? The first good news is, you don't have to change who you are. The second is, having the necessary skills to create a digital product it's easier than you think.
Let me start with this: you are not alone. This is not happening *to you*. This is happening to everyone in the world. Realizing this has helped me to let go of my perfectionism pressure and self-imposed expectations, so I can focus on the things that I can control right now.
One of the things I can control is sharing my knowledge on product management. I'm Oriana, a lead product manager with nine years of experience in the product life cycle and I hope this can help you ease your process.
If you have been thinking about a side-startup, this is the validation opportunity you have been waiting for!
So, let's dig in! But before anything...
What is a product manager?
There are many things that a product manager does in an organization, and it has been a historically tricky role to define in a few words or formal specificity. The typical definition for this is, 'a PM is the CEO of the product.' But this doesn't say anything about what we actually do.
For me, a product manager is a multi-disciplined leader that rallies divergent and convergent teams behind one mission and makes sure every aligned stakeholder is working for the success of the product until they get it right.
We refer to our projects, programs, software, or hardware, as products. Usually, products are the key offerings that a company or startup builds over time, after having identified the problem they are solving and the market they are in. That's why we are called Product Managers. Unless you work for Microsoft, then it would be Program Managers.
There ya go :)
A good product manager does these three things...
- Articulate with facts on what a winning product looks and feels like.
- Rally the team to build it.
- Iterate on it until they get it right.
When you start forming a team, a PM is essential. Why? Because the early stages of a startup are usually led by opinions and not facts. You need someone to stick to what the data is saying. Believe me, I was there, and I've seen too many people making the same mistakes I did. It took me one viral failed product to realize my opinions were not essential in my own company if they weren't backed up by data. Avoiding this fact can be extremely pricey for founders. You will see the cracks the moment you start scaling up, and resources will be entirely deviated to fixing instead of growing.
When you start working on your business product, you are a product manager at the core. Will you be a good one, though?
This is my process to validating your startup idea. Is it worth it?
1. Think of a problem
Pick the right problem to solve. Keep it high level. What this means is, don't describe the solution with your problem formulation. Let's do it with something simple, like the problem behind a door.
It could look like this:
Problem: Standing in front of this wall, I can't quickly go to the other side while keeping both sides separate. I need something that would let me do this easily.
This is a high-level description. Is not saying what the solution is, or how it works. Much less that what I need is a door. The problem should state a challenge, a need, a frustration, a situation, a wish, or a mix of many of them, without ever mentioning the product.
The problem description can be more complicated, especially if you have a great insight that has never been addressed before. By the way, it probably has, but what's important here is that you state your problem very clearly, because this will morph into your mission later on.
Problem: Everyone has their own love language, and it's very confusing when everything you do in a relationship is not valued by your partner as you desire. I wish there was an easy way to understand what it is that my partner values the most from me, and in that same way, tell them what I value the most from them.
You will likely need to understand more about it before you go to the second step.
What problem is a good problem?
Ask yourself these questions when picking up a problem to solve. They may sound dumb, but I designed these questions to save you time, energy, and keep your motivations in check.
I'll use my answers for Duety as brief examples:
- Do you know at least a few people that have the same problem?
- With no research, just answer it honestly.
- Answer e.g: Yes, my parents and a pair of couples. They have been together for a while, and it seems to be a problem that eventually arises in any relationship.
- Do you see yourself working on this problem for the next 5 to 10 years?
- Or is it just to get out of a crisis and then let it die? Let me remind you. Many big tech companies now started during hard times. Apple was launched in the middle of the 1970's Energy Crisis when the US faced substantial petroleum shortages. The crisis led to stagnant economic growth in many countries. Then, it reinvented itself during the dot-com crash of the 2000s, and in the wake of 9/11. If you're investing time now, let it be towards a good problem that goes beyond a crisis.
- Answer e.g: Yes, as long as humans keep being social beings and looking for a partner, there's no limit for me.
- Is the problem niche, regional, or global?
- If you had to guess the people's scope for this problem, where would it be shared by most?
- Answer e.g: I think is a global problem, but culturally it's more discussed in western societies, especially in Latin American countries. I would have to define it after research.
- Are you obsessed with the problem?
- You should be in love with the problem, not the solution. Netflix was founded in 1997, leading up to the dot-com bubble. It nearly succumbed to economic hardship in 2000 when it put itself up for sale, only to be rebuffed by the long-gone Blockbuster. Netflix was able to shift from movie rental service mailed to your inbox, to transform itself into a pioneer in streaming on-demand consumer video.
- Answer e.g: I want to become an expert on this problem. It's fascinating to me how romance has shifted so much in just a couple decades, and I think it's a problem that will makes us feel miserable if we don't find a way to understand each other better.
- Do you have the complete solution to your problem already figured out?
- Stop that and let it go. Remember: get obsessed with the problem, not the solution. You may have some product layout figured out, but you must be aware that it will -- it has, to change a lot during your validation process.
- Answer e.g: not really, it has never been done before so I'm ready to start from scratch.
