Hello Cindy Alvarez, and welcome to From Business to Buttons 2015!
Cindy Alvarez, author of the book "Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy", is joining From Business to Buttons 2015! When she's not writing books or giving talks Cindy runs User Experience for Yammer. She has been helping companies build better products through intensely understanding their customers for over 14 years.
Hi Cindy! You have written one of this year's most interesting books, "Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy", and we're so excited to have you as our guest at From Business to Buttons 2015.
– Thanks! I'm really excited to be speaking and hopefully help a completely new batch of companies to validate ideas and get closer to their customers.
You've been working with early-stage startups, mid-stage startups, and now you're driving change within Microsoft as the director of user experience for Yammer (acquired by Microsoft in 2012). What would you say are the biggest challenges for an organisation – regardless of size – who want's to become better at experimentation, customer research, and iterative development?
– Humility. Any company that has been successful, has done so through a ton of internal domain knowledge, refined processes, and hiring great people. Rightfully they're proud of those assets! But experimentation requires admitting that all of that experience and knowledge can still lead us down the wrong path. We can still build products that no one wants to buy. The most interesting and lucrative opportunities require having everyone - from the top executives down – be willing to say "we're not sure what we'll learn here".
– The other huge challenge is building that bridge between philosophy and day-to-day execution. Customer development and iterative development sound great in theory. But for most people, it's unclear how to get there from here. Which of our current behaviors do we throw out, which do we modify? How do we change who is involved? In many cases, the current model of building products and services has a lot of predictability and milestones that many people rely on. When you're iterative, things change. You can't promise your marketing department that they'll be able to announce these specifics on this date. You can't give your salespeople specifics to sell in advance. The payoff is well worth it, of course – all the predictability and met schedules in the world don't matter if your product bombs. But it's still a difficult adaptation.
You describe your book as being a hands-on guide to help organizations validate their product and feature ideas and build a customer base for them. Could you tell us a bit more about that, if you could choose only one thing that's key for validating ideas, what would that be, and why?
– Assume you are probably wrong. Almost all companies who currently believe they are validating product and feature ideas are doing the opposite. It's not deliberate - it's a cognitive bias related to the way every human's brain works. We assume our ideas are probably right. We assume our customers' suggestions are probably right. And so, we do market research or focus groups or pilot programs or usability testing in a way that looks for proof that we're right. We WANT to highlight the evidence that supports us and diminish the evidence that questions our ideas. But we can overcome that tendency, and when we do, we open ourselves up to discover those amazing opportunities or hidden pitfalls.
Finally. What would you say is the most important thing to consider when it comes to building a successful team to ensure the correct balance between "just right" and "shipped"?
– You said the magic word – "team". It's very hard to do this as an individual person. But a good team has useful friction between the people who really value design and user experience and words and those who really value rapid growth and data and virality. I joke that a good MVP should make none of those people happy! If you're moving quickly but also creating a good-enough experience, everyone on your team should feel like they compromised.
Thank you Cindy! We are really looking forward to meet you in Stockholm on 21 April.
Cindy Alvarez is the first speaker we announced for From Business to Buttons 2015: User Experience, Service Design and Innovation. Tickets are available at http://frombusinesstobuttons.com/. Also, check out her workshop on the 20th of April; Lean Customer Development: Uncovering Business Opportunities.