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Lean Customer Development with Cindy Alvarez

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Everybody knows what product development is, but too few are aware that you need to engage in customer development as well to be able to produce products that people will actually buy.

Apart from being a speaker at the From Business to Buttons conference, Cindy Alvarez also hosted a workshop teaching us more about hypothesis-driven research and interviewing techniques used in Lean Customer development.

She happened to stumble across the Lean Startup movement by coincidence, she was part of a startup company who were being coached by Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup. Eric would give the team different things to try out and report back to him. Having a background in Customer development, Cindy found ways to combine the hypotheis-driven approach of Lean Startup with traditional Customer development, with great results.

Customer development means building a customer base to make sure that there are people out there who will buy what you’re selling, and it should be done before you start building your product. It’s not the same thing as user research, which advocates for the user. Customer development is done from a business perspective, enabling development of successful products that people will buy and enjoy.

How to formulate your hypotheses and what to look for when talking to customers

Lean Customer Development is all about thinking through problems to formulate hypotheses, and to be able to prove or falsify the hypotheses you need to go ask your potential or existing customers. Due to various biases that we humans have you need to be careful about what kind of questions you are asking and how you are asking them. Cindy provided some great tips and tricks when it comes to talking to customers:

  • Your primary goal should be to invalidate your hypotheses, your secondary goal to validate them. Also pay attention to when your customer shows emotion or findings that surprise you, these are potential triggers to game changing information.
  • Be mindful of the feedback you are giving, every time you confirm the customer you risk cutting them short. Don't be afraid of uncomfortable silences, use them to make the customer keep talking.
  • Asking about past experiences is generally a good way to get unbiased information. If you ask a person what kind of movies they have recently watched you tend to get a more truthful answer than if you ask them what movies they generally like. 
  • A great way to involve people from other parts of your organisation, for example engineers, is to take them onboard as note takers when you're doing interviews. 
  • When you get specific feature questions, always ask what the customers wants to do with the new feature, and how it would make their life better if it already existed. If you don't get a good answer, you probably shouldn't build the feature.

If you want to know more about Lean Customer Development, we highly recommend the book that Cindy has written.