2. Come up with an opportunity hypothesis
What you're trying to do
How you want to achieve it
Which is your secret sauce
A key part of the role as a product manager is understanding your customers and their problems and needs, and making sure what you’re building next is right for them, be it a feature or a new product.
Opportunity starts with company goals. If you are altogether thinking about starting a company off this idea, understand that goals can change overtime, so the product you will focus on will change.
Since you probably don't have that now, start with an outward opportunity for your problem and outline your idea with these two frameworks. One is straightforward, you do what it says. The second will require more digging from you around the internet.
Completing these two will give you a solid idea about the startup, product, and customer opportunities:
To win the Founder Institute Fellowship for startup incubation back in 2014, I used their "Startup Madlibs" to pitch my startup opportunity hypothesis. I like it a lot because they talk about the "secret sauce". The one thing that makes you unique, different, and the main thing that will make you relevant.
It looks like this:
You can use this to lay out your idea hypothesis and test if you like how it sounds. If you don't feel it's conveying everything that you imagine, keep editing. It has to sound and feel right. The trick here is to stay high level and precise. You can adjust it after going through the third step and every time you learn something new about it. For more information on how to fill it right, go to their site.
Jobs To Be Done Framework
I think having a customer hypothesis is as necessary as the business one. I discovered this amazing framework completing my certification program at the Product School. As this Harvard Business Review article puts it:
We all have many jobs to be done in our lives. Some are little (pass the time while waiting in line); some are big (find a more fulfilling career). Some surface unpredictably (dress for an out-of-town business meeting after the airline lost my suitcase); some regularly (pack a healthful lunch for my daughter to take to school). When we buy a product, we essentially “hire” it to help us do a job. If it does the job well, the next time we’re confronted with the same job, we tend to hire that product again. And if it does a crummy job, we “fire” it and look for an alternative.
A Job to be Done is the process a consumer goes through whenever they aim to change their existing life-situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop them.
Identifying and understanding the job to be done are only the first steps in creating products that customers want—especially ones they will pay premium prices for. It is neither found nor spontaneously created. Instead, it is designed.
The designers at intercom (intercom.com) use this illustration to show what is, and isn’t, important to customers
What does it look like?
As a (who)
when I am (situation)
I want to (motivation)
so that I can (outcome)
What job are they trying to get done in your problem situation? The customer answer will be your job to be done.
Beware that the most common mistake is thinking about JTBD as an activity or task. It is not. You’ll be more successful when you think of every Customer Job as unique. But don’t waste your time trying to dissect Jobs into different types. I know, it sounds confusing but I promise you, it makes sense! We're talking here about the improved person that your customer wants to be when they use your product. Here's a better explanation for that:
3. Understand the data about it
See if there's data out there to back your hypothesis up or go against it, and become an expert on your problem.
Data just tells you what's happening, not why. Metrics by themselves are just numbers. So you'll have to do more work to turn all that information into a confident, actionable, hypothesis. Sort those numbers in different ways to discover interesting finds.
To become an expert on this problem, you will likely need to understand this:
- Historical data in the world.
- Media publications.
- Market research. Are there any research papers done about this problem in your local market? Globally?
- Customer and their unmet needs. Is there any behavioral data that you can get? Anything beyond basic demographics.
- Understand your customer journey stages: Awareness, Consideration, Decision.
- How much is this problem costing people? How high of a priority is overcoming this problem for them? What kind of goals is this problem preventing customers from achieving? Is it this customer the only person involved in the purchasing decision?
- How does this customer type their problems into Google?
- Where do this customer go now to get help with their problem?
- The JTBD framework has great questions for understanding your customer.
- Competitors. Google if anyone is doing it already and how.
- Look for them in Google, Angel.co, Crunchbase, and Product Hunt.
- Have they got any investment? How may users do they have? What was their MVP (Minimum Valuable Product) to validate and what do they have now? How much money have they done? Who is their target? What is their value proposal? List as much as you can to see your potential market context and understand if and how this problem has been tested before.
- Customer reviews.
- Constraints. What are your limits on time, team, money, current affairs in the world? Anything that would generate friction.
- Educated guesses and assumptions. If the previous steps haven't answered all your questions for the scope of your product:
- Pull collective wisdom from customer facing people and ask away. Seek consensus, as possible.
- Search and share your problem on social network's groups, threads, and see what people have to comment.
Pivot and learn something new
I can not stress enough how IMPORTANT it is that you stick to building the facts behind your hypothesis before you invest substantial resources on developing your product or even getting investment.
Refine your hypothesis from your data. Test your beliefs and pivot. Share it with someone that might kill your idea in a second and pivot again! Then and only then you can start your development process.
By the way, no one is going to steal your idea. Its success comes from 99% of the work you put behind it. It takes guts to wake up one day and build something from thin air, so trust me when I say, not everyone is ready to do the work.
The main worry here is, are YOU ready to do the work that it takes?
What did you think about this? Let me know in the comments!