Happy birthday to Lean Customer Development!

Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy is 7 years old this month! 

image of Lean Customer Development books, translated into Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, and Russian.

It has been translated into 5 languages (that I know of!) and is available in audiobook format. I’ve heard from folks from what feels like every corner of the globe.  You’ve used this book to help find connect with customers, launch new products, and bring your new companies to product-market fit.

And also… you probably don’t trust tech books or blog posts that are more than 2 years old, let alone 7! Typically, neither do I. Is this book still worth reading?

Yes – because at its’ heart, Lean Customer Development is about customers – humans – and how humans behave and react and converse hasn’t changed that quickly. I still use the same questions and approaches to this day. It’s still accurate and relevant.

Two (small) changes I’d make if I were writing today

First: I gave the advice to “ask your first question and then wait a full 60 seconds” before you spoke again. Don’t do that! 60 seconds is a long, agonizingly long time. 

You should wait after you ask the first question – and the explanation I gave in the book still stands – it signals to your interviewee that you’re the listener, not the lecturer.  It sets the tone that you are expecting paragraph answers, not one-word answers.  And you can accomplish that in 10 seconds. (Watch an example of me waiting 10 seconds after a question.)

Second: There’s also Chapter 3 – the “where to find people to talk to” locations have changed. Rapportive no longer exists.  Quora is no longer useful for finding ‘casual experts’.  My use of LinkedIn “inMails” has decreased sharply.  If I were writing that chapter today, I’d include a healthy disclaimer about how sites and social media are constantly evolving.  Still, I continue to use the tactics and outreach examples to this day.

That’s it.  The rest is still golden.

It’d been awhile since I re-read the book cover to cover. In a a few spots I found myself thinking “hmm, should’ve written about X” only to keep reading and realize that oh, I do write about X a couple chapters later. 

I give you my personal guarantee: it’s still good advice.  I hypothesize that it’ll still be useful in another 7 years from now, and that’s something I’m very proud of.

Bonus updates to get you started on learning from customers

What’s next?

I’m starting on a second book!  Lean Customer Development helped thousands of people and companies to learn about their customers’ needs and pain points, and to quickly iterate towards solutions.  We know what we should be doing… and yet – many of us struggle to build a continuous customer learning habit, and to successfully changes ideas and decisions from those insights.  How might we learn to more effectively communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve within our own workplaces?

You should join my mailing list so that you can be a part of this book’s founding team!

Ask Cindy: What is the best way to help others understand what research is learning and why it’s taking so long?

Here’s a thing that took me years to understand: when people complain that something “is taking too long”, it’s not about the time

It’s not about reducing the hours or days or weeks.

It’s about these three feelings:

  • I’m not sure this is valuable enough
  • I’m not sure when it’s going to be done
  • I’m not seeing tangible evidence of progress

These feelings aren’t unique to research!  Designing, coding, or writing – really, any form of creation – also provokes these feelings of uncertainty.  But when people can see mockups, lines of code, or pages of text, it reduces that uncertainty somewhat.

Now that you know about these three feelings, you can proactively minimize them.  Let’s talk about how.

I’m not sure this is valuable enough

I never assume that the people I’m working with understand the value of talking to customers. It’s my job to continually remind them as I share research plans and insights.

“We’re going to talk to six high-usage customers and six customers at risk of attrition to understand the differences in their experiences and how we might improve our documentation to make it easier for more customers to become happy, high-usage customers.”

“We’re doing a day of quick usability studies – any quick bugs we can catch, we can fix next week before launch and reduce support tickets.”

Sometimes a stakeholder will disagree with research I’m planning (“We probably already know everything important, don’t bother”). 

It’s a waste of time to try and argue with that perception or ask permission. 

Do the research quietly and don’t say anything else until you can share the results.   Show value by showing results/answers/insights.

I’m not sure when it’s going to be done

Talking to customers has an extra variable that not all disciplines have – customers!  Recruiting and scheduling is unpredictable.  As a result, we’re often reluctant to give timelines. 

Internally, we’re thinking I don’t want to commit to 2 weeks if it might take 3.  Our stakeholders are thinking if she won’t commit to a date, what if this 2 months or longer?

Here’s where I use a concept I talked about in Lean Customer Development – “a plan for a plan”.  Tell people what you do know, and give them a date by when you’ll know more. 

For example:  Our plan is to conduct 10 interviews with customers who’ve never tried X functionality.  I’ll start recruiting now, and by the end of the week, I’ll update you on whether we’re likely looking at a 2- or 3-week timeline.

I’m not seeing tangible evidence of progress

I’ve worked with many researchers who aren’t comfortable sharing ‘incomplete’ research.  And for good reason – often the first few insights don’t form any kind of coherent pattern. Or stakeholders fixate on that first insight and don’t balance it against the other things you continue to hear.

You can always share a weekly update, even if you don’t reveal any insights yet.  It’s a good cadence for communication, and a good forcing function for you to review your notes along the way.

A simple effective format for updates looks like this:

At the start of the week, we believed [your hypotheses/assumptions]

During the week, we learned [3-5 bullet points]

Next week, we’re planning to [share how you’ve iterated on your plan, or actions you’ve got scheduled]

So, to summarize, your job is not just “doing the research”.  It’s proactively addressing peoples’ concerns around value, timeline, and progress through clear communication.   

You’ll need some patience, too.  One timeline or progress report won’t immediately change perception, but consistent repetition over months will.