Real world research: a must-do prelude to using lean methodology

Research Definition

Research is obvious yes? I don’t think it is and in terms of startups Laurence McCahill has summed it up best:

“Generally we find that startups products and services often arise from ideas generated by the founder(s). The proposed solution is usually derived from a number of assumptions about the audience, market, etc. Entrepreneurs can (by their nature) be single-minded, so asking them to test their assumptions with other people can be a struggle for them. “But I know my customers!” can be a common response when we try and challenge a client to speak to some of them to validate their assumptions. So rather than take a design-driven approach, they adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. More often than not, they’ll learn the hard way that this is a risky business.”

This problem is exasperated by Lean methodology, as described by Eric Reis, which starts with the premise of testing ideas, using MVP’s, and then using fast iterations to focus on finding product resonation within the market. The problem with this process, or at least how it is interpreted by many people, is that the initial idea doesn’t need real world research. Everything that needs to be known about the product can be found from results of the tests. This is known as convergent thinking.

This is an issue because:

“There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns— that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns— there are things we do not know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld

This can be shown visually, using my awesome Photoshop skills, as:

Graph of Donald Rumsfeld Quote

N.B. I would like to credit this diagram but cannot find where I saw it previously. If you know, let me know.

If an entrepreneur builds their initial idea on what they assume are the real world problems of the market. They are missing all the opportunity in what they known they don’t know in addition to the unknown unknowns, they are also using their knowledge that is wrong.

Research, by definition is a divergent thinking process. It increases the understanding of the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns and what we know that is wrong. Essentially it gives a much better understanding of the market to frame the initial idea. It should also significantly increase confidence in the initial product vision.

In e-commerce this is all the more important as a central part of the product is the merchandise. Unlike software, physical merchandise is significantly more expensive to iterate; having a deeper understanding of the problem, through research, will certainly decrease this cost.

In summary, by performing significant research into the perceived market problems allows you to have an improved understanding to frame your initial ideas. You can then use lean methodology to converge this improved understanding to achieve product/market fit faster and more cheaply. It is akin to increasing the value of the initial product idea in my product formula.

N.B. Asking 10 people in the street if they like you idea is not research. If anyone is wondering how best to approach actual research I can highly recommend ‘Just Enough Research’ by Erika Hall that manages to explain research best practices simply and well.

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